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March 5, 2012

Bento Bako Weekly: Hana-Kimi volume 1 Omnibus

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Written by: Kristin
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Title: Hana-Kimi (Hanazakari no Kimitachi he, or “For You in Full Blossom”)
Author: Hisaya Nakajo
Publisher: Viz Media (Shojo Beat)
Volume: Volume 1 (contains volumes 1-3 of 23), $14.99
Vintage: 1997-1998 by Hakusensha in Japan, 2004-2005 by Viz Media (original), March 6, 2012 by Viz Media (current)
Genre: Romantic comedy

Shoujo fans rejoice! Hana-Kimi is back! This classic shoujo of the mid-90s is being republished in omnibus format by Viz Media for all the fans who want it again, and for all the soon-to-be fans who never got a chance to read it. Hana-Kimi follows Mizuki Ashiya, a Japanese girl currently living in America (because of her father’s job). She is obsessed with a Japanese high school student named Izumi Sano, who is a nationally renowned high jumper in his native country. Desperate to meet Sano, Mizuki convinces her parents to let her attend school in Japan, disguises herself as a boy, and enrolls in Sano’s all boys’ school Osaka Private High School. When she gets there, she bumps into Sano immediately, finds herself in the same class as him (and in a desk near his), and miraculously even finds herself assigned to be his roommate. Sano doesn’t want anything to do with her at first, and in fact he has quit the high jump. She soon meets the school’s soccer champion, the loud but friendly Shoichi Nakatsu, who is also in her class and lives in her dorm. Nakatsu immediately takes a liking to Mizuki, but also begins feeling a little strange around “him,” which he just can’t understand since he doesn’t seem to react to any other boys that way. The dorm’s womanizing R.A., Minami Nanba, also introduces himself. Her cover is almost blown, however, when the dorm’s dog, Yujiro, who tends to shy away from just about everyone but Sano and females, pounces on Mizuki. Despite appearing to hate Mizuki at first, Sano helps her by chasing off the school’s sports teams trying to recruit her, and running to her aid when she’s injured in a soccer match. It’s the latter incident, when he picks her up to carry her to the school nurse, that Sano suddenly realizes his roommate is a girl. The school nurse, Doctor Umeda, also figures out that she’s a girl, but she explains her situation and he agrees to keep her secret. Doctor Umeda, himself familiar with the pains of secret love, even becomes her, somewhat unwilling, confidante. Later, Mizuki overhears Sano talking to a former female classmate, and learns that Sano quit the high jump after an accident injured his leg. Once she realizes that Sano doesn’t hate the high jump, Mizuki decides to do whatever she can to get him back on the field again. Unfortunately, they get into an argument when Mizuki becomes upset with Sano for cruelly brushing off his former classmate’s feelings. Nakatsu, after seeing Mizuki cry, confronts Sano, who rushes off after seeing her with Nanba. After getting so worked up over nothing, Sano calms down and tells Mizuki he’s thinking about jumping again.

Just as Sano has finally resolved to get his groove back, he’s accosted by his former rival, Kagurazaka. Mizuki grows angry as Kagurazaka starts talking down at Sano, and blows up at him. Kagurazaka isn’t about to let the matter rest, and shows up at their school to confront Sano once again. Sano quietly soaks in Kagurazaka’s arrogant goading, but once again Mizuki stands up to him. Sano is impressed but doesn’t really get it, until he overhears Mizuki telling Yujiro (the dog) about why she came to Japan to find Sano, and how she wants to stay by his side. Moved by the courage Mizuki gained by watching him jump, Sano resolves to stop running away from his past and rise to the challenge once again. Unfortunately, even though he wants to jump, his body unconsciously reacts to his past trauma (physical and emotional), and he struggles just to make it over the bar. Mizuki wants to cheer Sano up, but just can’t figure out the right way. That’s when Nakatsu and the dorm gang arrive with some sake to throw a party and try to relieve Sano’s depression. Unfortunately, Sano gets drunk, and when Sano gets drunk…. Well, things get a little awkward and suddenly Mizuki starts avoiding Sano. At school, Mizuki finds herself being bullied by someone, with tacks in her slippers, soaks her shoes in water, and paints on her desk. Being the awesome girl that she is, Mizuki brushes it all off and moves on, but as the bullying escalates, she takes things into her own hands…and winds up making a new friend in the process. School life may be going well, but Mizuki gets a letter from her older brother, Shizuki, saying that he will be coming to Japan no business and wants to see her. Mizuki goes into crisis management mode, which means she runs to Doctor Umeda for help. She manages to keep things under wraps at first, but Shizuki quickly discovers the truth, and demands that Mizuki comes back to America with him. She refuses, of course, so Shizuki comes up with an ultimatum – if Sano manages to jump over the bar during his stay in Japan, he’ll let Mizuki stay. Confused, and feeling a little guilty, Mizuki struggles to find a way to help Sano. Cheerful Nakatsu arrives just in time to lift up her spirits with a trip to his favorite local restaurant. Even Sano notices how worried she is, and convinces her that he’s jumping for himself and no one else. The day of the track meet finally arrives, and the pressure is on for Sano to soar over the bar. After watching Sano’s graceful form clear the bar, and after having conversations with Doctor Umeda and Nakatsu, Shizuki decides to let his sister continue to follow her chosen path.

