Butterflies, Flowers Vol. 1 (VIZ Media)

butterflies-header.jpgThis more mature manga romance packs on the preposterous plot devices, but it’s the perfect choice for readers looking for something a little gentler and a little less kooky.

 

 

200 pgs., b/w; $9.99

(W / A: Yuki Yoshihara)

 

One of these days, dear readers, I’ll request a shrink-wrapped book that deserves the caution and what a glorious time we shall have then! Yet again, I’ve requested a review copy while rubbing my hands together in gleeful anticipation of the giggles we shall have and gotten the books only to face disappointment AGAIN. This is just a love story with some racy wordplay. (Honestly, it’s not even that racy, there’s just a lot of talk about being a virgin and someone swears once or twice.) What? WHERE IS MY SMUT, DAMMIT? And then I flip to the press release for the book, which I always do last because I’m an idiot, and it all becomes clear in an "oh oh oh oh, I get it" moment. Okay. Light sexual harassment it is. And, speaking of, remember my review for Ooku, where I name-checked my girl Jane Austen? Well, apparently, this whole Janie Does Japan thing is getting to be an actual thing. According to the press release for Butterflies, Flowers, this book is the vanguard of josei manga, designed for the over-18 crowd and that’s what’s indicated by the M for Mature label. So one girl’s "explicit content" is another girl’s "oh, they’re making jokes that they don’t think teenagers will get but their parents might, I see". (As a side note, I get a book without an M for Mature rating and there’s a tree vagina but every time I go actively seeking smut, nothing particularly noteworthy happens except an awkward hotel scene? UGH!)

Anyway, this is a sweet little love story about class with a twist worthy of a Colin Firth movie. We start with our heroine, Choko Kuze, getting interviewed for a job and, I swear on a stack of kittens, the very first question she gets asked is whether or not she’s a virgin. So welcome to round one of Guess The Shojo Reaction!

When asked if she’s a virgin, does our fair heroine…

  1. …look at him, blink once, blink again and just get up and walk out?
  2. …blink, stammer and answer the question?
  3. …turn fifteen shades of something we can’t see because the comic is in grayscale and then bust out her mechasuit and blast him to kingdom come because, dude, there are some things you just don’t ask a lady?

If I were a shojo author, we wouldn’t be in this situation, but since we are and we’re playing a fun game, I’m going to say C. (What can I say? I’m a dreamer.) Of course, I’m wrong and the answer is B. She answers the question and the cute-but-pervy interviewer grins and says that that’s wonderful. Oh, we are in for a treat today, aren’t we, dear readers? It turns out that Choko makes it through the interview process and into her training session where, surprise, surprise, no one else got the question about the state of their hymen. But, instead of getting up and walking out of the meeting like any sensible girl would do, she sits back and nods along to the trainer’s drone which, thankfully, we don’t actually have to see. When the day’s over, she heads home to her formerly-wealthy and now impoverished family’s noodle shop where she’s greeted like this is an episode of Cheers. We meet her brother, this tale’s representative for the Department of Back Story, who huffs around and crabs about their family’s lack of cash. Naturally, that’s the cue to have the family’s downfall explained in a dreamy Choko-based little flashback dwelling on a favorite servant who shepherded our cherished snowflake of a girl through her childhood. Sadly, the servant then had to be released when Daddy blew all their money on a series of bad real estate investments. Such is life, no?

The next morning, Choko heads back to work, no doubt humming the Mary Tyler Moore theme song in her head all the way downtown. She’s immediately summoned up to the executive floor where she’s greeted by the creep from the interview, who informs her that the training requirements of the company have been waived and that she has a totally glam assignment upstairs with him personally supervising her training. He finishes this extraordinary little speech by giving her a uniform that fits her perfectly and reciting her measurements. Those measurements. The measurements that I would probably have to kill someone before they could casually recite them in a room full of people. (I’m not kidding, either, don’t test me.)

And, now, for round two of Guess The Shojo Reaction! When creepy bossman recites her measurements, does Choko… 

  1. …actually call him out on it and then immediately back down when he chides her for speaking inappropriately?
  2. …walk out like she should’ve done in the interview?
  3. …use her magic whistle to summon Godzilla out of the Japanese sea and order him to eat this smarmy dude?

Sadly, the answer is A, and she is, in what has to be the best use of comic irony I’ve seen in this sort of thing, taken to task for speaking inappropriately and immediately backs down. No Godzilla today, dear readers. We do finally learn that our smarmy antagonist is Director Domoto, who is fairly senior in the company and greatly admired for his professionalism and, of course, has a swoony coterie of office ladies following his every move. Quelle surprise. He criticizes poor Choko’s tea-making skills, smile, and walk, and sets her up to be hated by the harem which, naturally, obliges. We see a few pages of this and then, thankyousweetJesus, an angry contractor shows up with a knife and ends up taking Choko hostage. I’m not sure I could’ve even made that up for a round of Guess The Shojo Reaction but there it is and it’s pretty rad. It’s not even worth a round to figure out what she does, though, she kind of stands there, eyes wide, until Director Domoto grabs the knife with his bare hands (!!!) and tells the angry contractor where the door is. Naturally, the angry contractor figures that he’s clearly dealing with someone who isn’t all there because he just grabbed a knife blade barehanded and is like "sorry but, no." and keeps a nice hold on Choko. Domoto freaks, shouts "Milady!" and yanks her away from the guy.

