Manga Review – Boys over Flowers

Boys Over Flowers Volume 1

Boys over Flowers
花より男子 (Hana Yori Dango)
KAMIO Yoko
Shoujo – Romance, drama, comedy, reverse harem
37 Volumes (complete)
Viz Media
Out of print (physical), digital available

Summary:

Tsukushi is a poor girl attending an elite private school. The school is ruled by a group of guys called the F4. Students who anger the F4 are bullied and hazed, but when Tsukushi’s friend is nearly made the newest target, Tsukushi’s anger erupts and is made the next victim instead. However, Tsukushi isn’t planning to go down without a fight!

Review:

Japan’s number one best-selling shoujo manga in is getting a sequel… in a shounen magazine? In honor of its revival, I decided to revisit this award-winning, record-breaking series. Does this 20 year old series stand up to time? 

Boys Over Flowers is essentially a manga version of a teenage soap opera or dramatic sitcom. Almost any method you have seen TV writers use to delay getting the main or fan-favorite couple together is used here. Kamio mentions thinking the story would end in about 5 volumes. At almost every milestone, the author notes how she never thought the series would last so long. Obviously, it’s almost always a pleasant surprise when a creator finds unexpected success and is encouraged to expand their work. However, story-wise, there is a risk when a series continues long past its projected completion. While I’m sure the ending would have been quite different there. Like a TV series, the ending of every arc (think TV season) could have been rewritten as the series finale with minimal effort. It’s not terrible, but as the series drags on, it becomes painfully obvious that plots are used more to stall the story rather than develop it.

Nothing is more proof of this than the romance. The main couple spends more time apart then together, unfortunately. Tsukushi and her boyfriend hardly ever spend much time in raburabu mode, which is surprising considering the length. Even with the bonus ending epilogue in the final volume, the romance feels more like a “someday” thing than “now”. The traditional “happily-ever-after” is still a ways off for the main couple. To its credit, despite being categorized as a reverse harem manga, not all the members of the F4 fall in love with Tsukushi. The other two members function as commentators and advisers. In exchange, the love triangle storyline is reused several times.

Tsukushi starts off as one of the most physically and emotionally strong female leads in a slice-of-life school-life shoujo. She is clearly mot overpowered, but the fact that she makes a stand in the face of adversity makes her a a heroine and not just the protagonist. Another positive is Tsukushi’s resistance to the upper echelon’s frame of mind. Any conflicts between the rich world and normal world is done as drama, not for humor like in Ouran High School Host Club. She does not long for name-brand merchandise nor abuses her new-found friendships. Even though Tsukushi would be considered by others to be a Cinderella (like her parents), Tsukushi only accepts help reluctantly. Eventually, she should have started relying on others more. As the series continues, Tsukushi goes through a couple emotional slumps and standstills to the point others have to repeatedly nudge her forward by reminding her of her former self.

Now on to her love interests. Tsukasa is more like a prototype male yandere. He is violent, arrogant, and obsessive. Other characters aptly remark that Tsukushi is basically an animal tamer. While Tsukushi is hardly nonviolent, Tsukasa attacks anyone who gets on his nerves or just happens to cross his path when he’s in a bad mood. He’s the type of person a that I only find acceptable in fiction, although fortunately he learns to stop throwing his physical temper tantrums. Rui starts off as more of the black sheep of the F4, uninterested in revenge. He then becomes more of a sleepy space case. Both like Tsukushi, but even the author remarks neither are boyfriend material.

The art in the early volumes is almost textbook 80s: poofy hair, thick eyebrows and eyelashes, defined noses, flower backgrounds, etc. After a few volumes, Kamio starts to master her art style and characters so the artwork shift is more subtle over the rest of the series. The artwork becomes cleaner and more reminiscent of modern shoujo. A few characters are given an updated hairstyle to reflect the changing times in the real world. Kamio also has one of the most visually unique male leads. Tsukasa’s hairstyle starts out as more like pseudo-dreadlocks before being portrayed as more natural curls. Regardless, appearance-wise, he is pretty far off from the typical prince-style seen in most shoujo manga, and thus makes the series stand out visually.

Translation:

No honorifics are used. Characters generally keep how they refer to others (i.e. surnames for most) in the first 2 volumes but switch to personal names for everybody later. A lot of the text is more loosely adapted than most modern translated manga. I noticed some swapped speech bubbles in the early volumes and many typos throughout the series.  More significantly, sometimes the wrong person was addressed to or by in the text. For example, Akira calls himself the ladykiller (actually “madam-killer”) in the original Japanese volume 1, but the English text makes it seem he’s talking about Tsukasa. In that same volume, a line that was actually Tsukasa’s flashback about his sister is incorrectly attributed to Tsukushi. His poor language skills are adapted in a number of ways, including English, French, and the original Japanese.

I read the digital version of the first chapter, and they did fix the mixed up speech bubbles. I assume a lot of the typos are fixed from the print version. The font used for most of the physical releases is horrible, so I wonder if they kept it or changed it.

Final Comments:

A classic manga that brought many of the “rich boy and poor girl in the same school” tropes to the forefront. Fans of roller coaster “will they or won’t they” stories will love Boys over Flowers. If you want to see more of the couple together or a more typical romance, look elsewhere. At 37 volumes (which will easily cost over $200 for digital or the out of print physical releases), it’s a bit risky to invest in to only find out that you did not enjoy it as much as cheaper series. The early volumes are not quite representative of the whole, so it’s really a series where you need to be in it for the long hall.

I wouldn’t be surprised if an omnibus release was here soon since a sequel is being simu-published in Japanese and English. Physical copies are long out of print, but the entire series is available digitally. The kazenban release would be nice with the colored pages and less errors. Viz released volume 37 under the name Boys Over Flowers: Jewelry Box.

Boys over Flowers has been developed into an anime, J-drama, K-drama, and related films. The anime was also released by Viz Media.

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