It’s summer vacation time, but Mizuki finds herself in a bit of a spot. The dorm is being closed down for two weeks for repairs, and she has nowhere to go, after refusing invitations from Nakatsu and Sano for obvious reasons. It’s off to Doctor Umeda for help again, who manages to convince his older sister, Io, to hire Mizuki to work at her inn for the busy summer break. Sano offers to go and help, too, as does Nakatsu, since he becomes irritated over the idea of Sano and Mizuki spending the summer together. The other two workers at the inn this summer are a college girl named Mayumi Nikaido, and a college student and Hayama Lodge regular named Takami Makita. Makita, always on the lookout for a new conquest, sets his sights on Mizuki, thinking that “he” is a girl. Mizuki does her best to convince him she’s a boy, but Makita just thinks she’s a tomboy. Sano clues in right away and tries to warn Mizuki, but she’s far too clueless and trusting, and Makita is pretty much a total gentleman in front of her, too. An unexpected guest arrives to add to the excitement – Kagurazaka and his two younger sisters have reservations at the inn. The older sister, Tamami, recognizes Sano and immediately starts putting the moves on him. Watching Tamami throwing herself at Sano causes a bit too much stress for Mizuki, who ends up passing out. It’s Sano to the rescue again, as he carries her off to her room and makes sure she’s OK. Mizuki is still worried about Tamami’s aggressive nature, when Kagurazaka, of all people, gives her a little pep talk. As the days pass, Sano watches in worry as Makita continues to pursue Mizuki. He tries to warn her, but Mizuki just can’t see anything bad in Makita. Sano realizes that he’ll just have to look after her, but then immediately second guesses himself when he can’t figure out why he cares so much (silly dense boys). Despite his emotional confusion, when Sano learns that the car Mizuki and Makita took to go shopping in supposedly stalled during the night, he rushes off to find them, and arrives just in time to see Makita trying to force himself on a terrified Mizuki. Mizuki is rescued by her knight in shining armor, but while carrying a sleeping Mizuki on his back, Sano slips and falls into a hole in the ground. As they wait to be rescued, Sano holds a feverish Mizuki in his arms and tells her that she can always count on him.

Life is complicated when you're a girl pretending to be a boy, and your male roommate knows, but you don't know he knows.

