At school, Kyouko Hori is perfect and popular. She has great grades, she looks gorgeous, and everyone wants to spend time with her. Izumi Miyamura, on the other hand, looks like a gloomy geek. Then one day Hori and Miyamura find out each other's secrets: both of them are very different outside of school. The reason why Hori can never go out with her friends after school is because her parents work all the time and she's responsible for taking care of her brother and all the housework. Outside of school, she never wears makeup and barely bothers to do her hair. And Miyamura is secretly tattooed and pierced.
My gold standard for “students who are different at school than they are at home” manga is Kare Kano, in which the two main characters basically wear perfect masks as school, for different reasons (Yukino because she thrives on praise, and Arima because he feels he needs to somehow repay his adoptive parents for their affection).
By comparison, Horimiya was kind of a disappointment, since neither Hori nor Miyamura (I'm going to refer to them both by their surnames) seemed to have very good reasons for wanting to keep their secrets. I could understand Hori's situation the best – it probably felt nice to be viewed as effortlessly beautiful and perfect by her fellow classmates, and she probably worried that she might lose their affection if she was suddenly less than perfect. Still, it was a little odd that she hadn't at least told her best female friend her secret.
Miyamura, on the other hand, was a mystery. At one point, someone asked him why he'd even bothered to get all those piercings and tattoos if he was just going to hide them. His response? “You know how sometimes you just get it done on a whim...?” Nine piercings and a bunch of tattoos seem like a bit more than a whim. Miyamura was actually less embarrassed to have people think he was on his period (a spur-of-the-moment excuse for not bathing with the other boys during a school trip) than he was at the thought that others might find out he had tattoos and piercings.
At the moment, the best I can come up with is that Miyamura seems to be very shy and wants very badly to fade into the background for some reason. At the same time, he seems to be very lonely. Hopefully Miyamura's motivations are explored more later on.
The premise is so flimsy that I'm a little surprised that this volume worked as well for me as it did. It helped that I liked Daisuke Hagiwara's artwork, but the thing that really carried this series was the adorableness that was Miyamura (and Miyamura + Hori). Miyamura was sweet, gentle, awkward, and a bit clueless. He enjoyed getting to be around Hori and her little brother all the time, but he was also a bit baffled by the relationship developing between him and Hori. Outside of school, they were friends who were completely comfortable with each other, with hints of possible romance on the horizon. At school, they were completely different, to the point that people were starting to notice and wonder about super-popular Hori talking to gloomy Miyamura more often than usual.
This is the kind of series that could quickly fall flat on its face, but so far I'm charmed enough by Miyamura and Hori that I'm willing to read on. It'll be interesting to see where HERO takes things. It's only the first volume, and already one classmate has learned Miyamura's secret, but not Hori's, and one classmate knows Miyamura both in and out of school but doesn't realize they're the same person. Volume 2 could get messy.
There's a one-and-a-half page artist's afterword, a three-page bonus comic featuring Myamura (a tiny Miyamura with cat ears), and some translation notes (which are nearly useless and could have included a lot more).
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- Kare Kano (manga) by Masami Tsuda; His and Her Circumstances (anime TV series) - This series has a different sort of energy, but it might still work for those looking for something else in which two students wear masks at school and discover each other's true selves.
- Kimi ni Todoke (manga) by Karuho Shiina; Kimi ni Todoke (anime TV series) - Not quite the same, but another good one for those looking for an incredibly sweet school romance series. The premise: Sawako is a sweet girl who desperately wants to make friends with people, but unfortunately she looks like the creepy girl from The Ring. She gradually makes friends and begins to fall in love with the most popular boy in class, who secretly has an enormous crush on her. In some respects, Sawako and Miyamura are very similar people. I've reviewed the anime and the first three volumes of the manga.
- High School Debut (manga) by Kazune Kawahara - This one's even less like Horimiya than the other two, but bear with me. The premise: now that tomboy Haruna is in high school, she'd like to have her first boyfriend, but she has no idea how to go about getting one. She enlists the help of Yoh, the coolest guy she knows. Like Miyamura (when he's not in school), Yoh looks cool and unapproachable, but he's secretly sweet and a little awkward. I've reviewed the first four volumes of the manga.
- Fruits Basket (anime TV series); Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya - Those who don't mind their manga/anime having significant fantasy elements might want to give this series a try. The entire Sohma family is hiding a secret: several of them turn into animals in the Chinese zodiac when they're sick or hugged by a member of the opposite sex. Hori and Yuki Sohma are a lot alike - both of them are perfect and beloved at school, but doubt that everyone would love them as much if they revealed their true selves.