Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Hazumu's friends have always considered him "almost like a girl." But what happens when it becomes literal? After being rejected by the girl he likes, Hazumu goes for a walk in the woods, where an alien spaceship accidentally crash-lands on top of him. To honor the galactic code, the aliens restore Hazumu's life—but have reversed his gender by mistake! Now Hazumu must live the rest of her life as a girl, while the aliens move into her house and follow her around. The unexpected sex change is affecting Hazumu's friends, too: Asuna, who rejected Hazumu as a boy, suddenly confesses her love, while childhood friend Tomari starts to show signs of jealousy. Even Hazumu's best friend Asuta questions his feelings. And when Hazumu learns the reason for Asuna's odd behavior, it could be the turning point for the two of them...
"When three women get together, it's noisy (kashimashi)"—so goes the old Japanese proverb. Certainly, there are moments in Kashimashi that bubble with loud humor, but some of the best scenes are the ones where it gets all quiet and serious. That's when the language of emotion comes into play, and a boy-turned-girl starts to make discoveries not just about her physiology, but about her psychology. The fast-moving events of this first volume combine to form a story of many moods: a gender-bending comedy, but with sci-fi touches, and most of all, a romance more touching than one might expect. The time has come to rethink the love triangle.
It would be easy (and lazy) to read just the first couple of chapters and quickly dismiss this series as some kind of Ranma wannabe. The elements are certainly all there: a highly improbable chain of events leading to a gender switch, the insanity that follows, and a handful of recurring gags. (Hazumu's teacher keeps falling into holes; Hazumu's father keeps asking her to take a bath with him.) Let's face it, few plotlines have ever been quite as contrived as "Some guy gets hit by a spaceship and has a sex change." And what happens immediately afterward isn't all that clever either; going bra-shopping is about as predictable as they come for fanservice situations. The characters, too, are introduced in superficial ways: Asuna's polite manner quickly brands her as the sweet one, while Tomari's brash words and flying kicks are handy clichés for her tomboy personality.
Stick around long enough, though, and the real story starts to take shape. Every chapter or so, the aliens stop by to ponder, "What is this thing called love?" and so will readers once the gender roles start to swirl. Tomari's character shifts from confident to jealous as she sees Hazumu and Asuna growing closer. At first, Hazumu holds back, constrained by the rules of polite society—"girls aren't supposed to go out with girls"—but love has a way of blossoming when you least want it to. The private conversations between Hazumu and Asuna, especially when Asuna reveals her secret, are so heartfelt that they outdo most boy-girl romances. And you couldn't ask for a better closing scene in this volume: as far as climactic endings go, the outpouring of emotion on the last few pages is going to send plenty of people clamoring for Vol. 2.
Story and dialogue aren't the only keys to the romantic highlights, though. Visual pacing is also essential to the heightened emotions between Hazumu and Asuna; layouts become more spread out and fluid when things get serious. A crucial scene might suddenly shift to just two or three panels per page, intensifying the pace until—in a single, full-size image—everything comes out in a maelstrom of longing, hope and love. To freeze a moment in time like that shows just how effective good visual storytelling can be. On the more down-to-earth side, though, the art style falls strictly within the mainstream: you won't see anything here that hasn't already been featured in a how-to character design manual (although the school uniforms are admittedly stylish and distinctive). Fine linework helps to add some flair, though, with the use of hatching for shaded effects and carefully drawn backgrounds.
Seven Seas shows some adept translation work in this edition, with a script that's easily readable but also brings out the characters' personalities. The clearest example is in the chief alien, who speaks with a noticeably technical vocabulary, although it's also easy to catch Tomari's strong attitude and Asuna's soft-toned politeness. Sound effects are handled in an either/or fashion: Japanese characters on top of the artwork are left alone, with translations placed nearby, but ones that fall in blank areas are erased entirely and replaced with English sound effects. Either way, a wide variety of fonts helps to portray the feeling of each sound. A two-page translation glossary provides honorific and language notes, while a "Flowers and Plants" section is a fun field guide to the series' botanical touches (Hazumu is good with plants). A glossy, all-color first page, industry-standard paper stock and sharp images all add up to a solid printing job.
With its space-cadet silliness, how-to-be-a-girl hijinks and a conflicted same-sex love triangle, Kashimashi may look like it's trying to head in too many directions at once. But read through the first volume and the direction becomes clear: all these mood swings and plot detours are just there to set up a unique romance. Expressive layouts bring the necessary emotional heft to this series, along with thoughtful scenes that add depth to a seemingly stereotyped set of characters. What does it mean when a tomboy discovers her girlish male friend is now an actual girl? How will that transformed male respond to another girl's sudden change in heart? The answers to these questions—if there can be any answers at all—lie at the heart of what happens in Kashimashi.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B
+ The beginnings of a heartfelt romance with strong, complex emotions.
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