(Hana Yori Dango)
by Yoko Kamio
October 29, 2013
36 total volumes
Publisher: VIZ Media, shōjo
Genre: Romantic comedy, teen, YA
Tsukushi Makino is accepted into the prestigious, Eitoku Academy. Life changes dramatically for Tsukushi when her friend falls on Tsukasa Domyoji. Tsukasa is the explosive leader of the "F4," a group of the most powerful, rich and handsome boys. Domyoji refuses to accept Makiko's apology and Tsukushi steps in to protect her friend. A red tag appears in the Tsukushi's locker the next morning which is a sign from the F4 that she is to be bullied by the school. Tskushi continues to stand up to her oppressors.
So, obviously, I’ve developed a thing for sparkly, dramatic, over-the-top shojo manga through the years. Partially, it’s what I’ve been exposed to, partially it’s because some series do some really interesting things and tangent into unique areas before coming back to the main plot. Admittedly, it’s also because even if it’s not something I’m a million percent down with story-wise, I’ll absolutely get behind it if it’s completely cracked out and over-the-top.
This does not mean it is bad. It just means it’s different and I’m likely reading shojo for reasons that differ from the rest of humanity.
With that in mind, I’ll likely be going through some shojo (or shoujo) titles in the next few weeks, because we’re ramping up toward Valentine’s Day, winter is an opportune time for cuddly romance, and honestly some of these titles are just so balls-out ridiculous it’s amazing.
With that in mind, we’ll start with one of the classics.
Tsukushi is a poor student whose family has managed to get her into Eitoku Academy, school to the rich. The other students consider her beneath them, a weed (which is emphasized by her name, one of the little things English readers might not always pick up on). The school is socially ruled by the F4, a clique of 4 of the most elite, richest, hottest dudes in the school which is led by Tsukasa Domyouji. After a confrontation with the group, he takes an interest in her. They start off as massive adversaries and eventually, there is mutual interest and the rest of the series is more or less them trying to stay together/be given a chance together.
This is the severe cliff notes version because this thing is like 36 volumes long. And it’s worth every bit of it. This ain’t your typical CW angst show material, yo (Though it should absolutely be a CW show. Why we don’t have a version of this makes me want to scream into the void).
A love triangle between Tsukushi, Tsukasa, and Rui (another F4 that is partially attempted to be solved by basketball at one point.
Various times the school goes after Tsukushi at Tuskasa’s whim, but then he changes his mind – this includes a moment where he gathers the thugs who went after Tsukushi, strings them up by their ankles from the roof of the school, then encourages Tsukushi to cut them down and let them fall.
Rui’s model friend that he was in love with but never confessed to because of how he relates to people shows up so the love triangle becomes a weird square until she decides to become a lawyer.
Tsukasa has an arranged fiancé he doesn’t know about because half this series is his mother trying to prevent him from marrying down.
There are lookalikes of various characters.
Various characters are framed in certain situations that they then have to figure out
Tsukasa has amnesia at one point and by then the rest of the F4 is helping him get together with Tsukushi so they have to un-amnesia him
Various moments when Tsukasa and Tsukushi go on random field trips (where like the whole school is apparently shoved on a big boat and goes to an island or goes skiing or whatnot) and they get lost or thrown into situations that almost lead to intimacy but not quite.
So typical high school stuff, amirite?
I mean you could use this series as a list of shojo tropes and I’m sure some of you are wondering what I’m on at the moment.
Joy. I’m on joy, my dudes. And chocolate.
Here’s the thing: through it all, it works because of the characters. To start, neither Tsukasa or Tsukushi is terribly likable. We root for Tsukushi because we’re more like her (well most of us probably are), but she’s not a typical nicey-nice heroine. She’s prickly. She’s defiant. She’s stubborn, and not in accessible ways. She’s awesome. Tsukasa may start off somewhat borderline psychotic (and I get this only works because fiction), but his experiences with Tsukushi cultivate his empathy (and really that of all the F4).
There are some fantastic moments with side characters and it’s really interesting that this series choose to develop some rival characters into friends for the protagonist. Because it’s so long, it can do things that movies/series/books we’re used to can’t really do and venture into territory they don’t. A lot of the cast ends up sticking around or popping back up, and have their own moments with other side characters that lead to them slowly changing their views.
It’s a decent look at the economic strains of Japan and something that I think we really don’t always try to understand. You get a look at how Tsukushi’s father is handling the recession and what that means for her and others – and because her rich classmates just don’t get it because they don’t have to deal with that sort of thing, it’s a contradiction and setting that brings about some really interesting and funny moments.
Yeah, you’re going to get frustrated with the characters, but you also grow to develop a love for them. You want things to work out, even if in the real world they probably wouldn’t. You end up not minding all the bizarre twists and turns and drama because it’s different drama than what we see in our entertainment every day. Granted, I prefer the mid to end of the series because I do think it’s a little bumpy to start (especially if you’re not used to reading these kinds of plots), and I like some moments more than others, but I will always love Boys Over Flowers. It was my first long series that I read and remains one of the best.
And seriously, let’s have our own drama version already because I maintain this is one of the few things that could be adapted somewhat easily and still work.