Being a girl is harder than it looks...
For Hazumu, this couldn't be truer, because just the other day, she...was a he.
Shunned by the girl of his dreams, Hazumu loses himself in the mountains and is promptly squashed by an oncoming space ship. The alien inside, feeling guilty, rebuilds Hazumu's body...but as the wrong gender!
Now Hazumu must learn how to be the girl his parents always wanted while dealing with the trials and tribulations of being caught in a love triangle between two girls--his childhood friend, Tomari, and Yasuna, the girl who rejected him but is now strangely attracted to him/her!
Just reading the synopsis of this manga you might be thinking that this series isn’t worth your time. But you would be wrong. Before starting this you need to be sure of two things, you aren’t offended by girls in love with other girls or boys who become girls. Working in this books favor though is that the main is really a girl and not a boy cross dressing as one.
The overall premise for the story is pretty silly. A boy who is rejected by his crush is accidently killed by aliens while out in the forest. For reasons that
are never really logically explained he is brought back to life… but as a girl. Yeah this took a few pages to swallow down for me too. Anyway, Hazumu (our hero/heroine) was already kind of girly to begin with and seems to take his fate rather well. Eventually what develops from these silly beginnings though is a very charming romance full of teenage angst and nose bleeds. Hazumu most cope with her new feelings as a girl and with the two main love interests, Yasuna the crush who rejected him and Tomari her lifelong friend. A major twist is thrown in about halfway through the story that brings some urgency to it. In the end I was very pleased with it, as I got the happy ending I craved for and was left guessing as to how it would be resolved until the very last page.
The characters are very well done even though none of them are really very original. They pretty much fit all of your normal archetypes, which is a bit disappointing since every once in a while you would like to see something new. Hazumu is very well developed and a likable character. If the story hadn’t told you that she used to be a he, then you wouldn’t have noticed. The feelings of love, confusion, conflict that she and the other characters have are very easy to relate too. It makes no difference that the object of love happens to be between girls. Tomari and Yasuna are also fun characters though Yasuna comes across as a little bland in my opinion. Tomari is definitely the most interesting of the pair. Personality wise they are pretty much complete opposites but I think it makes a nice contrast. The supporting cast is good and provides a lot of the comedy. Asuta, who is Hazumu's best friend from when he was a boy, is particularly funny. He finds himself conflicted in his feelings for the now very cute and female Hazumu which often result in nosebleeds and hilarity, though he never develops as a serious love rival.
Overall the art is solid though I felt it was a little inconsistent at times. The mains are very cute and appealing to look at, though some of the minor characters, such as Hazumu's parents were a bit dull and boring looking. The backgrounds were also pretty sparse as well.
I have to say that my enjoyment of this series was very high. The ending was emotionally satisfying and all the major plot lines were wrapped up. I would recommend this series for anyone who wants to read a sweet romance. It’s yuri but there isn’t anything here that I think would offend anyone.
The story of a boy who becomes a girl and has to decide between two women and entering a Yuri relationship.
The anime ending and the manga ending are different as far as I know. I like the manga ending 100x more. The story and the line it takes with yuri gender-bending is interesting and doesn't feel cliche. The art is good, but the character interaction really shines and feels genuine. I enjoyed this type of manga and had a great time reading it.
So I was happy to find a gender-bender which quite emphatically says no tricks or whatnot, the change is on, now deal with it.
And the end was actually pretty solid, if a little melodramatic.
So basically I was totally on board with this series until the plot development at the end of volume 3/beginning of volume 4 which drives the rest of the plot (drives it, I might add, off a cliff into overwrought melodrama). It just didn't work for me. I mean, don't get me wrong, I couldn't put it down, but I was kind of rolling my eyes for a lot of it.
art style is solid if not as exquisite as the last few manga I read--here solid for consistently using interesting and diverse clothing. I like when artists dress characters in new outfits regularly.
