College student Yoichi helps a swan stuck on a bridge, only to be visited later in the night by Miwa, a beautiful woman claiming to have been the same swan Yoichi rescued. Miwa stays with Yoichi to pay back her debt, but Yoichi harbors doubts about Miwa really being a swan. With his uneasiness, is there hope for a relationship between Yoichi and Miwa?
"The very first snow fall always gives a special sort of feeling. It's like you're thrust into a whole different world the moment it falls."
Swan maidens are a reasonably well-established element of general mythology and Japanese theatre in particular -- notably Sagi Musume -- and while adapting mythology or fairy tales into a contemporary setting is nothing new, Hagoromo Mishin is an interesting instance of the swan maiden myth not simply adapted but integrated into a contemporary story of love, purpose, and everyday life. Kodama Yuki's sensitive yet pragmatic storytelling balances the elements carefully, allowing her to tell a quirky, unique, and compellingly fresh story
that combines various familiar aspects from varying origins into something short yet remarkably memorable and enjoyable.
Hagoromo Mishin's story divides itself to cover the relationships and personal trials of each of its characters; it's a more or less ordinary approach to hashing out the various problems that arise that can be seen in pretty much any genre or demographic, but the familiar and trustworthy approach is handled expertly and allows the story to move along smoothly. The particular difficulties faced by the characters are nicely varied, allowing a ready to find familiar and relatable elements, whether it be Youichi's first love, Kutsuzawa's difficulties in measuring up to his successful mother, or Shiori's troubles sorting out her feelings when she suspects she's fallen for someone she shouldn't have. The added fantasy element Miwa contributes doesn't clash with these real-life troubles as one might expect; rather, her situation brings with it its own more-or-less relatable troubles, and the peripheral fantasy element simply adds a unique and rather cute touch to the story.
The art is consistent with Kodama Yuki's other series and overall style; reasonably simple and realistic character designs in line with the general josei approach, but attractive and appealing nonetheless. She doesn't pull any punches, either -- Youichi's plainness and Shiori's cute but fairly ordinary looks emphasize Miwa's classic Japanese beauty and make it clear why Kutsuzawa is a something of a local idol. Her style emotes well without having to go totally overboard, and it's easy to read the characters' moods and emotions as the story moves along. The backgrounds are typically simple, and many panels have no background at all; this serves to emphasize the characters in the frames and draw attention to what they portray, as well as giving the art a generally uncluttered impression.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Hagoromo Mishin -- if you can even call it a problem -- is that the attention given to each of the characters' problems throughout the duration of the single volume results in the characters coming across as slightly underdeveloped. What the reader gets is something akin to vignettes of their personalities, rather than the full picture. Nonetheless, what is portrayed is a set of likeable, if somewhat quirky, characters navigating young adulthood and contending with some very real troubles -- and some fantasy ones, for good measure. Miwa in particular is especially likeable; her unfamiliarity with common elements of daily life may lead to a variety of inconveniences, but a reader can't help but sympathize with her and maybe chuckle a bit at the outcome of her mishaps. Her personal victories endear her all the more.
Hagoromo Mishin is a sometimes sweet, sometimes bitter-sweet story with some of the traditional markings of a typical josei story, but just as many of a fairy tale. At once a slice-of-life coming-of-age story and a fantasy love story, it combines the appeal of each of its elements into a whole that has something for everyone.