I've wanted to write this review for ages, and now that it’s fully translated, I can say with total conviction that Himegoto is one of the most unique and compelling stories out there. This isn’t going to be a standard criterion-based review, it’s going to be more of an analytical write-up. Mild spoilers for character development and plot points.
Right off the bat, Himegoto’s setting establishes that this isn’t going to be a run-of-the-mill manga. We’re following the lives of college students for once. How often does that happen? College is a pivotal time of life. While students are still in school, they’re given a great degree of agency. Most live independently from their parents in apartments or dorms. Students have to choose their own classes and schedule their own lives. Lastly, there are no more school uniforms, something critical to Himegoto’s plot.
Of course, every single person handles agency differently. For some, college is liberating and they make dozens of friends and party hard. For others, college is an opportunity to mature and prepare for a professional career. But then there are the people who don’t want to move on, who cling to their rapidly fading adolescence.
This brings us to our protagonists. Himegoto isn’t quite a character study, but the main three characters are so complex and varied in their aims that it may as well be. First off is Yoshiki. She is unassuming, boyish, and dresses quite plainly, but she’s got more layers than just her exterior apathy. She’s frustrated by her lack of femininity yet is unable to change, as she doesn’t really have any girl friends who could teach her fashion and makeup. However, she has also fetishized her only distinctly female article of clothing, since she always masturbates wearing her old high school uniform. Yoshiki might be plain on the outside, but her deep self-dissatisfaction means that she can change and develop the most out of everyone in the cast. It also means that the other characters view her as someone to take under their wing and mold to their liking.
Next up, we have Mikako. She’s a 19-year old, just like everyone else in the cast, but she refuses to accept that age. You see, she’s a prostitute, and in order to get the most customers, she wears a high-school uniform and pretends to be 15. On the outside, she acts like a ditzy cute schoolgirl, but in actuality every word, fashion choice, and action of hers is carefully calculated to make clients fall for her and friends to not suspect anything. Mikako is a character wrapped in duality. She’s a college student by day and a prostitute by night. She deceives her clients by pretending to be an innocent schoolgirl and deceives her friends by hiding her true identity. She fetishizes purity and youth but also knows that she’s getting older and less convincing with each passing day. Like Yuki, her appearance sets her apart from other girls, but for opposite reasons. Mikako really wants opposites to attract, and seeks out Yuki’s love while trying to hide her dark side.
Finally, there’s Kaito. Whereas Yoshiki generally represses her gender issues, Kaito displays his right up-front. He’s a prolific crossdresser, and in particular he bases his outfits around Mikako, whom he idolizes from afar. Interestingly enough, he doesn’t seem to fetishize his crossdressing, as he hides this side of himself from his girlfriend and only has sex as a man. There’s a couple of explanations for this behavior. One is that he treats cross-dressing as purely a hobby and wants it separated from his sexual life. This is supported by him just wanting to be “girl friends” with Yoshiki and desiring to do girly but clean things like go shopping together. On the other hand, Kaito mostly hooks up with older women who let him use their credit cards (to buy women’s clothing without their knowledge). It seems like he’s only having sex to acquire the means to become more feminine. Kaito is an effeminate pretty-boy, but like Mikako, he’s got a timer, and he knows he won’t always be able to pass as a woman so easily. Kaito is hyperaware of how constrained his femininity is, and as a result he tries as hard as he can to appear extra girly when he crossdresses. He sees Yoshiki’s lack of femininity and vows to teach her how to be more girly. There’s a lot of coded language every time Kaito talks about femininity, suggesting that he really views himself as female. If the subtext can be trusted, Kaito desires to be a trans woman, which totally recontextualizes his character. Although the characters in Himegoto have fluid sexual orientations, they’re still very much expected to conform to traditional gender roles. Kaito sees himself as a woman and tries to conform to traditional femininity so hard that he views all masculine traits with disdain. This would better explain his actions towards Yoshiki – he has to work so hard to be feminine that he views Yoshiki’s tomboy appearance as insulting, and views trying to change her as the greatest act of love possible. Kaito is a truly deep and multifaceted (and definitely my favorite!) character, and watching how he interacts with Yoshiki and Mikako is one of the best parts of Himegoto.
Now that the character’s identities have been established, let’s take at what extraneous objects in Himegoto destroy, affirm, or otherwise alter their identities. Of course, I’m talking about clothing. From the subtitle alone –uniforms at the age of nineteen- it’s made pretty clear that they’re going to be pretty important. Like any good metaphor, clothes can have multiple meaning depending on their type and context. Some outfits promote agency and liberation, whereas others represent shackles and monotony. And Himegoto manages to subvert a lot of typical symbolism.
In most scenarios, a school uniform would represent conformity and order. However, these are college students we’re dealing with in Himegoto. They get to pick out their own outfits, but sometimes there are still old school uniforms in the mix. Yoshiki uses her high-school uniform as a window to femininity and sexuality, whereas Mikako dons the sailor outfit of a nearby high school when she pretends to be 15 for prostitution. In both situations, school uniforms are inherently sexual objects. Do they represent sexual agency or do they represent being trapped in one’s current situation? I think the answer is both at once, which is pretty cool.
