Kaze Hikaru 9-11 by Taeko Watanabe: A-

Beware: spoilers ahead.

I have come to the conclusion that Kaze Hikaru is not only worth owning—as opposed to borrowing it from the library, which is what I’ve been doing up until now—but is also pure evil (in the very best way, of course).

Volume nine begins with a reorganization of the Shinsengumi that sees Sei reassigned from active patrolling to a position taking care of the headquarters. This is arranged by Yamanami, who is the second member of the troop to learn her secret and who wants to keep her out of harm’s way. Okita fully approves of this arrangement, though Sei does not. The first half of the volume is fairly lighthearted, featuring a bunch of guys who see Sei and Okita’s separation as an opportunity to vie for Sei’s affections. Saito and Okita intervene, which gives Sei ample opportunity to thoroughly misunderstand the intentions of each.

Problems begin to percolate near the end of volume nine, as Sei learns one of the troops is planning to lodge a complaint against the captain. Inter-troop tensions continue into volumes ten and eleven, when Todo returns with a bevy of new recruits, including a bigshot named Ito Kashitaro who promptly ruffles a bunch of feathers. Ito’s arrival is played for comedy for several chapters—because he’s a lover of beautiful things, he outrageously pines for both Hijitaka and Sei—but abruptly gets more serious when he invites Yamanami into his confidence and puts him in a position where he’s caught between the complicated and conflicting ideologies of Ito (for whom he feels loyalty because they’re from the same sword school) and Captain Kondo.

Throughout these volumes, Sei and Okita’s relationship continues to subtly evolve in minute yet important ways. We also learn more about the supporting cast, most notably the incredibly sympathetic Yamanami. He’s a really sweet guy who tries to nudge Sei and Okita together and gives her some really good advice. Here’s a particularly lovely exchange:

Sei: Okita-sensei’s like the wind… there’s nothing to hold on to. I’m merely a blade of grass who is always swayed by doubt and unable to catch up with the free-spirited wind.

Yamanami: Without grass even the wind would lose sight of itself. So you have to sway more and show the wind that ‘this is your home.’

These words really stick with her and are shown to be true later on when she is restored to patrol duty and Okita muses that he doesn’t feel as free to sacrifice his life with her around.

I should’ve known, therefore, that just when we’re made to love Yamanami very much, something awful would happen. He is still haunted by atrocities he witnessed at the prison, and when further news of bakufu brutality reaches him, he can no longer continue to serve them and deserts the troop. He knows full well what the penalty will be, but accepts it without complaint, refusing too to state his reasons, knowing that it might throw his comrades into chaos. It’s all the more terrible because he didn’t fail the cause—the cause failed him!

I can’t remember the last time a manga made me cry like this. And so, that is why Kaze Hikaru is simultaneously marvelous and evil. It lulls you into a false sense of homey security and then suddenly reminds you that you’re dealing with a lot of passionately idealistic men with a strict (and bloody) code of honor. You can love them as individuals, but be warned—their story will break your heart.

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  1. Danielle Leigh says

    I spoiled myself but I don’t regret it — your thoughtful take on the title’s portrait of the cost of honor will hopefully inspire me to pick this up (I can’t afford to catch up with this title but I can often convince my library to pick up manga series and now I plan to!)

    • I still feel bad about spoiling you, though I left out enough details that there will certainly be some surprises in store.

      After I read this, I had to email Melinda—who loves to cry over manga, y’know—to tell her she really needs to be reading this series, too. 🙂

      • Danielle Leigh says

        that reminds me — do you read “We Were There”? Dear god, I made the mistake of finishing up my shojo-marathon this weekend with that series when I really should have saved Happy Cafe for last (I didn’t realize one was going to have the ability to break my heart, while the other could heal it!)

  2. Oooh, great review! That exchange you quoted between Sei and Yamanami is one of my absolute favourites to this day. I still cry every time I reread certain volumes of this series, and you’re right, it is marvelously evil in that respect. I normally don’t go for works that make me cry, but this series just does it all so well (and has a hearty dose of humour to mix with the sadness), I could never dream of giving it up.

    Also, isn’t this series of covers beautiful? I love how Watanabe-sensei depicts the cycle of seasons, and this particular set (plus vol12) is my favourite… (second place might be the current set coming out in Japan :D)

    • Thank you! And yes, one of the reasons I decided I need to own this series rather than continue to borrow it is because there are so many good moments I can see myself wanting to reread.

      And I completely agree about this series of covers. Each of them is so pretty I had a hard time picking which one to go on the front page, but ultimately went with the springy theme. 🙂

  3. My library doensn’t have this, and the bookstore does’t sell it, but this is one of the best manga that I have read in a very long time. The characters really are amazing, and you can’t help but like them. Thanks for this review, it makes me love it all over again.


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