Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl

Every few years, something gets released in otaku circles that changes everything. Gundam popularized mech shows and challenged them to become more mature in their storytelling, Neon Genesis Evangelion completely changed how the anime industry profited and brought on a focus on psychological stories, Code Geass and Death Note brought a new wave of loud and morally ambiguous works (along with some edgy trash), and so on and so forth. In 1999, a visual novel studio named Key made their debut with Kanon, and that became one of those influential works. Unfortunately. Key's influence spread beyond its gaming routes, and there was a huge influx of series trying to capture that same magic they did, and all of them failing at it. Making it worse was that Key's stuff was pretty bad to begin with. Their emotional pretentiousness was a creative poison for nearly the entirety of the early 2000s and even into the late period, and Kashimashi is yet another one of those works that took too many ideas from Key's output. I really wanted to love this series on premise alone (a yuri/sex bender harem series with a ridiculous sci-fi twist), but there's just so much it does so wrong.

The story follows Hazumu Osaragi, a wimp of a guy that likes taking care of flowers and had his heart broken when he confessed his love to his crush. After wandering around in the wilderness for awhile to forget his troubles, a spaceship appears out of nowhere and crashes right into him. He should have died, but the aliens aboard managed to save his life, which also turned him into a girl. Which is something they proclaim to the whole world, while also apologizing about the whole crashing into an innocent person thing. Yes, that's really how the first chapter plays out.

From there, Hazumu tries to adjust to her new life with the help of his friends, and a love triangle begins to form between her and two other girls she has feelings for. The first is the girl who broke Hazumu's heart, Yasuna Kamiizumi, whom has hang ups with the opposite sex and takes part in the school's music club. The second is Tomari Kurusu, a tsundere and Hazumu's longtime childhood friend, who's starting to realize her real feelings for Hazumu. He also has to deal with the alien who drove her down in the first place, who's observing her for scientific study with the physical manifestation of his spaceship's AI that happens to be a pretty girl with a childish attitude that flies around everywhere (just roll with it), and not to the media. The aliens did announce the whole death and sex change thing to the world, after all. First contact resulting in a dead person being brought back to life and given a sex change is definitely something worthy of news.

Kashimashi starts with a lot of promise. The first chapter is unexpectedly hilarious in just how seriously it takes all these bizarre events, but it's not long before it finds a good groove of humor. It helps that all the characters start out pretty likable (minus Hazumu's dad, who thankfully is not important in the slightest), starting off with some fun slice of life antics. The alien and spaceship, Hitoshi and Jan Pu, also steal the show whenever they're in the story, as they're just so bizarre and out of place with the rest of the story. They're a lot of fun and get the best jokes, as their lunacy actually works because of how abnormal they are from the start. Other joke heavy human characters just come off as pointless, especially the teacher, who's only gag comes down to her fantasizing about having a boyfriend and falling from a great height. The joke wears out its welcome very quickly.

For the first few volumes, the series is enjoyable, but not without a weird moment here and there. Some of the ideas used have the nasty, lazy stink of a Key plot, like Yasuna's problems with the opposite sex not coming from her being a lesbian ...but because she can't see the faces of men. I know there's a real infliction that makes it impossible for people to see other's faces, but its use here is far too specific and convoluted. Just making her a lesbian with identity issues could have been worlds more effective, and this is a three way girl love triangle here. Why sidestep around that? Male friend Asuta also gets some stupid crap in his story, as he's dealing with his new confusing feelings for his best friend. It works okay sometimes, and then it gets weirdly sexist other times.

Where the series finally goes off the rails is when it's revealed around the halfway point that Hazumu is dying. The reason she's dying is because she's running out of "fate." Yes, that's really why, that is what the alien scientist himself says. She's running out of the abstract concept of "fate." Thus, she will eventually die in a month's time or so. So the only way to save her, and I'm not making this up, is for someone to love her and give her some of their fate, which can't be done with the survival on the mind, so Hazumu is not informed of this. What follows is several volumes of sadness as Hazumu tries to put her affairs in order, Yasuna attempts to get Hazumu to find the will to live, and Tomari not being able to handle all of this and breaking down.

This is where the series starts to fall apart. It's essentially the main trick of the Key visual novel playbook, that being forcing in drama through overly tragic magical bullcrap, but also being done in a set-up where it couldn't possibly feel more out of place. We already have two alien characters here running around, and they come from a race that's dealing heavily with their surrendering of emotion in their past. That could have been a perfect means to create more fitting drama in the story, inserting culture clash or a political struggle. Instead, the plot decides that abstract magical drama is the way to go, and it tries so hard to be deep and tragic, exploring how the various characters deal with the possibility of death.

That may have worked if they also didn't take writing notes from Key's work as well. Several monologues are so pretentious, thinking they're saying so profound when it's just a simple truth that doesn't need multiple paragraphs to convey. It works fine with Hitoshi, as he's trying to understand emotion and relationships, but it feels so sappy and overly written with everyone else, especially with Hazumu. The issue is that this chain of events goes on for over half of the series, and there's only so much you can do with roughly three volumes of characters being sad. It takes a really good understanding of human emotion and a varied cast to really make a story like this work for so long, and Kashimashi has neither of those things. It's just draining.

Yet I didn't dislike the entirety of this arc. Kashimashi is worlds better than any given Key work because it actually has some strong character writing, though it takes awhile before it becomes apparent. How Hazumu, Yasuna, and Tomari react to this tragic news and how they deal with their own fears and insecurities adds a lot of depth to them, even saving Yasuna's then troublesome character by allowing her to act selflessly for someone. Tomari is a particularly likable personality, as her fears of losing the person she loves and her frustration that her role as her guardian no longer exists really gets right to how she ticks. I like how she's used to twist up that idiotic belief that protecting someone is the highest form of love, by presenting a situation where communication and understanding is the key to showing one's love, something she's never been able to properly do.

I also like how Hazumu doesn't think too long or hard about his new sexual identity, something a lot of sex change stories always mess up with. She just concludes she's comfortable as a girl overtime without a sudden moment of realization. Instead, the sex change angle is used more to show how those around her react and how they deal with it. In many ways, the story is more the story of everyone who cares for Hazumu and not simply Hazumu herself, who plays a more passive role, but told from her perspective most of the time. She does have a full arc, but it's hard to call her love interests supporting characters. Even Asuta gets a surprisingly effective end to his arc ...until the series ends by joking that he can't move on from his attraction to Hazumu by having him date a girl who looks like her. That's not funny.

What's interesting about the art is that it actually has someone who's worked with Key on it, and it doesn't look like trash. Yukimaru Katsura's character designs nicely blend between exaggerated and realistic, with a lot of cute, soft emotions between the main cast. Supporting characters get to be all wacky, and they stick out in a great way. Backgrounds and effects are well used, and she really understands proper panel layout. The series just has a great visual flow, shown very well in the alien's solo chapter, as we see everything directly through his eyes. It's this nice artistic touch that saves a lot of the series lower moments, preventing it from being unbearably shallow and tiring.

I can't love Kashimashi, but I'm not upset that I read it. What it does right is done very well and in a way I haven't really seen in a manga. However, those moments are more few and far between, or they go on for far too long and just become a drag to get through. Problems are equal parts pacing out events and balancing the tone between silly and serious, not to mention some troubling ideas put in the subtext. At least I'll always have that first chapter, which was quite possibly the greatest first chapter ever made.


Popular Posts