I have a confession to make. My favorite character in this series is the dog. He is hilarious. He’s got a mind of his own, and a very nosy and hyperactive personality. It’s a great move by Nakajo to constantly show readers his inner thoughts; it’s fantastic comic relief, and it makes him a real character instead of just an animal side kick. Also, he’s adorable. Probably the cutest thing in the series, at least for now. Which is saying something, because this series is incredibly cute. Not as cavity inducing as Kimi ni Todoke, but Hana-Kimi is an absolute pleasure to read, and has everything a shoujo fan could want, as well as plenty to help along those who don’t tend to favor shoujo. Mizuki, for example. Initially she’s a bit stalker-like, traveling to the other side of the world and disguising herself as a boy just to meet some guy she’s never met before. I tried to explain the story concept to my husband, but he tried to inject reality into it. I told him he can’t do that; it’s shoujo. And those who read in this genre regularly probably won’t even be fazed by this little detail. Or bothered that Sano isn’t fazed either; he just takes it in stride, and actually kind of admires her courage later on. And, well, if Sano isn’t completely freaked out by it, then there’s not much reason for the reader to be. Aside from that, she’s great. She’s fearless, she knows what she wants, she follows her dreams, and she stands up for her friends; she’s honest, passionate, straight forward, friendly, cheerful, and stubborn. Anyone, girl or boy, would be lucky to have a friend like her. Sano and Nakatsu see these things in her, though while Sano quietly takes strength from her courage and faith in him, Nakatsu pretty much drives himself crazy arguing against his obvious feelings for his “male” classmate. Nakatsu provides a lot of laughs. He’s positive Mizuki is a boy, because, why wouldn’t she be? But he can’t stop himself from having certain feelings about his classmate. He begins to wonder if he must be gay, but as he doesn’t feel such attraction for anyone else at school, he’s sort of stuck in a loop trying to decipher his feelings. Watching him freak out over everything, from walking in on Mizuki in the bath to inviting her to his house for summer vacation, is extremely entertaining. He’s a good friend, too, to both Sano and Mizuki, and is surprisingly perceptive to people’s moods. He knows when Sano or Mizuki are feelings down in the dumps, even if he doesn’t know why, and goes out of his way to cheer them up. Sano is, of course, absolutely dreamy. He’s very quiet and tends to keep his emotions locked inside, though ever since Mizuki arrived he seems to have opened up more. In fact, he’s kind of an ass for the first few pages. Events in his past have sort of shut him down emotionally. That doesn’t stop Mizuki, though, and her persistence eventually begins to bring out his better sides once again. He’s incredibly kind to people, a trait which we see during his actions with Mizuki. Once he learns that she’s a girl, and discovers what brought her to Japan, he sort of gently encourages her onward. I’m not sure he realizes that means encouraging her feelings toward him; in fact, he seems pretty oblivious to that. He does want her around, though. She brings a warmth into his life he didn’t have before. Sort of like a ray of sunshine breaking through dark clouds. She gives him strength to to stop wallowing around in misery and fear, and gets him living for himself again. Even he realizes that Mizuki is helping him move forward in his previously stagnate life. Still, he has to be careful, obviously. She’s a girl, and she’s his roommate. Sano helps her keep her secret, but he also has to be careful around her himself since they live together. Nothing makes him realize this more than when Mizuki sleepily falls into his bed instead of her own one night. Poor Sano; he’s right smack in the middle of his teenage hormone-driven years. It’s not going to be easy, especially if he continues falling for her. The ever vigilant Sano comes to Mizuki’s rescue over and over again in this volume. It’s clear he likes her, but I’m sure there will be plenty of angst before either one of them realizes each other’s feelings. Or, well…to be honest, I think Sano will figure out Mizuki’s feelings, if he doesn’t already have an inkling, but since Mizuki thinks that Sano believes she’s a boy, she’ll always view his attentions in that light. Drama is incoming. The assorted cast of characters that round out this volume are all unique and interesting, in particular Dr. Umeda. Umeda knows Mizuki’s secret, and moved (er, maybe? He may just find it a fun diversion…) by Mizuki’s story he agrees to keep it secret, but it wasn’t his choice to become her confidante or give her romance advice. Mizuki decided that, since he’s really the only person she can talk to about certain things. He’s not entirely callous though; he does seem to watch over her in his own way, and he also gives her good advice, even when he complains about having to give it in the first place. Makita is pretty much a complete ass. Kagurazaka has a surprising soft spot for what he views as Sano and Mizuki’s “forbidden relationship” (he thinks they’re gay), and despite all his huffing and puffing to the contrary, views Sano as a genuine rival that he is honored to compete against. Or would be if Sano could get past his mental blocks and make it worth his while. Nanba doesn’t get much time in this volume, though he seems like a nice guy. There are two other boys in the dorm gang that will hopefully become more than background characters. And there are a handful of other characters sure to make Mizuki’s dorm and school life quite interesting. Funny, adorable, charming, and sugary sweet, Hana-Kimi is perfectly distilled shoujo.


Review copy provided by Viz Media.




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