So today I’ll be reviewing Hisaya Nakajo’s 23-volume shojo series Hana-Kimi. Hana-Kimi is about Mizuki Ashiya, a Japanese-American teenage girl who admires high-jumper Izumi Sano so much she decides to move to Japan and enroll in Osaka High, a private all-boys school just to be near him! Mizuki must hide her gender from everyone at school, but with Sano as her roommate and another boy named Nakatsu in love with her that ain’t gonna be easy! One thing I appreciate about Hana-Kimi is that instead of dragging out the reveal of Mizuki’s secret, right from the beginning Sano figures it out. However, since she is unaware that Sano knows she’s a girl many hijinks ensue. Umeda, the school’s resident doctor also figures out that Mizuki is a girl (he claims he was able to tell because he’s gay), and immediately becomes Mizuki’s confidante. In addition to watching Mizuki and Sano’s romance unfold, we also get to meet the many quirky guys at the Osaka dorms along the way.
Hana-Kimi is an extremely popular shojo series, but I have to say it’s not one of my favorites. I think it’s a fun read, but it ran a lot longer than it needed to (and that’s saying a lot since I have no problem with longer running series). I think the main reason I felt the series lasted longer than it needed to is because the characters didn’t change much over the course of the series. I found Mizuki and Sano to be textbook shojo protagonists – she’s cheerful but dense while he’s handsome but mysterious – so I didn’t get very attached to either character. If anything, I actually found the side characters in Hana-Kimi to be more interesting. The first character who stood out to me was Nakatsu, Sano’s best friend who falls for Mizuki. His early struggles over his feelings for Mizuki (and more importantly his sexuality) are hilarious, and I love that he decides that he doesn’t care if loving Mizuki makes him gay. However, because Nakatsu’s character development happens so early on in the series, I didn’t pay much attention to him by the time the series ended. Umeda is also a great character because he’s funny and apparently a very cruel lover to his many flings over the course of the series. Nakao is sympathetic because he is in love with Nanba, the school’s resident womanizer and student council member (not to mention Nakao initially holds a grudge against Mizuki for stealing his title as the prettiest boy at Osaka High, an award most guys would probably try to stay away from). And over the course of the series I really came to like Kayashima, Nakatsu’s frank roommate who loves to read everyone’s aura. Not to mention, Yujiro is adorable <3. But even though I enjoyed seeing the Osaka High boys hang out and grow as friends, it’s hard for me to get attached to a series when I don’t particularly love either of its main characters.
I think another reason I wasn’t enamored with Hana-Kimi is because so many ridiculous things happen over the course of the series. There are waaay too many occassions when the Osaka High boys have to dress up as girls, especially the school dance in volume twelve, which only occur so we can see Mizuki as a girl (and so we can wonder if her secret will be revealed). And what’s even less realistic is that none of the guys have a problem with it or get teased. And over the course of the series, there are also several coincidences that are very contrived. For example, in volume twelve when Mizuki goes back to America to visit her parents, Sano and Nakatsu just happen to also be in California at the same time for some school-sports-team event thingy that neither one told her about. But the biggest offender is that several of the story arcs are really unnecessary attempts at drama. In the second and third volumes when Mizuki’s brother comes to visit her, he tries to get her to come home. When she refuses, he decides that if Sano loses at his next high-jump event, she’ll have to return home. Why Sano is the deciding factor in Mizuki’s fate really makes no sense. Another example occurs in volume 16, when Sano and his younger brother Shin must compete at the high jump against one of Sano’s rivals. The storyline was played for drama as though there was something serious at stake, but it really wasn’t that important or interesting. I know all of these things can be applied to most shojo series (well, maybe not the dressing up as a girl thing…oh wait, hi Marmalade Boy and Cardcaptor Sakura), but I feel like Hana-Kimi just takes these things to extreme levels.
(I will be getting into spoiler territory from this point on, so for those of you who haven’t read the entire series, you may want to stop here). Still, there are many cute scenes between Mizuki and Sano. Because she’s trying to hide the fact that she’s a girl (and he doesn’t want her to realize he knows her secret) of course there is plenty of tension between the two of them. The number of times Mizuki falls on top of or asleep next to Sano is probably close to the national debt, and in volume seven she even bumps into him in the hot springs naked. Although the thought that Sano may have figured out her secret vaguely crosses her mind, Mizuki densely believes this isn’t possible because he would have said something. Because of Mizuki’s cluelessness (not to mention her carelessness), it becomes harder and harder for Sano not only to hide the fact that he knows Mizuki’s a girl but also that he loves her. Sano and Umeda both begin to wonder how Mizuki doesn’t realize Sano’s feelings for her, but when she gives him chocolates for Valentine’s Day in volume 21 the two finally get together. I like that Mizuki begins to wonder if Sano likes guys, which makes her afraid to reveal to him that she’s a girl, but he quickly allays her concerns by telling her he’d love her no matter who she is.
And for as ridiculous as the series could be, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the ending of Hana-Kimi. When Mizuki’s secret is found out by some of the student council members in volume 22, Sano reveals to her that he knew her secret all along and decides to stand by her while the school figures out what to do about the situation. While I was expecting this to happen, what I wasn’t expecting was for Mizuki to decide to quit Osaka High and return to America. Because the series had always been sort of predictable and lacking logic, I expected it to have a ‘happily-ever-after’ ending where Mizuki could continue at the school as normal for her senior year, so I actually really appreciated that the ending was sort of bittersweet. And the flashforward to Sano and Mizuki reuniting a year later brings the series a little closer to a happy ending. Overall, I have many mixed feelings about Hana-Kimi. I enjoyed reading it, but it’s not a series I like to reread in its entirety. As far as romantic-comedies go, there are much funnier ones like Love*Com or sweeter ones like Itazura na Kiss, which both have main characters I liked much more. And yet, I’d still recommend the series. In many ways Hana-Kimi is an average shojo series – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.