Reviewby Theron Martin, Apr 17th 2007
Kashimashi ~Girl Meets Girl~
The very feminine Yasuna, who turned Hazumu down while she was still a boy, has made it clear that her feelings and interest have changed now that Hazumu is a girl. After much soul-searching, tomboy Tomari decides that the gender change doesn't matter to her; she's in love with Hazumu, too, and is no longer content to be the childhood friend or concede to Yasuna without a fight for Hazumu's heart. What is the naturally timid and indecisive Hazumu to do when faced with choosing between them? Not helping matters is a father with inordinate interest in what Hazumu looks like as a girl and male friend Asuta, who struggles to still regard Hazumu as “one of the guys” even while starting to have fantasies about her as a girl – and getting to see Hazumu in a girl's swimsuit as summer activities kick in doesn't help matters. Lingering in the background and guiding Hazumu and associates into one potential romantic situation or another is the alien Sora, who continues to study human relationships while his childish spaceship-girl Jan-Puu seeks to monopolize Hazumu's time and attention but for more innocent reasons.
The first volume established Kashimashi as a surprisingly earnest and effective story about a girlish boy who has an irrevocable sex change and how that affects all his relationships, including his romantic ones. With its second volume the title pushes fully into the realm of romantic comedy, liberally sprinkling its story with humorous asides, pratfalls, and anecdotes while still dealing head-on with the much more serious and involved love triangle springing up around Hazumu. For all its attempts to be funny, though, it is the story's more dramatic side that will keep you coming back.
Stories about teen characters exploring their feelings about classmates are one of the staples of manga, and working a sex change into it is not an entirely unusual gimmick for putting a radical spin on the situation. Normally such endeavors involve a character who wasn't attracted to the male version of the sex-changed character in a romantic way suddenly becoming attracted to the female version, which of course causes all sorts of complications, and indeed this one does have some of that. The difference here, though, is the more detailed look at how Asuta struggles to reconcile his libido (which finds his onetime guy friend Hazumu sexy when she leans over or dons a bathing suit) with his feelings (which want to keep treating Hazumu as his friend despite the change). Comedy it may be, complete with explosive nose bleeds and all, but it still carries more weight than your normal hijinks of this type.
But it's the Yasuna-Tomari-Hazumu situation, and how it's handled, which really separates this title from the rest of its type. Most of what's going on here would be pretty typical can-I-admit-my-feelings and can-I-choose-between-them content were they not all girls, but the fact that they are puts a new dimension into the situation. Not only does Tomari have to admit that she does love Hazumu and is willing to be Yusuna's rival for Hazumu's attention, but she has to accept that she's now in love with a girl. (Given the stark feminine/masculine contrast between Hazumu's love interests, one could probably also insert some commentary about lesbian personality dynamics here, but I do not intend to get into that at this time.) This part of the story is handled with such remarkable sensitivity that a reader can't help becoming fully involved, even though Hazumu is as wishy-washy as they come. A few scenes also show Hazumu's continued adjustment to being a girl, but that is a far less prominent part of the content than it was in the first volume.
And then there's the silly stuff, like the teacher who's 35 and never had a boyfriend (and makes well sure we know that fact) who miserably fails in her attempts to get the alien Sora's attention, the behaviors of Sora and Jan-Puu, the pervert dad, and the normal pratfalls, all played out over typical scenes of a beach trip, Obon Festival, and other common summer activities. Some of it is genuinely funny, but again, the humor is more a complement than the focus. Some fan service does get mixed in, but it is mostly of the girl-in-swimsuit and “flash cleavage when leaning over” variety, with no frontal nudity. Neither is the fan service more than a minor part of the entertainment value.
The artistry of Yukimaru Katsura provides a strong support to Satoru Akahori's excellent writing. He may use backgrounds sparingly, but he knows how to draw characters that are distinctive and appealing in whatever outfits he put them in. Hazumu has just the right balance of somewhat pretty, somewhat cute, and somewhat sexy, and Yasuna's design, especially in the face, is one of the most convincing depictions of a purely feminine girl you'll see anywhere in manga. The visual contrast created between her and Tomari is every bit as strong as it is in characterization. The adorable-looking Jan-Puu is also kind on the eyes, but she is not around enough to be a major factor. The way scenes are framed and focused also demonstrates more than just ordinary artistic talent.
Seven Seas Entertainment, which has recently been known as much for their import of anime-related novels as manga, provides a good production, complete with glossy front and back cover art and one color insert page. Sound effects are either translated or left in original Japanese with an accompanying translation, depending entirely on whether or not there is enough room to include both in the given scene. As with all Seven Seas productions, translation notes and an honorifics guide are included at the end. At $10.99 the price is on the high side of the norm, however.
Take away the central sex-change gimmick of Kashimashi and you would still have a quality yuri (or, perhaps more accurately, shojo ai?) story. Even as sex-change stories go, though, this is one of the better ones. Where Gacha Gacha takes the low road to such an endeavor, this title – and the second volume in particular – shows what the high road can look like.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B+
+ Quality writing, visuals effectively complement the characterizations.
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