Speaking of the characters, we are and aren't trapped in cliche-land. Our main character, Hazumu, is actually not a type I'd seen much of before, though I admit this could be my ignorance. The "femme boy" who isn't being farmed for BL purposes or used as the butt of jokes is pretty original, and watching her adjust to and accept her new status as completely biologically female is the part of the story that works best. Beyond that, we have what appears to be a yamato nadeshiko (but it's actually weirder, in a frankly BS way), your friendly local tsundere childhood best friend, an unsubtly named Nagato Yuki expy, and the Dumb Best Guy Friend. None of the side characters are fleshed out with particular depth or finesse, but I do like the moments in the first 2 books when both--really all--parts of the love triangle come to grips with girls liking girls.
So let's talk about trans issues. I like that this is a story with the courage to take gender switching seriously, and shows the adjustment that characters have to make to someone expressing a new gender identity. Obviously it's way too easy, but oh well. We do actually see pronouns shift as characters accept reality, and it's frankly shocking in later volumes to see Hazumu misgendered--although I'm a little surprised why one character continues using "-Kun" for her right up to the end. All that said, while the work winks at the experience of gender expression, it doesn't really get into it too deeply. This is fair in one sense; Hazumu is never stated to actually be transgender; her gender gets switched outside her control in a way she never sought, and she just discovers that it's more comfortable than being a boy ever was. But it would be nice, given that the book is trying to take this seriously, to have a little more acknowledgement somehow? It's like the manga can't make up its mind.
Similarly with the issue of homosexuality. My reviews may suggest that I've been reading a lot of yuri lately. Some books are idealized and some are way more realistic takes, with characters having varying levels of difficulty accepting their sexuality and openmindedness toward dating other girls, and varying levels of acceptance from their peers. After the first volume it simply mostly isn't an issue here. This is, on the one hand, a logical extension of the setup--everybody knows that Hazumu was interested in girls before The Event, and the only potential love interests discussed were already in love with him (or approximating it) beforehand--but it's also a cop-out, which I'd overlook in a book where everybody was just cool with it, but I'm less inclined to do so in a book that tries to seriously address the complications and adjustments of this change. Much like the issue of Hazumu's gender identity, it gets raised and sort of addressed, and then it sort of goes away in favor of silliness with a Crazy Alien. Basically there's a big tone shift between volume 1 and 2, and across volume 2, that gets away from issues of identity and more into fairly conventional love-triangle business. I don't need 600 pages of gayngst, but if you're just going to brush it off why raise the issue at all?
Overall, though, this pretty much gave me what I wanted from it, even if I felt the quality slipped about midway through. I might consider revising downward.
There's a lot working beneath the carefree surface of Kashimashi if you stop to think about it. I'm going to try to dig into nuances that might be easy to miss if you're just a casual watcher/reader, and try to keep SPOILERS to a minimum (but there WILL BE SPOILERS you should watch the series for yourself first if you mind spoilers, and if you don't the ones here shouldn't affect your enjoyment). Also, it's gonna get pretty long. (I wrote this for the anime first but I read the manga before I watched the anime, so I feel comfortable crossposting it haha)
Let's start by
saying Kashimashi is one of my favourite yuri works. The manga is slightly preferable but only slightly; overall, both it and the anime are great stuff, sweet and earnest and with some true drama that never feels like they simply slammed the Drama Button. I won't go into a lot of detail up front about the basic plot, since I think the synopsis at the top covers that: Hazumu was a boy, now she's a girl, and all of her relationships change. Chaos ensues.
Before we get into the meat of my review, I want to take a moment to mention the title: "Kashimashi" is an onomatopoeia that basically means "blah blah blah" or "noisy", but is only in reference to three or more women gossiping. Specifically, three or more. That it's used for a series that focuses on a love triangle between three young ladies is a stroke of brilliance that should be appreciated. Names are important.
First, I'd like to address the issue of Hazumu's transition. Of course this transition is a ridiculous; it's a science-fictional version of suddenly being flipped to one gender from the other. Coming to this expecting an earnest, realisitc portrayal of transitioning genders is like going to McDonalds and expecting a Michelin 3-star restaurant. For that, you might want to read the Hourou Musuko manga. Keep in mind that the overall attitudes toward gender and sexuality in Japan are complex, and not the same as those of the Western world; that tends to colour every anime in ways that are hard to define. But that's too deep to get into for this one review.
