“Boys over Flowers”: Inspiring, but with distracting flaws

By Kory Cerjak

Title: Boys Over Flowers (Hana Yori Dango)
Author: Yoko Kamio
Publisher: Viz Media

Boys Over FlowersIn 1992—one year removed from what is possibly the biggest shojo sensation ever, Sailor MoonBoys Over Flowers (known in Japan as Hana Yori Dango) was first published in Margaret by Shueisha in Japan. Eleven years later, Viz Media published it here in North America. These are two of the most influential shojo manga of the 1990s (alongside Fruits Basket and Kare Kano, among others). And while Sailor Moon might be the franchise that’s survived after all this time, it’s Boys Over Flowers that’s the top selling manga of all time, according to ComiPress. I’ve talked about Kare Kano already, and now I’ll talk about HanaDan, as the fans call it.

HanaDan is about Tsukushi Makino, a middle-class high school student, going to a high-class private school. Her father is stuck at his position and Tsukushi’s parents hope that she can meet people who will elevate their status and make a better life for them.

Fans nowadays may see the premise and relate it to Ouran High School Host Club (also published by Viz), but its story and ultimate goal could not be more different from Ouran. From the get-go, author Yoko Kamio works to establish not just a strong female character in Tsukushi, but a role model for the teenage girls reading Margaret. While Haruhi in Ouran is a fun character to watch, and certainly a strong female character in her own right, the story revolves around how she changes the host club members. Haruhi certainly changes throughout Ouran, but her impact and arc is more felt through Hikaru or Tamaki than in herself. With HanaDan, it’s all about Tsukushi. She’s slowly changing Domyoji and Rui (more on them later) and others, but it’s her growth that drives the story.

The most endearing part of the series is how Tsukushi handles the adversity that comes before her. She butts heads with the F4 (The Flowery Four, the school’s top-notch kids with the most influence behind them) and gets a “red card” as a result. The red card means that everyone in the school avoids her and that she’ll be bullied, nigh on terrorized, by the F4. As we saw early on, most people just crumble under the pressure and transfer schools. But Tsukushi doesn’t have this option, since her parents are sacrificing so much just to pay for the tuition. She stands up to the F4 and gives them red cards of her own!

It’s not these moments that make Tsukushi strong, though. Anyone can stand up to bullies, though of course it takes a lot of guts to do so and her actions shouldn’t be taken lightly. No, it’s the moments when she’s alone and says to herself that her legs feel like jello and she’s on the verge of tears. These make Tsukushi more human and more relatable than someone who’s just blindly confident. Kamio is teaching something very important that a lot of shojo manga doesn’t teach: It’s important to have a strong outer shell, but it’s all right to allow that shell to be broken. Because if that shell breaks, you’ll need only build a stronger one.

I have one huge problem with the main antagonist/sometimes love interest Tsukasa Domyoji thus far. He’s portrayed as simply a cold and bumbling villain, with nothing on his mind aside from his petty grudges. If it was just shoving people into lockers or throwing eggs at them, then whatever, he’s just a mean ol’ bully. But Domyoji goes so far as to hire a few of the boys to rape Tsukushi, and then almost rapes her himself later on. Japan sometimes has this fascination with fictionalizations of rape that is just unacceptable as a storytelling method. On one hand, Domyoji is a naïve high school student and on the other hand, it’s rape. The trope, I guess you could call it, is just an intrusion to an otherwise great story. I’m mad it’s even there.

But don’t let the rape trope distract you from the manga so greatly as to put it down. Through three volumes, it’s a gripping human interest tale about a high school girl trying to survive out of the water, her friend from childhood trying to adapt to his new life, and the rich people surrounding them being shallow people.

There’s an event following the F4 bullying and deciding to stop bullying Tsukushi that showcases the sometimes horrifying nature of females. On the blackboard, three girls wrote that Tsukushi has had two abortions, merely in an act of petty hurt. They’re jealous that Tsukushi has garnered the attention of Domyoji and other F4 member, Rui Hanazawa. When they try to comfort her and invite her to a party, they then shun her and pour champagne over her head. Their entire goal in the matter was to simply publicly shame Tsukushi. But this is where Tsukushi shines as a character. She doesn’t just cry and wait for the boy to come to her rescue. She concocts a plan of her own to get back at these girls at the high class party they’re attending. Tsukushi undermines one of them and pours champagne over HER head in front of a friend of her family, humiliating her. The act is just as petty, but it shows that Tsukushi can hold her own, and it’s greatly appreciated that she can do so among the bevy of shojo manga heroines.

The artwork, unfortunately, leaves something to be desired. It’s not nearly as beautiful as that of Kare Kano and not nearly as detailed as in Fruits Basket. Comparisons notwithstanding, the art certainly does its job and it’s not bad by any means. It’s just that I’ve seen better from her contemporaries. For example, Tsukushi’s hair will go back and forth from being filled to being not filled, giving the impression that the hair is actually changing colors. It’s these kinds of imperfections that make it seem amateurish. But, flipping through volume 11, it looks like her art only gets better as she grows to draw these characters. Even flipping through volume five, the art is an improvement over volume one. Even in volume one, though, the art is beautiful and detailed when it matters most. It’s just in the moments in between that are lacking.

Viz’s translation is what’s really lacking in these volumes, and really distracting me from fully immersing myself into the manga. There are moments when the bubbles will skirt too closely to the inside of the book, which makes reading the text almost impossible. There are also really amateur mistakes with names. Tsukushi will be misnamed Tsukasa, among a few others. These intrusions were few, but at least one per book. On a professional level, these mistakes shouldn’t be coming up at all. HanaDan was released at about the height of the manga/anime bubble in the US, so their workload might have been overflowing. But it’s still no reason to ignore professionalism in releases.

HanaDan isn’t something to just pick up, it’s something to immerse yourself in. Running until 2003 and with a whopping total of 37 volumes, it’s definitely a commitment. The manga was licensed and released in full by Viz Media from 2003 to 2009. Unfortunately, those volumes have mostly gone out of print. Some new copies still exist at Right Stuf and Amazon, though, and if you’re lucky, you could find some at a local comic book shop (I found most of it in full at my local one). You can also scour Amazon Marketplace. Fortunately, Viz is re-releasing the series digitally through the Viz Media app.

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Resident of Japan since 1989, creator of "The Crazing Spider-Hag"

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