The Beautiful Skies of Houou High, Vol. 1
by Aki Arata
DMP, 184 pp.
Rating: YA (16 +)
The Beautiful Skies of Houou High is an odd, gender bender comedy following the misadventures of Kei Saeba as she finds herself forcibly enrolled in an all boys school. For some girls that might not be a bad thing, but unfortunately the distinctly boyish Kei is only interested in other girls, thus her mother’s underhanded scheming forces our heroine into the all boys private school of Houou High!
The book bounces between funny, cliche, offensive and creepy. The entire premise and the first few pages read like something out of a coming of age story of a young lesbian dealing with parents who are determined to have her live a normal, heterosexual lifestyle. It’s actually a fairly good start and makes Kei rather sympathetic, it also led me to expect a satire of homosexual rehabilitation projects. Unfortunately it quickly crushed my hopes as we’re introduced to Yui Yaji, a cruel schoolmate of Kei’s, who’s somehow involved in getting her into the school and one of the few students aware of the fact that Kei’s a girl. Yui, for his part, takes every opportunity to humiliate and embarrass Kei by forcing her into situations that risk exposing her identity and through general physical harassment and bullying. A good chunk of the humor revolves around Yui treating Kei like crap, hitting her and the various chibi overreactions this all leads too. In fairness, some of the overreactions are funny, they’re just not the ones directly linked to Kei or Yui. There are a dozen other plots floating around in this book ranging from an overly manly student who secretly loves cute things, to the amusing and disturbing attachment that the principle seems to have towards the school, to a pair of brilliant twins and their mad science schemes and more. With so many subplots kicking about some are bound to be funny, but sadly the central plot isn’t one of them.
Visually the book is fairly unmemorable and average. Everyone is incredibly pretty and looks pretty androgynous, which actually works strongly against the premise of the story. See, Kei’s supposed to be an attractive androgynous looking girl and is often referred to as a pretty boy or being awfully pretty for a boy. The problem is that nearly everyone in the book looks like that! The other boys who say it, the other students who don’t say anything, and even some of the supporting cast look far prettier and more girlish than Kei. I suppose that could be considered part of the comedy, but it’s a part that seems to work against the premise her Kei struggling to look like a normal guy due to looking to effeminate. The book often lapses into chibified art for comedic purposes, typically during overreactions. It’s a bit hit or miss, as chibi comedy often is. At times it works and at other times I felt it was a bit intrusive and ends up feeling excessive and ends up coming off as overplayed.
The Beautiful Skies of Houou High is a bit of an odd book and I’m not sure what to think of it. There were definitely moments that made laugh and chuckle, but then Yui’s cruelty and abuse of his knowledge of Kei’s identity would lead to uncomfortable situations that were less comedic and more a reminder of the real life cruelty that young transexuals and homosexuals endure. I get that it’s supposed to be a reverse harem book, but the driving force behind the plot just doesn’t sit well with me, and instead of laughing at poor Kei’s situation and the Yui’s bullying, I often found myself thinking that this kind of thing will probably end in tragedy with Kei slitting her wrists in the bath tub.
The Beautiful Skies of Houou, Vol. 1 is available now. Digital review copy provided by Emanga.com.