Yet again, our plot arrives not with a whimper, but a semi-contrived scene. Does Japan not have security guards? Metal detectors? Cameras? Silly me, if we had these things, we wouldn’t have this dramatic little scene where Choko takes the time to ask Director Domoto, in the middle of this fight, if he’s her old servant. And Director Domoto, wouldn’t look over his shoulder at her all dreamily while walking over to call security and notice that her hand is hurt, immediately freaking out about the contractor having the audacity to "mar the virgin." Wait. With all this emphasis on virginity, are there some sea serpents that I’m missing? Oh, oh, oh, hang on, Japan has volcanoes. VOLCANO! I know! Domoto is secretly pissed that Choko’s family dismissed him, even though they were going broke, and is OUT FOR REVENGE but has to wait until the moon is full, at which point she’s totally goin’ on the rocks. Is this actually going to end up like the shojo manga of my dreeeeeeams?

No sea monsters yet, but Choko does manage to summon up some of her, apparently, former spine and slap some sense into Director Domoto who is, apparently, in hysterics and about to need a lie-down on the fainting couch. She effortlessly takes control of the situation, simply ordering the knife-wielding contractor to make an appointment next time, everyone else to get back to work, and our good Director to get himself to the hospital. He cries like a little girl at his special snowflake doing something useful after a mere two people had to bleed all over the, no doubt, beige carpet and then smooches her on the forehead in what’s a very office-inappropriate clinch. It seems strange to me that the character who blushingly answered the question about her virginity would be able to take control of a situation where, thirty seconds previously, she had a knife to her throat, but the author does it fairly convincingly and the story manages to move on.

When next we meet our fair lady and lad, his hand is bandaged up and he’s telling her about stalking, I mean, checking up on her family. He has, he mentions, gone to the noodle shop and mopes that his former master and mistress didn’t recognize him. Awkward. Rather than introduce himself after tracking them down, he goes about his business until Choko shows up to apply for a job and then slimes all over her instead. I mean, he decides to watch over her as her boss, never mind all that creepy stuff about knowing her bra size. He does offer to have her transferred to another department since this might end up a little weird and she, for some reason, refuses and starts to daydream about "…the boy who was always beside me. The kind, smiling boy who devotedly took gentle care of me, like one would with butterflies, flowers."

Ooof, hang on, I have to convince the chicken Caesar salad I just had to hang out where it is for a minute because that phrase kind of makes me a little queasy. Okay, I think we’re good. See, that’s the thing about this book. Despite Choko’s drama queen older brother and Domoto’s complete obsession with virginity, these are people you might know. This book drifts towards absolute slice-of-life-with-a-twist-of-dreamy and then they say something ridiculous or get stuck in an elevator thirty floors up and you’re back in mangaland, where every girl has really light hair and every guy is perfectly proportioned. I’ll admit that I can be a girl with an eye for the absurd and always fall for the cheap laugh but this book has a steadier feel to it, more peaks and valleys and less guffaws. I do understand that it’s not supposed to be easy-funny, though, so, if I reset my paradigms and grab a box of bonbons, I can see the appeal here. It’s like Harlequin for the post-shojo set. (Note: there is actual Harlequin manga out there and I love it like caaaaaaake. Don’t let me front.) I love this stuff but I usually have to get it in the more absurd, younger format so I would absolutely be lying if I said I wasn’t interested in future volumes of this.

The rest of the book does include a totally swoony moment in an elevator and a fairly humorous interlude with Domoto’s cross-dressing bff and coworker so it’s not just paper-pushing for 200 pages. With a talent for subtlety that the first part of this book tends to leave behind in an effort to grab readers, Yoshihara knows when a scene has reached its capacity for drama and adds a chuckle, not a belly-laugh, at exactly the right point. For all my gentle mockery and dreams of sea monsters, this is actually a decent book. The end of the book is sweet but not nauseating with just a hint of bitterness, the characters are flawed but likeable, even the clichés we see in other manga (rags to riches, temporary illness scene) are handled fairly well, for the most part. There are some moments, such as the aforementioned post-knife scene where Choko takes over the room and sorts everything out, that seem at odds with what we’ve seen from characters previously. For love of a good story, though, these can be explained away fairly easily — the characters get more comfortable in their situations, questions are answered, and relationships develop. This is definitely a romantic manga, be it for the older teen or the post high-school crowd, and, once you’re past the dramatic expository scene, the story takes on a fairly steady and, more importantly, believable rhythm. Relationships, after all, are tricky things and, sometimes, younger manga tends to simplify that while Butterflies, Flowers lets things get messy, a fact that this reviewer appreciates a great deal.

The art is beautiful but not overdone, as shojo books have a tendency to be, depending on how fond the artist is on the oft-used screen background. As with the story itself, Yoshihara tends to take the time to fill in the blanks. Her office building has substance instead of just a desk fading into the distance, her cityscapes have perspective and are filled-in, as opposed to blank walls, and her characters are very defined, both artistically and from a personality standpoint. She does her flashback scenes, of which there are only a few, with a lighter touch than the rest of the novel, truly making them seem more dreamlike than the modern Choko’s adventures in officeland. The book design itself, because I care about things like this, is appealing. The cover informs the reader that this is a romantic manga but the use of bolder colors, as opposed to the pastels of many of this books shojo cousins, indicate that it isn’t entirely fluffy cotton candy dream-stuff and it’s backed up between those covers, as well. Where shojo would have another boy showing up to declare his love for the heroine to goad the hero into action, josei manga takes it a bit farther than that and has someone with a big f-ing knife show up.

If the book’s goal is to capture older readers, be they twenty-somethings or mature teenagers, who are done with high school shojo, it achieves it rather admirably. I recommend it for just those sorts — anyone of either gender who is done with adolescent romance and high school hallway interludes and looking for something a little gentler, a little less kooky, despite how often the press release uses the word "zany." | Erin Jameson

 

 

 

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