Let's look at our main character, Dude-Hazumu, at the beginning of the story. He's a boy who's always been highly feminine in the ways most people would view femininity. His best friend is a girl (and I mean Tomari; I think we can agree that his friendship with Asuta is mostly a survival mechanism for him, since he's not very masculine and he needs a "guy buddy" for support), his only thriving interest is in flowers and horticulture, and he has no desire to do anything sports-related, or ogle women with Asuta, or anything else typical of the average high school boy. Ayuki (another girl) is his only other friend, though not close as he is to Tomari or Asuta. Yasuna, the girl he's flower-buddies with but has a crush on, presents something he doesn't quite know how to navigate because (here's a red flag) HE DOESN'T QUITE RELATE TO HER IN THE USUAL BOY-HAVING-A-CRUSH WAY. His confession to her in the first episode can be seen as just a really awkward love-declaration from a boy, but by the same token, it could be because he feels a little guilty for trying to change their important friendship, which is why he blurts it out like he's confessing to a crime - and only after encouragement to do so.
Basically, the point I'm trying to make is that Hazumu was always a closeted, blissfully-unaware trans woman. Because of Japanese attitudes towards gender (and let's face it, the same goes for a lot of the rest of the world, too), it's completely conceivable that she could have gone all that time without ever having considered the possibility that maybe her lack of masculinity is because she's not actually a man at all. There's sort of this unspoken expectation that anyone who's trans should have figured it out all on their own during early childhood, but without any queer friends or other transgender/transsexual examples to look to, she's content with being a feminine boy because she simply never thought about any alternative. It's a very "it's something I can't change, so why worry about it?" attitude. This carries over to her body being transformed, as well; she's shocked, but doesn't spend a great deal of time fretting over it since it's beyond her control.
Now... about the crash itself and the transition. The ludicrous premise of the aliens landing is actually beautifully brilliant in an oblique way. Why would the aliens remake her body to be female? It's never stated openly, but considering how she was before the accident, her demeanor, and the fact that Yasuna could almost see her (I'll get into her Male Blindness later), it can be assumed that since her body was eradicated, they reconstructed it in the way that best matched her soul. Her brain chemistry seemed more "girly" to them, so they naturally constructed her that way. Later on, they reveal (spoiler!!) that their entire purpose on earth was to learn about love; it makes sense their instruments would be finely tuned into emotion and other spiritual aspects like those. Again, not realistic at all, but in a series that already has a spaceship that can transform into a cute, floating, "-puu!" exclaiming, pink-haired "mascot", let's not get TOO wrapped up in realism.
On to Hazumu-The-Girl. There have been comments from other reviewers that "common sense" should have helped Hazumu's adapting to her new body be more smooth than it's portrayed, but would it really? Considering that her spirit was feminine but she has literally never been encouraged to EMBRACE that femininity throughout her entire life (during a flashback, when Lil Haz asks Lil Tomari if he can be her "bride", she immediately crushes that dream and says he has to be the groom. It's a pattern of gender reinforcement that probably came at her from all sides), of COURSE she wouldn't know things women take for granted, such as "hold the back of your skirt as you walk upstairs so the boys won't see your panties". How would someone who's never worn a skirt know that? The fanning of her skirt, thinking "hey, it's nice that I can have a breeze in here, pants really suck apparently" is such a pure, innocent moment of self-discovery; it's up to her friends to remind her that no, you can't do things like that in a world full of male gazes. So I think this period of adjustment is not only totally understandable, but also serves to add some needed whimsy to offset some of the more serious themes and keep it a fairly light-hearted anime/manga. Most of the character's attitudes and reactions feel completely natural for me, even if the premise itself isn't at all natural.
That some moments do serve as very mild fanservice is understandable, but to be honest, the fanservice in this series is pretty negligible and doesn't even come CLOSE to ecchi levels. Thank God.
