Title: The Beautiful Skies of Houou High
Author: Aki Arata
Publisher: Digital Manga Publishing
Volume: Volume 1, $12.95
Vintage: 2008 by MAG Garden Corporation in Japan, March 29, 2011 by DMP
Genre: Shoujo, comedy, gender-bender
Kei Saeba is girl crazy. The only problem is, Kei is a girl! Kei chases tail as much as any teenage boy. In fact, she can’t stand to be around boys, and they make her vomit if they get too close. Frustrated by her daughter’s behavior, and wanting a “normal” child, Kei’s mother ships her off to boarding school. When Kei arrives at her new school, she thinks it’s a co-ed school…until she finally notices that there isn’t a single girl on campus. When she finally realizes it, she vomits and faints in the middle of an assembly. She is rescued by Yui Yajin and finds herself in a dorm room…her and Yui’s dorm room. Yui, the son of a prominent doctor with close ties to the academy, convinced the school director to allow Kei into the school at the request of Kei’s mother. Unfortunately, Yui is not the nice guy he seems. He has no problem flexing his father’s influence, he constantly bullies Kei, and since he knows Kei is a girl, he’s constantly out to make her life miserable when he knows full well she’ll be in major trouble if her secret gets out. When the director starts interfering, Yui reaches out to long-time friend and fellow classmate Kousuke Moroboshi for help “protecting” Kei. Kousuke looks like a delinquent and is often thought to be a bully, but in reality he’s quite nice and simply awkward at expressing himself. He and Kei hit it off when they realize they are both fans of the same anime series, Usasy. Rather than reveal Kei’s true gender, Yui cooks up a ridiculous story about abusive adoptive parents who forced Kei to wear female clothes, making “him” afraid of men, and causing “him” to flee his home. Kousuke totally buys it, and runs around the school at night with Yui, destroying various security cameras and machines around the school, picking a direct fight with the director. Angry that their “toys” were destroyed, Nao and Mao, twin nephews of the director, return to school and prepare to take on Kei and Yui, but Yui easily scares them into submission. Kei’s troubles continue, as Fuminojou Kirie, who has a bizarre fixation on Yui, attempts to usurp Kei’s place as the person Yui bullies. Unfortunately, Yui wants nothing to do with him, and takes his irritation out on Kei, which only infuriates Kirie further. It’s looking to be a tumultuous school life for Kei, who just wants to find the girl of her dreams.
This one is pretty funny, but it has a lot in common with Maria Holic, so if you weren’t a fan of that, you likely won’t like this, either. Like Maria Holic, it’s not a serious GLBT series. Kei isn’t really lesbian, she just doesn’t like men. If she were lesbian (and even if she’s not, it’s still awkward), her mother’s insistence that she isn’t “normal” and that she must be “fixed” is more insulting than humorous. Though obviously, with Kei going to an all boys’ school, this is likely to turn into a reverse harem romantic comedy. Which is fine; as I said, it’s funny. I laughed out loud several times. Just don’t take it seriously. If you’re looking at it as a comment on sexuality, you’ll be disappointed, and possibly even offended. If you’re looking at it as a silly school comedy, you’ll likely enjoy it. That’s not to say I don’t have complaints. The pacing and paneling is awkward at times, and some of the plot is confusing. There’s a lot of talk about pressuring Kei, hiding Kei, getting rid of Kei, etc., but so far there isn’t a clear reason. Yui got her into the school, so he seems to have his own plans, and he’s pulled Kousuke into them as well. Of course, there have to be some secrets to reveal later, but right now it’s made things rather confusing. The title itself could have a couple of meanings. Literal, as in the beautiful blue sky in the…sky. Or, also literal, the beautiful boys in Sky class (the name of Kei’s homeroom class). In the second sense, it’s pretty obvious what sort of story this will become. There are already some hints as well, as Kei is often flustered by Kousuke’s manly personality and kindness. Yui’s sadistic nature seemingly knows no bounds, and he’s prepared to make Kei’s life miserable (again, very similar to the situation in Maria Holic), for no apparent reason other than he seems to enjoy bullying people. It’s possible that he’s actually trying to help Kei overcome her fear of men, as there are a couple small hints in that regard, but it’s really too early to tell for sure. It looks to be a fun title, as long as you don’t take it too seriously, but it won’t be for everyone. And by no means do I mean to say that the people who find it disturbing or insulting don’t have a sense of humor. Nor should you feel bad for liking it. It just won’t sit right with some people, and that’s totally fine. The art is sharp, if a little plain, and the boys sufficiently “beautiful,” so it’s not a bad looker. There are plenty of adorable chibi moments to highlight the comedy, and Arata draws the totally clueless and flustered Kei very well. There’s something a little menacing in Yui’s expressions, making it easy to second guess his personality and motivations. Kousuke has a very honest look, despite his tough guy appearance, and I can foresee some fake, accidental boys’ love emerging between him and Kei quite easily (like a plot twist right out of Victor/Victoria). I’m looking forward to uncovering the secrets of Houou High.
Review copy provided by Digital Manga.