The rollercoaster ride never stops! And I never want it to! I keep expecting Takemiya to relax a bit, give her readers some breathing space, but she just brings one shocking revelation after the other. And if you are wondering just how many shocking revelations the life of two teenage boys could possibly contain, don’t worry! Takemiya digs deep and offers up shocking revelations from the past for our reading pleasure. And what pleasure it is. As always when discussing Kaze, spoiler landmines lurk ahead along with some discussion of assault, although nothing detailed. If either of these facts are not one hundred percent with you, you should probably avoid anything after the jump.
I simply can’t get over how unrelenting this series is. This could be terrible in the wrong hands, but with Takemiya at the helm, it is an incredibly powerful way to reach the hearts of her target audience: pre-teen and teenage girls. Because this is really what it feels like to be that age, on the threshold of puberty, opening the door to adulthood and everything! is! so! dramatic! Everything is a crisis of epic proportions. You saw your friend talking to the guy you like? She’s in love with him too! How could you not have seen it??? Your parents think an unchaperoned party is not the best idea for thirteen-year-old you? Your life is ruined! Forever! You will die ugly and alone! And don’t even make me remember what it was like when a boyfriend got all tangled up in these hormones.
Takemiya reaches that dramatic tendency and lets it run wild. She doesn’t try to hold anything back. Sure, she could have written a story about a talented and popular young nobleman who dreams of being a pianist instead of succeeding his father, but why stop there when you could have that young nobleman—Aslan Battour, father to Serge, in this case—come down with tuberculosis that forces him to spend a year in a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps? And sure, that’s pretty dramatic and all, but why not throw in falling in love with a courtesan? No, wait! A Roma courtesan! Whose own parents died when she was young and she was forced to work as a maid for an old courtesan! And then they elope! And have a kid who’s a piano genius! But wait! That would be too happy. So… the tuberculosis comes back, and he dies! But not before being dramatically reunited with the father he abandoned for his Roma courtesan!
That all happens. And that is not even everything that happens in Book 5. It is amazing. Book 4 is also filled with its fair share of intensity, but continues the story of Gilbert before his arrival at the boarding school. And as I wrote in my notes while reading, “Wow, this series is so effed up that I find myself liking Bonnard for not raping Gilbert in his moment of need there.” (You may remember that Bonnard is the man who originally rapes Gilbert way back in Book Three with the help of a chloroform-soaked rag.) Gilbert’s moment of need is when Auguste rejects him in a seriously cruel way, and he has nowhere to go but Bonnard’s. Yeah. This kid’s life is so horrible that he has to turn to his rapist for sanctuary. What’s worse is that Bonnard ends up being kinder and more loving (in a non-mommies-and-daddies kind of way) to him than anyone in his life has ever been, and you start to think that maybe Gilbert will be okay after all.
But of course, this is Kaze to Ki no Uta. No one in this series is going to be okay after all. Sure enough, Gilbert’s parents (well, his mom anyway. We’ve already established that that guy she’s married to is not Gilbert’s dad) come back to Paris to crush his little heart that was starting to bloom under the care of Bonnard. His own mother shrieks at him not to touch her, that he is a demon. Meanwhile, Auguste gets the chance to face his own childhood rapist in an incredibly laid-out page of past and present.
Seriously, there is just so much going on. And the art shifts and flows with it in just the right ways. These books have a lot more openness, more space on the page, whiteness not taken up by cascades of flower petals, at times when things might actually be going well, like when Gilbert is oddly safe with Bonnard, or the times when Aslan is happy at school, creating a sort of breather visually as well as text-wise. Of course, the second things get dark metaphorically, they get dark art-wise too. It’s a nice technique and used to greater effect in Book Four in particular than I remember in the first three books.
But with so much going on story- and art-wise, Takemiya still does not neglect to remind readers just where she stands on the issues she’s bringing up. Underlying it all are criticisms of ideas such as classism and racism, with class playing a noticeably larger role in Aslan’s story. Aslan is portrayed as good and kind and gentle and everything wonderful (to the point where I actually got a little annoyed at how idealized he was), and he is always unconcerned with appearances. He is close with his servants, served by them because that is his life, but he never condescending to them, and his closest friends are not nobility but men who live in cramped quarters and have to earn their livings. And he does not care about the courtesan Paiva’s dark skin or that everyone else thinks she is beneath him. He only sees her.
Later on, after Aslan succumbs finally to his tuberculosis, and Serge is sent to live with Aslan’s mother in Paris (because of course Serge’s mother Paiva also ends up with TB), the servants at the grand Parisian house all fall in love with his sweet self, but note that with his dark skin, he’ll have a lot of trouble in life. They say this sadly as if they wish they could spare him, but also with a certain inevitability, as if there’s nothing to be done about the racism he’ll face and he’ll just have to learn to endure. To me, this was one of the saddest things in the entire series. Sure, all the tragic backgrounds and dramatic action are moving and engaging as hell, but this one scene, this was truth. This kid will be judged for the rest of his life because of how he looks and there is nothing anyone can do about it (well, you know, short of brainwashing every bigot).
I feel like this is the heart of the appeal of this series. What girl is not painfully aware (consciously or not) that her appearance is key, that people will make decisions about her based on her (non)conformance with standards of beauty and femininity? Letting us see that through this boy Serge, who is obviously (so far anyway) a kind and thoughtful person, lets us see that this is not our truth, that our appearance is not the only thing we have, that like Serge we can be good and accomplished people, no matter what the rest of the world thinks of how we look. Slow clap for you once again, Keiko Takemiya. I absolutely cannot wait to see what the rest of the series brings.