The only way Ai Shizukuishi can express herself is through dance. At school, she is shy and reserved; but online, she crossdresses as a popular dancer known as "Ai." She aspires to one day be better than Hayate, a free-spirited dancing sensation.
With the rise of her videos' popularity, Ai catches the attention of Hayate, and she is recruited by a professional entertainment agency to form an idol unit called "Buddyz"—with Hayate himself! However, this is specifically a male duo and he is unaware of her true gender. If he were to find out the truth, their group would be forced to disband. To further complicate matters, Hayate has a crush on Ai's female self!
As she struggles to keep her gender a secret, Ai strives to break out of her shell through dance and match up to Hayate. All the while, Buddyz fights against fierce competition to be the best idol unit.
Well, it's a shoujo manga, so you've got a cute girl who meets a pretty boy and there is a romance blooming between them. That's the basic story. Okay, let's dive a bit deeper in (at the point of this review; chapter 22):
The story starts with Ai Shizukaishi, a popular crossdressing NicoNico dancer under the alias Ai, trying to beat the most popular NicoNico dancer Hayate in dancing. Hayate is doing his official dance idol debut and he's looking for back-up dancer. By chance, Hayate meets Ai in her girl self when she was preparing for her next video and he asked her if
she could "Ai" to appear to a hall because he assumes she knows "Ai" (without telling about the casting stuff). In the end, they both end up dancing with each other and Hayate's producer, Sameko, comes up with the idea to make them a male dancing unit under the name "Buddyz". Due to that, Ai ends up living with Hayate in one of the company's room. They have to dance in events and try to become more and more popular, competing with other units.
The thing is that Ai has to crossdress the whole time, and her producer ordered her to keep her true gender secret from the public, other members of the company and Hayate, otherwise, the unit will disband. However, Hayate being not a complete idiot, he eventually finds it out very soon, but he keeps that in secret that he knows it.
The relationship between Ai and Hayate is initially rivalry, but as time progresses, they become friendlier to each other and like each other. Ai develops feelings for Hayate, while Hayate develops feelings for Ai, knowing that she's a girl. However, due to the partnership they are in, it's difficult for them to deal with that, but they support each other as much as they could and their personalities start to grow, particularly Ai's.
Now more about the characters:
Ai Shizukaishi is extremly shy and has difficulty to express herself. She is very clumpsy and is not good at school, but she's natural talent when it comes to dancing, being able to memorize choreographies after seeing them once or twice. However, she was traumatized to dance in public, due to an incident in elementary school (the boys laughed at her dancing), causing her to dance only in front of her best friend Kii-chan. Kii-chan motivated her to dance in front of videos, so everyone can see her dancing. And since Ai doesn't want to show her face, they eventually come with up the idea of crossdressing, giving birth to a new identity.
While Ai is very confident, cool and graceful when she is dancing, she is still very introverted and shy in front of everyone else who isn't Kii-chan. But thanks to the support of Hayate and other people, she gains slowly more confidence. She is also very ambitious and trains very hard to catch up with Hayate so she can beat him.
Due to the role she's in, her feelings as a male dancer and as a girl clash with each other when she's in either of her identities, and she breaks easily, but she recovers quickly when motivated.
Since she is a middle schooler, her crossdressing is more believable, so Ai's lack of masculinity wouldn't be too odd for "his" age. But Ai "femininity" is actually a strong point of her male identity because girls and boys love it.
Now for the male lead, Hayate. He acts touch and a bit macho when talking to boys, but he's very nice and sweet towards girls, which is reflected in the way how he talks to the male Ai and the female "Shizuka". He has the image of a flirty, but he is pure body who only dates when he's loving a girl and turns the girls nicely down when he can't date them. Like Ai, he's a passionate dancer and he's remarkable for his skills and enthuasism and he is the main reason why Ai decided to make dance videos. He's the red oni to Ai's blue oni, being more hot-headed and more open when Ai is. However, he is also a sensible person and knows how to apologize and how to motivate people, being a great support for Ai.
Hayate does everything to help Ai, but he has also mixed feelings due to Ai's double identity. He eventually finds the courage to confess his feelings to "Shizuka" and shows her how serious he is and later on, he confesses Ai that he already knows her secret, but he still keeps it secret from everyone else.
