I remember starting this manga a while ago and dropping it because I'm not a fan of the gender bender type of manga. However, I picked this up again recently and realized that I was missing out on a very original and captivating story.
Story: This story features a very interesting mix between shoujo themes, such as relationships and falling in love in high school, and psychological horror themes, like paranoia, dark secrets, and deep rooted hatred. Because of this, the whole entire story tends to feel surreal, like you are watching a dream. Considering the fact that one of the key plot devices is dreaming, this only enhances the manga, not detracts from it. There are many twists and unexpected revelations that make this manga all the more interesting. The mangaka is constantly playing switch and bait with identities. She will show us a side scene that the main character Mashiro is not privy to, setting it up as the truth, and then revealing that truth as a farce, leaving the audience just as bewildered and left in the dark as Mashiro. It does get kind of confusing at times, but part of the fun that comes from reading this manga is trying to guess where the story will turn next or the identity of a certain character and then being proven completely wrong.
I will say that sometimes the portrayal of Mashiro's hermaphrodite status isn't done well. At times, I wonder if the mangaka realizes that not every transexual needs to decide on one gender over the other. Also, Mashiro has a very stereotypical idea of what a man and what a woman are. This isn't that bad since it is used to illustrate Mashiro's warped way of thinking, however, at random times, other characters make comments on what a man or what a woman is that unfortunately categorizes each gender by stereotypical traits. Then there is one character who I still can't decide on whether or not I am comfortable with his decision to tell Mashiro that he loves and sees him as a woman and that he needs choose to be a girl when Mashiro is so obviously conflicted. Telling a person which gender to identify with, even if it might be what they secretely desire, does not sit that well with me. Still, the manga does a good job at addressing a subject that many in all forms of art tend to shy away from, so kudos to her.
Art: Good. I've seen more detailed art, but I am partial to this simplistic style as well. Mizushiro is really good at avoiding copying the same face onto different characters and making each character introduced stand apart from the others. The changes between character designs aren't huge, but the differences do go farther than changing the hair style/color.
Also, points go to Mizushiro again for making Mashiro accurately androgynous. I've read Ai Ore! by Mayu Shinjo which features a girl who is supposed to be considered androgynous. What occured is that whenever the girl was supposed to come off princely (usually when she was in her all girls school) she would have the physique, stature, and bone structure of a male, right down to the narrowed eyes. Whenever she was supposed to appear feminine, (usually around her boyfriend or other guys), her physique would slim down, her shoulders would be less broad, her breasts would get a slight emphasis, and her eyes would widen. Mizushiro on the other hand is able to give off that androgynous look without all of the alterations. Mashiro stays the same size, same height. Only a few times does her chest suddenly get bigger (usually for some cover art) and her neck/Adam's apple would get played down. Other than that, he's basically the prime example of how to portray androgyny well in manga.
Characters:So there are a good number of characters in this story whose journey helps explain the world Mizushiro has created. We are given insight into their lives and realize that all of them are more than just a stereotype (Kid Genius, Ms. Responsible, The Gentleman) and each of these characters has their own dark hidden inner feelings. However, this could not be more true than with the three man characters: Mashiro, Kureha, and Sou (and one other character but that would be spoiling) There is no such thing as a perfect character in this manga, but these guys are the most complex. Each has their own conflicting opinions about themselves and life. Kureha and Sou both have their darker, more uglier, sides exposed and Mashiro, who lives his life the way he *thinks* it should be instead of the way he wants it, is constantly being called out for his hypocrisy and indecision. Most of these characters become aware of their faults and Mizushiro very realistically portrays how people try to move past their faults in order to live. As a psychological story, character development of the deeper kind is only expected and Mizushiro does it well.
Overall: A very interesting story that makes you think. It's not the kind of story that can be read without really thinking about the themes and the decisions each character makes. Also, there is a heck of a lot of Freudian symbolism in the art that is also interesting to think about.