One final thing about Hazumu, and this is a BIG SPOILER but too important to leave out. It's my opinion that, when later offered the option of de-transitioning by the aliens, the fact that she turns it down cements that she was always a woman from the very beginning. She's happier as a girl, things FIT for her now, and her friends have accepted her (some more reluctantly than others, as is normal; it helps that it's an accident that she couldn't control, otherwise there would be more realistic negative reactions from them if it were her choice to "come out" from the beginning). There's a lot of subtlety that could go unappreciated if you don't know to look for it, or if your mind is closed to spotting it.
Let's move along to the other characters. It's tempting to write them off as two-dimensional or "tropes", but tropes are tropes for a reason; they represent real people, and they work. Besides, I think they defy their own tropes on multiple occasions.
Yasuna presents an interesting challenge for the viewer/reader. How are we supposed to accept this girl doesn't see men? Well, actually... it's scientifically possible, even if used a little fantastically in this case. The condition is known as "prosopagnosia", and there are multiple variations and multiple causes. Whereas most patients suffering with face blindness never recover, some do, which especially in a case like Yasuna's that seems to be caused by a feeling of detachment from the male gender, seems as possible as her having the condition in the first place. Think about this from her perspective: she's never been able to see men, so she very naturally is only interested in women (whether or not she would have been from the beginning WITHOUT propsopagnosia is debatable; maybe the condition is a result of her sexuality, or maybe they're unrelated. Who knows? But it's fun to speculate). The first boy she can actually ALMOST-see is an immediate fascination for her, but she can't fully accept his confession of love, because he's not her type; she likes him as a friend, of course, but how could a romantic relationship develop if she can't even recognise his face? Hence her clear frustration and sadness with having to turn him down. The transition solves that for her in a wish-come-true fashion; how many of us have ever had thoughts such as "Oh I like this girl a lot, if only she weren't my coworker/teacher/student/barista/cousin/driving instructor"? There are endless examples. If you take one of them, such as a barista where hitting on her at her job just makes you a douche, and then you run into her outside of work and strike up a conversation, the relief at that barrier being removed is HUGE, and something most of us can relate to (even if we've never been that lucky haha). That's where Yasuna is living from episode 2 onward; a little bit stuck up yet lonely, because she's artistic and clearly affluent, but getting closer to Hazumu through her eager gratitude that she CAN helps her open up to other friendships, as well. Really, she's a very tragic character once they start exploring her more deeply. Though some could write it off as "convenient," personally, I'm a fan of where she is in the end of the series (but I won't get into that for spoiler reasons); it's a fitting and satisfying, optimistic point for her to end on.
Tomari hits the classic childhood friend category, but I love her to pieces. Absolutely my favourite character. While mostly accurate, I think writing her off as "tomboy tsundere" does her a huge disservice. She's used to protecting Hazumu because she's always had to; that's what you do for friends. Of course it also frustrates her, as it does most people who have friends who seem to constantly need protection, and it actually becomes a point of contention between them often. She clearly cares deeply for everyone in her social circle (except maybe Asuta, though I think she doesn't mind him as much as she lets on). Her acceptance of Hazumu's transition is a long and twisted road; she's the one that misgenders her the most often in the beginning of the series. Even after her parents, Asuta, Yasuna, and everyone else have already come to accept it, Tomari still struggles, because under her surface annoyance with his "wimpiness", she's always harboured a deep affection for Hazumu and secretly been hoping they could be closer. Initially, she rejects this gender change because (as she's been told by a largely homophobic society - meaning ALL human society, not just Japan) this means they can't be together. Two women don't get married, right? That just doesn't happen. So she's understandably angry, frustrated, resistant. On top of that, sometimes people just really have a hard time with change. Still, even through this process she helps Hazumu buy a bra, protects her "dignity" on many occasions, tries to help even while she's irritated at having to help. Jealous of how Hazumu still flocks to Yasuna, but never wants to admit it. I won't go into spoilers about how that eventually resolves, but it moves me to tears.