While Hayate is the dominant guy in their relationship, he's not abusive and not too aggressive. Since he's a nice guy to girls, he's not much of a jerk, but he does get annoyed when talking to guys he doesn't like and he can be jealous. However, his jealousy doesn't stop him from letting Ai doing her own thing to improve herself as a dancer and he appreaciates her efforts.
The interesting about their relatinship is not only the growing romance, but also their partnership and rivalry, being lovers, partners and rivals at the same time. Unlike some other shoujos, they do get together in less than 20 (monthly) chapters, developing their relationship further and overcoming new walls.
There are also some interesting or nice supporting characters.
Kii-chan is Ai's best and initially only friend who created Ai's wig and motivated hero to become a NicoNico dancer. She's very open about her feelings and acts before thinking, which contrasts Ai's shy personality. She has guided Ai through her entire school life and is one of her greatest supporters and fans.
Someko and Sae-chan are the producer and manager respectively and they are away from Ai's true gender since the beginning. They try their best to cover her true gender. Someko also grants Buddiez many chances to become better and more popular and is guiding their career.
Noel is a singing idol and a senpai and one of the first male characters to find out that Ai is female, but he's a nice guy and helps her with her problems, keeping her secret a secret. Although, Someko does find out that he knows it, so they both have to help Ai from keeping her disguise when her wig breaks. Noel helps Ai to become a better singer since singing is required to be a dance idol. He seems to have a little crush on her.
Momo and Ichigo of Little Sweets are another dance unit. Like Ai, Momo became an idol after watching Hayate's videos, becoming a huge fangirl. Ichigo simply followed Momo to support her. They both have a similar dynamic with Hayate and Ai; Momo being the genki girl why Ichigo is the shrinking violet. Even though she acts like an idiot, Momo has sense of professionalism and she can see that Hayate has strong feelings for Ai, believing that they are gay for each other. Both girls are actually pretty nice.
Mikado, the leader of the five-man dance unit Shot is also another nice addition to the cast. He initially looks down on Buddiez, especially to Ai, but that changes when he sees Ai's rapid growth and her teamwork with Hayate, developing a huge respect for her. He also finds out that Ai is a girl, and despite they work for different companies, he keeps her secret since he doesn't want to destroy her career.
His dancing is remarkable and he's on par with Hayate. He helps Ai to become a better dancer, and even though he knows her gender, he doesn't hit on her when he's training her, which shows how much he respects her as a dancer. Yes, he has a crush on her, but he's no concurrence to Hayate, since Ai doesn't see Mikado in that way.
Newer characters also join the cast, but that's for later.
The art is quite good. It has shoujo elements and Ai looks very cute regardless of her identity. After some chapters, Hayate looks manlier now, and supporting characters also look rememberable. Since it's an idol manga, most characters look good or wear fancy outfits. However, it is difficult for the author to show of the dancing, due to the limited amount of pages and the pacing of the chapters. So you see still-images of some crazy looking moves. But the point of the dancing is to show how the characters feel and how they express themselves.
Overall, the manga is sweet, has charming characters and you can read it quickly. There are some twists that you don't expect and the story is told interstingly. Ai's growth is a major part of the story, and Hayate is a great buddy. Since it's an idol manga, the drama is realistic (especially with the crossdressing), since it's important for idols to keep their good image. Trying to avoid scandals is necessary to survive in the industry and it's very competetive. Ai and Hayate struggle a lot, but if it wasn't for their intense partnership, they wouldn't have gone that far.
-no spoilers review-
Gender bender is a personal favourite of mine so I always look all around the net for GB mangas to read. This one is a very enjoyable manga.
I actually like the female lead. Also, I would like to mention that not all GB manga can make it successfully like this. One of my pet peeve is they make the girl "cross dress" but still make her obviously girly. And most of all, the crossdressing's motivation is to get close and be lovey-dovey with the handsome lead. Kind of annoying. What set this manga apart is that the main girl actually focuses on
improving her dancing and strives to be excellent. Her head is not full of fluffy love-love clouds all the time. With that, she had my respect. She is does not have to be super strong or overly tomboy to look cool. She looked cute enough without looking like a girl trying hard to be stoic. She's just the right mix. For that, I give props for the mangaka.
Art is usual cutesy shoujo manga done right. I enjoy the story flow too. It's not repetitive and the plot continues to go forward without overstressing the cross-dressing part. It get me focused more on the idol aspect of the story so it's nice.