The Boys' Club (revised)

Here is Greenwood Vol. 1 (of 9)

(this review was my first piece of comics criticism ever to appear in print, gracing the pages of The Comics Journal #269, July 2005, the special shōjo manga issue; as always, the formatting is different here, along with some grammar and paragraph breaks)

It's strange to be confronted with a book as simultaneously cute and shopworn and silly and gently perverse as Here is Greenwood, which began serialization in the popular bi-weekly shōjo anthology Hana to Yume (also home to popular titles past and present such as Please Save My Earth and Fruits Basket) in 1986, ultimately filling 11 tankōbon compilations with material by 1991.

Our protagonist is 15-year old Kazuya Hasukawa, who's heartbroken with his beloved older brother Kazuhiro for several reasons, not the least of which is that he's just married the love of Kazuya's young life, an unconscionable act by a father figure. More tellingly, Kazuya is also upset with his erstwhile male role model's choice of life path: Kazuhiro has opted to become a nurse, a gut-churningly feminine position. "And a young man's ideal crumbled into dust," muses Kazuya, as he exiled himself from his home to live in a dormitory at prominent Ryokuto Academy, a place named Greenwood, the title oft used for nests of bandits and villains in literature and song.

Accordingly, a pair of suitable bandit-villains soon confront Kazuya; head resident Mitsuru and student body president Shinobu, both handsome and charismatic and oh so pretty. Actually, all of the boys in this book are oh so pretty, though there's nothing in the way of fan service or explicit sexuality - just cute guys staring up with their dewy eyes and tousled locks and musing or grinning or looking soulful.

Yet there's an undercurrent of spice to writer/artist Yukie Nasu's book as well, kept at a unique low-intensity; the book is always falling back on whimsical humor, allowing the target audience of young girls to giggle and maybe think a tad deeper. Kazuya is shown to his room, only to find a perky pink-haired sprite of a girl named Shun waiting for him - his new roomie, despite the alleged all-male status of Greenwood. All of the usual initial embarrassments and nervous curiosities soon follow, until Kazuya gets a little too curious and notices that Shun actually fits in quite well with the boys, where it counts the most. Kazuya is apoplectic, and Mitsuru, Shinobu and Shun are delighted - this is but the first of many pranks to be played, yet also the first step toward the breaking down of Kazuya's traditional worldview.

Greenwood plainly subscribes to a different perspective: despite her additional features, Shun is regularly referred to as 'she' or 'her,' which is plainly the way she likes it. She seems to be largely popular. Elsewhere in the book, Mitsuru is trying to bumble around the halls of the dorm during a blackout, and encounters a pair of male supporting cast members in a romantic clinch. A humorous sweat drop appears on Mitsuru's brow, but that is all, save for some affectionate joking later on. All the while, Kazuya reevaluates the wisdom of promising to never go home again, as he feels himself becoming simpatico to the re-written rules of masculintiy that haunt the corridors of Greenwood; virtually no pages are set in the classroom, but lessons are indeed learned.

Apprently, Here is Greenwood occupied an unsecured place in Hana to Yume, as Nasu cheerily announces only on page 145 that the series has finally been picked up as a continuing feature. And one can instantly feel the pull of more standardized plots and story types; the very first chapter in "commemoration" of Greenwood's regular serialization is the old 'mysterious character befriends the leads and turns out to be someone famous' yarn. There's also a cute girl -- anatomically correct this time -- who tries to hand a Valentine's Day gift to Kazuya only to find herself constantly thwarted, and a mysterious woman with a dark interest in Mitsuru. The former plot is sweet and genuinely sad, the latter less compelling.

But both make one yearn for a return to the gender twists of earlier chapters - not literal gender swaps of a Ramna 1/2 sort, but a subtler and easygoing alteration of what masculinity means, albeit in a universe of bishōnen looks and comedy pranks. There's a scene late in the book involving a woman with an interest in young boys. "I want to caution you all against becoming a woman like this!" barks Nasu's author's note to her reading girls. But in her shōjo universe, she's already altered what boys can become, and it seems to be for the better as far as the book is concerned.