Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Julia's visit to Japan brings some unexpected consequences for Sano when she figures him out as well as pain for her in the form of a very persistent Nanba while Julia herself causes Nakatsu no end of grief. Once she departs, a photo taken by one of her Japanese classmates causes some unforeseen problems for our heroes while Nakatsu suffers from a teacher's misplaced vendetta. These really aren't very good volumes for Nakatsu, are they?
Hana-Kimi may not have been the First Girl-in-a-boys'-school crossdressing manga and it certainly isn't the last, but it did set the standard for several like-minded series all coming out around the same time, both in terms of Japanese and American releases. The question is, does it hold up? While earlier volumes reprinted in the first two of Viz's omnibus re-releases certainly did, with this third set of books the story starts to drag. The romance plot has stalled, other plot threads are too quickly and tidily resolved, and overall these three volumes have a “been there, done that” feel to them that is more noticeable in omnibus format than it might have been when the series was first coming out.
These 600 pages cover three separate story arcs and introduce a character whose arc has yet to come. First off we wrap up the Julia story that began in the last third of the second omnibus. Julia, Mizuki's best friend from America, has come to Japan as an exchange student in order to check on how Mizuki is really doing. She immediately forms an antagonistic relationship with Nakatsu, who has embraced his crush on Mizuki. Julia is a member of team Sano, and her main goal quickly becomes to find out how Sano feels about her friend. More observant than 90% of the characters, Julia figures out what readers have known for a while. While this is the most developed story in the book, it also serves to highlight just how ludicrously naïve Mizuki is, a trait of hers that has been getting increasingly grating the longer the series goes on without addressing it. (Although to Nakajo's credit, Sano mentions the fact with increasing frequency.)
The school trip that both Julia's school and Mizuki's take to Hokkaido, Sano's home province, flows nicely into the photography arc which overlaps with Nakatsu's encounter with an over-zealous teacher. While on the trip, a classmate takes a picture of Nanba, Sano, and Nakatsu and then submits it to a magazine. This skyrockets the boys to popularity and attracts the attention of an up and coming photographer, whose eye is also caught by Mizuki. This is where the series starts to feel a bit stale. When Nakatsu's appearance garners him the ire of a new teacher, Mizuki becomes (understandably) enraged. Her impetuousness becomes her defining characteristic, to the exclusion of nearly everything else about her. We know that she makes snap decisions that aren't always well-advised – that's how she ended up at Osaka High in the first place – but now she seems unable to really think about anything else. Ostensibly she is also debating whether or not to be a photographic model, but mostly we just see her getting worked up about Nakatsu's predicament, far more so than the other boys. Sano, meanwhile, sort of slouches through the pages without saying much, trying to serve as Mizuki's voice of reason. He's always been the strong and silent type in this story, but now his actions are firmly behind the scenes as he tries to save both Mizuki and Nakatsu from themselves. After his promising romantic actions in the first third of the book, not to mention during the summer vacation arc, this is a bit of a let down. It isn't so much that HanaKimi needs to be more of a romance than it is, but rather that it seems unable to maintain two disparate plotlines at once. Both the Nakatsu storyline and the photographer storyline have similar themes of appearances mattering more than realities, homogenizing the tone of the book. In single volume format, this was easy to overlook, mostly due to the gap between releases. Smushed together in a single book, the series suffers.
Fortunately Nakajo's art retains its lovely delicacy, making the volume pleasant to look at. Tones are starting to crowd the pages more than in previous books, but even with the increasingly large cast (Noe, Sekime, and Kayashima are becoming regulars in most scenes) it is easy to tell the characters apart. As an added bonus, Nakajo's sketches of her (apparently insane) cat have a delightful sense of movement and personality in line with her sillier drawings within the main story. Pages are a bit thin so that reading in very bright light can make them sheer and harsh turning would likely tear them. There's a bit of problem with the lack of cover images for most of the volumes simply in that Nakajo keeps making reference to them and we have no visuals.
It's a bit sad to realize that so beloved a series from yesteryear (so to speak) doesn't quite hold up as well as it might. Granted that all long series have their slow points, but HanaKimi seems to be repeating emotions and resolving issues with a glib rapidity that doesn't serve the story well. If you're just discovering this shoujo bestseller, don't read the volumes contained in this book back to back. If you give yourself a breather between them, then you may be able to see what it was that made HanaKimi the crossdressing story for a generation of manga readers.
Overall : C+
Story : C+
Art : B
+ Lovely, delicate art, some good humor. Lots of book for your buck.