The side characters, I will say, aren't explored much but I don't find them as colourless as a lot of other reviewers seem to. Asuta is an idiot boy who suddenly wants to bang his best friend now that she's turned into a woman; we can safely assume that he might be a closeted bisexual who always felt some attraction to Hazumu, or that he simply really likes how Hazumu looks as a woman. Either/or. Ayuki is the most forgettable, but she's very quiet, always thinking more than she's talking; it would take a lot of metagaming to display anything more for her, though they do take an episode to show what's going on in her head a little better. The aliens are the plot foil, though I think they're both fun comic relief (when Hitoshi isn't outlining some of the deeper plot elements, such as why it was important for them to understand love by turning a hetero love triangle into a lesbian one. I mean, have you ever seen a shipper so intense they literally CREATED yuri?! But I'm kidding). Namiko-sensei is hilarious, and she always makes me laugh even if she's pure comic relief. In closing, the side characters definitely stay on the sidelines, and I think that was smart; I'm always annoyed at series that waste too much time on them when they aren't meant to be the focus in the first place. But they're pretty clearly defined and help round out the cast, so they do their job.
One of my few caveats, and one a lot of people could have with the series, is the pervy father. It's nasty and I greatly dislike him for sexualising his "new daughter", HOWEVER... I think this is actually very clever satire; they show him being pervy, just enough to make your skin crawl (if you aren't equally pervy as the father haha), and then right afterward show the mom literally physically accost him for doing so. Seems more like a pot shot at other anime/manga with "take a bath with Daddy" scenes than anything. Plus it never goes TOO far.
Now I'd like to talk about Yasuna and Tomari. This could easily have gotten as Betty-And-Veronica ugly as most love triangles do, but this series was able to stay away from that. Yes, there's definitely some strife between them, but it's pretty minimal when all is said and done; and understandable. Also, Hazumu, the object of desire, is actually held accountable for her indecisiveness, which is something that rarely happens in a triangle. There are multiple occasions where it's made clear Yasuna and Tomari do care about each other, even if they are frustrated with losing Hazumu's attentions to the other sometimes. Everyone treats each other with care and at least SOME respect, and they are clearly struggling with their emotions; at no point does it feel like any of them views the others as a mere object or obstacle, even when jealousy rears its ugly head. (Quick side note, even Asuta, who does begin to objectify Hazumu, struggles with it because he realises she's still a PERSON; a lesser series probably wouldn't bother.) The resolution at the end is amenable, and I think is fair to all parties.
The ending shocked me, because I thought I saw exactly how it would play out. It didn't; similar, sure, but it took a twist that made me quite happy. The manga version is a little more emotionally-charged (and I prefer it), but both it and the anime have a very satisfying, sappy, end point. That's why I've read the manga twice and watched the series a few times, and would love to play the game. I'm a sucker for a happy ending.
Since this is already super long, I'll be brief with technical aspects: art style is beautiful, I always liked it, though the anime version can seem a little stock at times - like Naruto for the first season or two, where it took the GORGEOUS manga art and boiled it down into something easy to animate. The length is just right; any longer and it would have dragged, and any shorter and it would feel rushed. Simply put, well done and worth reading.
ART STYLE: 10/10
Before I wrap this up, I do want to mention that this is a review by a trans woman. While I can definitely understand how MOST trans women dismiss it as too fantastical, not realistic enough and thereby think it's damaging to the overall "societal narrative", I think if there was ever going to be a (for lack of a better term) silly, light-hearted, sci-fi story about a high schooler being turned into a girl by aliens, this is about the best you could hope for. It manages to convey a sweet, endearing yuri tale AND portrays a cursory glimpse into transitioning, despite the many pitfalls it could have fallen into along the way. Maybe in another ten years we could have anime deeply delving into gender and sexuality (I'd love to see yuri NOT set in high school, or trans men and women living out their lives - especially if they aren't even the focal point of the series but merely shown as a regular person), but given the social climate at the time Kashimashi was made, I think it handled the subject with care and finesse. "These feelings in my heart" will always have a place there.