Story and art by Hisachi Eguchi
Originally published by Shueisha (1981, 4 volumes)
The story follows Kousaku Sakamoto, a recently orphaned child who moves to Tokyo to honour his mother’s dying wish. He lives with her friend Ibari Oozora, the boss of a mob group. Feeling uneasy about the situation, he considers leaving, until he meets Ibari’s four daughters – his favourite being Hibari – only for him to find out the Hibari is Ibari’s only son! We follow Kousaku as he lives among mobsters, struggles through high school, while refusing Hibari’s advances towards him.
Stop! Hibari-Kun! was a manga that changed my opinion on the gag genre. Before reading this, I didn’t think it was possible for a manga of this genre to be funny while exploring complex social issues. This piece does just that, and to a high standard.
Eguchi’s art embodies a transitional stage that came with 1980’s manga. The art is still simplistic, with many characters having basic designs and costumes, yet new techniques have been implemented that results in considerable changes. For one, this period marks a more realistic representation of people. In previous decades, human characters were simplistic and cartoonish, with very few realistic features that readers could identify with. Eguchi, renown for his expertise in drawing the female body, has challenged this visual style, preferring more realistic interpretations of the human characters. While action shots are still played out by chibi (miniature) versions of the characters, serious moments are captured with incredible art that still holds up today. I would have liked to see this extended to more background art, which were sometimes left blank at inopportune moments.
In spite of being a gag manga, it doesn’t shy away from “controversial” topics. This piece is incredibly progressive, dealing with issues regarding gender, cross dressing and homosexuality. At first, many readers will see this work as dated, being both homophobic and transphobic. The crossdressing male Hibari is always seen as a point of hilarity, his shenanigans while dressing up as a female often the joke of the manga. However, as a character, Hibari is perceived as incredibly beautiful. At her school, she is the most popular girl, considered the prettiest among all the female students and is also an incredibly smart and a gifted boxer. Every character falls for her charm and courage, even when they know she isn’t a girl. While jokes were created about how Hibari’s identity affected others, it’s never said that what she is doing is actually wrong.
If Eguchi was truly trying to denounce crossdressing or transsexuality, he wouldn’t have made Hibari such a developed, beautiful and successful character. He could have easily created a character that was very obviously a man, and made awful attempts to pose as a girl an addition to the running gag. But instead, he wanted his readers to question the beliefs that were weaved throughout social norms. The protagonist, Kousaku, is constantly questioning whether he should be with Hibari or not. Eguchi does a great job explaining to the reader why there is nothing wrong with transsexuality without explicitly saying it, guiding the reader to come to the conclusion on their own. The main character is unable to come up with a reason why it’s wrong, and the reader is left to do what they please with that information. Further, Hibari is comfortable with her identity and unwilling to compromise. Some characters even have serious outbursts, denouncing arranged marriages, homophobia and inequality. These moments are rare in gag manga, let alone manga created in the 1980s. Incredibly progressive, and written in a way that makes the reader believe their thoughts on the issue were made themselves. Though, the fact that crossdressing has to be the butt of a joke, and the character’s reactions from it, can sometimes be disappointing.
As a gag manga, Stop!! Hibari-kun! doesn’t have a developed story. Story development ceases after the first chapter, where most characters and settings are established. The Manga then continues as an episodic piece, with each chapter running independently of the last. As the characters didn’t change at all, and no relationships really developed by the end of the piece, it almost seemed like this manga was a compilation of filler chapters, devoid of any plot. However, Stop!! Hibari-kun! doesn’t set out to tell a complex story filled with dramatic plot twists. Its goal is to entertain its readers, making them laugh as they journey with the highly dysfunctional Oozora family. And for the most part, it did just that. There were many moments where I laughed out loud, and could identify smart writing weaved through plotless chapters. The author constantly breaks the fourth wall, offering stories about his own struggles meeting deadlines and procrastination techniques. In addition, random characters, including himself, are added as one panel explanations for events that are transpiring at that time, for example, alerting the reader it’s the time of day, or explaining to the reader the history between to characters. At first, I thought these little jabs at reality would pull me out of the manga, but it did the opposite. I enjoyed reading this manga, not because it pulled me into an expansive universe, but because it made me smile.
It made me forget some of my troubles, while I ventured through what could only be described as utter absurdity. It’s hard to think of any original insult, because this manga is constantly making fun of itself. It adds some charm, and makes it impossible for the reader not to smile at a manga that considers itself a joke. I didn’t realise that I had read 50 chapters where, essentially, nothing happened, until the ending. This manga ends abruptly due to cancelation, leaving me incredibly disappointed. As most plot development occurred in the first few chapters, I had hoped some form of conclusion would have been made as a final ounce of development.
Stop!! Hibari-Kun! is a manga synonymous with the 80s; semi-realistic art, boisterous teens and more cinematic techniques. It’s a fun read on a surface level, yet, it explores some very progressive topics for its time when you look a bit deeper. While it may not provide insightful character or plot developments, this manga made me smile, and could still make anyone laugh almost 40 years after its creation.
Art – 8
Story – 6
Writing – 7
Overall – 7/10
Image sources: https://littleanimeblog.com/2016/05/16/news-hibari-kun-author-hisashi-eguchi-claims-hunter-x-hunter-hiatuses-as-his-accomplishment/ , https://transgirlmedia.wordpress.com/2017/06/08/hibari-ozora-stop-hibari-kun/, http://www.mangareader.net/stop-hibari-kun/4/13, http://www.mangareader.net/stop-hibari-kun/41/4