Kei Saeba is a girl who loves girls, so she knows something’s gone seriously wrong when she ends up at a prestigious boys’ boarding school. Now she has to pretend to be a boy — and she doesn’t even like boys! What’s more, there’s some seriously weird stuff going on at Houou High…
By: Aki Arata
Age Rating:YA/Young Adult/16+
Oh no! Someone already found out? What? How? When? Where? Am I so sexy that my femininity seeped out even though I tried to hide it?
The trouble with reading a lot of manga is that you can get a little jaded. Sometimes it seems there’s no cliché, trope or plot device too weird to be grabbed onto by multiple artists, sometimes to the point of tedium. I remember being both delighted and faintly annoyed when I realised that if I described a manga as “the one with the cross-dressing boy in the all-girls’ boarding school, and no, it’s not porn”, that wouldn’t narrow it down to a single title. So I hope you’ll forgive me for being initially rather cynical about The Beautiful Skies of Houou High, which takes this surprisingly common setup and neatly inverts it, giving us a cross-dressing girl in an all-boys’ boarding school. (And no, it’s not porn.)
Sure enough, The Beautiful Skies of Houou High is rather similar to Maria+Holic, not least in that the main character, Kei, is openly and enthusiastically lesbian to the point of being repulsed by boys, and is also a bit dim. However, unlike Maria+Holic‘s Kanako (who got to revel in the company of cute girls), Kei has been tricked into enrolling at an all-boys’ school, where she must remain in disguise on pain of expulsion (and possibly worse). Not only that, but there are strange conspiracies afoot in Houou High, and for some reason they seem to centre on Kei. There’s an unspoken reason why Kei was allowed to enrol at all; there are cameras and bugs planted around the school; and there are two 11-year-old mad scientists coming up with weapons to use on Kei. Meanwhile, Kei’s been taken on as a kind of project or protégée by her sadistic classmate Yui Yajin, who has some sort of hold on the director of the school, and who delights in making fun of Kei’s misfortunes.
It’s all very wacky and silly, and it’s best not to examine it too closely (just as with Maria+Holic, it’s the kind of situation that would be creepy and weird if it were treated in a realistic way). A story like this lives and dies on the quality of its humour, and The Beautiful Skies of Houou High is hilarious. It may not be the most original premise, and I’m not sure how long Aki Arata will be able to sustain the manic energy that keeps volume 1 fizzing, but for now, it’s terrific fun and holds up well on a re-read, which is a good sign.