Yoshiki’s outfits change the most throughout the course of the series. She starts off a complete tomboy, not caring at all about looking womanly. In an effort to make her more feminine, Kaito takes her shopping for trendier clothes. However, Mikako sees a raw beauty in Yoshiki’s irreverence toward fashion, and is crushed when Yoshiki starts dressing like a typical girl. By the latter half of the series, Yoshiki has returned to her tomboyish apparel. Yoshiki’s case is interesting because her clothing choices don’t represent her agency, but rather how those around her are manipulating her. Kaito and Mikako are both equally guilty of trying to shape Yoshiki to their own desires, but their methods are at odds with one another.
Kaito’s fashion choices show a character arc as well. He initially desires to be Mikako’s “mirror”, and to accomplish this, he buys all the same outfits as her and has a similar dark-colored wig. Once he actually meets her, his idealized image of Mikako shatters, and so does his desire to mirror her. He eventually tosses all of his Mikako outfits and makes his female personas entirely his own.
Alright, let’s get to the fun part: the Freudian analysis, specifically, the phallic imagery. Kaito’s got some pretty strong insecurity over his genitals. Early on, he gets called out because even though he’s a crossdresser, he only has sex with girls and only while he is dressed as a guy. Kaito’s justification is pretty interesting. Extending his mirror metaphor, he views his penis as a “pipe”. When he has sex with girls, he wants to be them, and he views his male genitals as the pipe connecting him and his ideal self. This feels more like a defense mechanism rather than a true justification, and in my mind, it’s a red flag for Kaito’s desire to be trans. However, Mikako has a slightly different view on the issue. She argues that she, too, has a penis, it’s just a lot tinier (referring to how the clitoris has the same anatomical structure). While she may have just been saying this to comfort an agitated Kaito, this penile self-identification carries some implications. Phallic imagery implies power and social capital, and when you look at Mikako, she is the most assertive, dominant, and manipulative female character in the story. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but you don’t just start talking about dicks unless you have a point to make.
Before I wrap things up, there are some loose ends I want to include in this essay. Upon rereading Himegoto, one notices that early on, the main characters seem a bit out of character. Kaito is super predatory for a few chapters and all around more proactive, and Mikako almost looks like a different character because she’s drawn differently. Because of these inconsistencies, I doubt that this manga was entirely planned out from start to finish when the author began writing. Sometimes it feels like the story is more of an unraveling more than a straight shot from beginning to end, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It definitely means that it’s not a steady rise in tension all the way through, as the drama and tension rise and deescalate wildly.
There’s a fair bit sex and nudity in this manga, but it feels like it’s not drawn in for readers. While the art can be erotic, the plot is so heavy and morally gray that I can’t imagine the author intended it just to be softcore porn. These are horny college students and it feels like the sex is there to add an extra layer of realism more than anything else.
There’s an interesting subplot I brought up earlier of Mikako and Kaito both viewing themselves as ticking time bombs. Mikako knows that as she ages, it’s going to be impossible to keep pretending to be 15, whereas Kaito believes that the older he gets, the harder it’s going to be to pass as a woman. The idea of nineteen-year-olds already viewing themselves as running out if time is a cool theme, and it slots in perfectly with Kaito’s gender identity concerns and Mikako’s fetishizing of youth. However, this subplot kind of falls to the wayside during the last quarter of the manga. It’s still present in the subtext, but I wish it was directly addressed in the story’s climax.
I haven’t spent much time pointing out Himegoto’s flaws, so here’s what I believe could deter your experience with it. The characters might not be likeable. Sometimes their actions can seem irrational or morally wrong, and if you don’t enjoy stories where characters aren’t always great people, you’re not going to enjoy this one. Sometimes the erotic and sexual artwork of the manga feels like a supplement to the character’s current feelings as previously mentioned, but other times it just feels like a distraction. Lastly, the story just may not suit your tastes. This manga felt right up my alley, but if you find yourself unable to identify or even sympathize with the characters, then you probably won’t enjoy it. The current translation has a few spelling errors, but they’re kind of hilarious so it’s OK (“I wonder if this closet is filled with closet just like mine…”). To me these are all just nitpicks at best, but it varies from person to person, as Himegoto can feel oddly personal at times.
I won’t go into spoilery details, but the ending is near-perfect. Every time I re-read it, I stumble upon more hidden implications and symbolism. It’s got a perfect balance of ambiguity and resolution that leaves you satisfied but also fills you with lingering thoughts. It even made me tear up, that’s how impactful it was.
In case you weren’t able to tell, I really enjoyed Himegoto. Rarely does a manga inspire me to put on my thinking cap like this one did. There’s so much to dissect, too. I could keep writing this essay and find more points of symbolism, but it’s got to end someday. The characters are some of the most unique and developed I’ve ever seen in 100 chapters, and its themes of identity, manipulation, sexuality, and possibly transgenderism aren’t often seen in anime or manga. Due to its mature themes, I don’t think this is ever going to get an adaptation, and overall I’m alright with that. Himegoto is a near-masterpiece in its finished state, and I highly recommend it if you were interested by any of the topics in this write-up.