Inner Voice (inner_v0ice) wrote in halfamoon,
Inner Voice

picspam: the women of Kaze Hikaru

For Half A Moon last year, I wrote enthusiastically about Tominaga Sei, the heroine of the manga Kaze Hikaru. This year, I'm going to showcase the other women of Kaze Hikaru: the supporting characters and minor characters who nevertheless have a lot of personality and a lot of heart.


(a note on names: many of these names begin with O- because that was formerly used as an honorific prefix for female names.  For instance, Sei herself is actually called Osei-chan by Akesato.  Strictly, Okiku is named Kiku, Oume is named Ume, et cetera, but I chose to retain the O- since that's how they're commonly referred to in the text.)
[wikipedia on honorific prefixes]


A ditzy girl with a carefree and intensely sweet nature.

Sei's best female friend, a former geisha forced to become a prostitute after her father falls ill.  She helps Sei maintain her disguise as a boy, and pretends to be "Seizaburo"'s lover.
(She also helps Sei after Sei gets her first period and panics!)

A hard-edged and jaded woman who uses her allure to collect debts for her merchant husband.  However, when her husband asks too much of her, she leaves him.

[WARNING: Oume's story (vol.3) contains rape]

A sharp-tongued woman who helps run a spy operation for the Shinsengumi.

A shy girl with a crush on Okita, who shows surprising strength of spirit in the end.

A solicitous woman who takes care of her lover, Captain Kondo, when he's ill.

"My brother was the only one...who would love a strong-minded witch like me!"

The ill-fated Oshino is, in many ways, Sei's dark reflection.  She is what Sei could have been, if she were any less fortunate.  A fierce and spirited woman who doesn't fit into society's expectations for women, out for revenge for the death of her brother.

This is also the first time that the men of the Shinsengumi display a tendency to like strong women: "I like me a strong-minded girl!", Hijikata tells her as he deflects her assassination attempt on him.

An enigmatic little girl who is Akesato's attendant.  She acts disturbingly adult and mischievously makes dirty jokes.

A young woman who's experienced a lot of pain and misfortune.  She is proud and stubborn and chooses to make a living as a prostitute rather than feel indebted to the Shinsengumi, whom she hates.

The men of the Shinsengumi continue to show a liking for strong women: "Good.  With that kind of zing, you'll be fine on your own," Todo Heisuke tells her approvingly.

The bitter and sharp-tongued wife of the master of the Shieikan Dojo, who turns out to have a reason behind her bitterness.

A girl with freckles and frizzy hair, resigned to never being conventionally beautiful.  She unexpectedly finds someone who appreciates her, in the person of Harada Sanosuke.

The trend continues: "That spunkiness makes me like her more...♥" Sanosuke concludes after she brushes him off and storms away.

Sei's mother, a quiet woman who sacrificed her own comfort for the sake of her husband's dream to become a doctor.  All she asked in return was a promise: that he must become the best doctor in the world.

She raised Sei and her brother alone while her husband was in another city studying and practicing medicine.

A woman with nerves of steel.  She didn't bat an eyelash when a swordfight broke out on the street where she was walking, preferring to maintain her dignity as a tayu (the highest rank of courtesan) instead of running in fear, even at the risk of her own life.

And the trend still continues, as this feat of hers seems to have made Captain Kondo fall in love with her on the spot.

"She was a strong-minded girl who would carry around a dagger and took a back seat to no man."

 A woman from Okita's past, again a reflection of Sei in many ways.  Like Sei, she was a spirited girl who fell in love with Soji, but ran into the barrier of Soji's singleminded dedication to being a bushi.

A woman who is willing to do anything, even deceive a good man and prostitute herself, just to protect the man she truly loves. 

Okita Soji's family: his mother Nao, and his older sisters Mitsu and Kin.  Soji's father died when he was very young, and he was raised by his mother and older sisters.  The family fell on hard times, and all three women (Nao especially) worked hard and made sacrifices in order to make a living and to raise Soji as best they could.

The female staff of the Nishi Honganji temple, who thwart the Shinsengumi's attempts to get in.

Sei and Akesato: a leap of faith, love and desperation.

Many of the women of Kaze Hikaru are strong in a very traditionally feminine kind of way: for instance, Nao and Mitsu, who sacrifice themselves to raise Soji and even take food out of their own mouths to make sure he's well-fed; and Orin, who endures her husband's absence as patiently and faithfully as Penelope and raises her two children alone.

However, the manga also shows a lot of women who don't quite fit society's mold, in big ways or in small ones.  Omasa is resigned to being the ugly duckling beside her beautiful older sister.  Oei is bitter at her inability to give her husband a son.  Oshino sees herself as an unlovable "strong-minded witch".  Sae alienates the residents of the Shieikan Dojo with her combative attitude.  And Sei herself, of course, is the most unconventional of all. 

As you can see from my short commentaries on each character above, one of the things I like about the male characters' attitude to the women is that they often appreciate them exactly as they are.  Hijikata declares Oshino to be more spirited than the 47 Ronin themselves; Okita befriends the prickly Sae; Todo Heisuke falls in love with the proud and stubborn Oyu; Harada insists that he finds Omasa beautiful; Captain Kondo expresses admiration for Akesato after she deceives him for the sake of love.
(It's not all sunshine and roses, however!  The men have a certain tendency to regard women as chattel, and Oume's rape is treated with a rather skeevy "he was all heart and no head, so passionate, he couldn't help himself!" attitude.  However, I take this as part and parcel of the series' commitment to portraying historical attitudes accurately.)

On a purely aesthetic note, I find it amazing and impressive how Taeko Watanabe manages to create relatively distinct character designs for each female character.  She doesn't take historical liberties with characters' hair colors or hairstyles, leaving her with an array of black-haired women with very similar hairstyles, and yet she manages to give each character an individual personality using only variations in the shape of the face, eyes, nose and mouth.

public service announcement: the scans with text were altered by me from raw Japanese scans, because my scanner is broken and I couldn't scan my English volumes.  I don't support scanlations for Kaze Hikaru.  It's been licensed by Shojo Beat, with 18 volumes out so far in a fantastic translation that deserves to be bought.  Unfortunately, it seems that Kaze Hikaru might not be doing well on the market, and Shojo Beat has scaled down the frequency of its releases.  If anyone wants to help make sure that Kaze Hikaru's translation isn't discontinued, I would be so grateful if you bought the manga.  [/public service announcement]

Tags: .meta & discussion, .picspam, kaze hikaru
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