This shoujo manga from Hisaya Nakajo details the gender-bending journey of Mizuki Ashiya, who, to follow her idol - famous high jumper Izumi Sano - chooses to cut off her hair and enrol into the all-boys school Osaka High. I had my reservations as to how strongly the premise of 'just because she wanted to be near him' would hold up under the pressure of changing an entire identity and maintaining a façade to successfully fool a an entire school for THREE WHOLE YEARS. Firstly, would this maintaining a convincing image be sustainable without pushing the boundaries of believability? And secondly, how would a 23-volume manga maintain interest and progression with such a pivotal centrepoint to the story and the outcomes for Mizuki?
Well, I must say that Nakajo has done exceedingly well to pull this series off - and so well! I greatly enjoyed the story, and was pleased to note that the concessions for those who 'must know' of her real gender for certain essential things to occur (e.g. her obtaining basics like tampons) and also to build the network of support for her character, her journey and her secret were made with relatively seamless plausibility. It also turns out that there is indeed plenty that can keep a 23-volume series going in the right direction with the main character maintaining such a profound deception. The usual thrills, spills and even some complex paradigms between Mizuki and the two main male characters, Izumi and their best friend and classmate Shuichi Nakatsu (a Kansai lad with a lovely subtle appeal and pivotal role in the story).
Without dissecting the plot and risking spoilers, the story progresses nicely and with plenty of intrigue, variety and shifts in central focus in aiding character development. There were a few repetitive features, like the prevalence of the acceptance of 'beauty' in boys - which might indeed be more acceptable in Japan, I don't know - and this element consistently causing fresh concerns and near-misses for Mizuki. But these elements are carried with plausibility while also facilitating progression in the plot, so I wouldn't chalk it down as a negative factor.
Nakajo's art is distinct and her characterisations and backgrounds are pleasantly unique, 'clean' and aesthetically appealing. The underlying theme of flowers with her portrayal of the characters (particularly Mizuki) which she expands on in the discussion panels throughout the series are a nice touch. This feature especially interesting given that she only utilises the personification of flowers in connection to characters in their 'profiles' in the discussion panels, and on the chapter and volume covers. But they work surprisingly well in subtly informing the reader's image of the character anyway. It adds a bit of a novel layer in the method of characterisation and character development.
Predictably, the characters make the story as good as it is. Nakajo obviously focuses heavily upon Mizuki and Izumi's agonizing relationship development. All with the intrigues and results of miscommunication, lack of communication, and of course, the immensity of Mizuki's 'big secret', all proving the catalyst within their fragile, invisibly passionate relationship. This is all highlighted most keenly in the profound, often selfless impact that each has on the other's life. As mentioned, Nakatsu proves to be a point of interest and conflict with his relationship with Izumi also examined and tested by the bravery of honesty. The wider base of characters are paid due mind, also, which helped to keep the story fresh and the characters intriguing and relevant to the friendship group's individual development and also within the maturation of friendships among them. Even the more negative aspects of the schoolyard world were proportionately represented, which was a good, subtle anchor in reality, as well as being utilised as a useful plot device.
By the end of the series, I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief with how impressively well Nakajo's work throughout the series building bonds between the characters, and most pointedly, the bonds between the characters and Mizuki, worked with the ending. It was almost enough to bring a tear to the eye, and I felt pleasantly sated with both the plausibility and the demonstration of the story's journey. It certainly left a positive taste, which will endure most strongly with my positive opinion of the series!
A gender-bending shoujo with plenty of schoolyard-and-beyond twists, trysts and turns - even touching on more adult / mature branches of character interaction to keep perspective and fresh interest. I would obviously highly recommend this to any fans of shoujo, romance, comedy, school-life and gender-bending story elements, but I'd also recommend this to anyone looking for a light, amusing romatically-inclined series to take a cool, refreshing dip in.
A solidly-made 8.5/10
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