It has been far, far too long since I last read something by Fumi Yoshinaga. There was a wonderful period where something new came out every couple months, and then we caught up with Japan and there wasn’t much new stuff. This year, we get Ooku in the fall, All My Darling Daughters in the winter (possibly January next year, but whatever), and this, the conclusion to what is probably my favorite of her stories.
I had intended to re-read the first three volumes before I tried this, but I couldn’t help myself when it arrived in the mail today, I read it immediately. I was disappointed initially that it wasn’t quite like I remembered it. The beginning parts of the book are great, and are about Haru and Shota becoming manga artists and all the work they put into getting published professionally. I liked it, and I would have been delighted by it in any other series, but I remembered Flower of Life being better than that. There was also some drama involving their teacher, her old (married) boyfriend, and Majima that was just fine, and was spot-on in its depiction of the awkwardness of transitioning through relationships and having to say no… but again, I expected better of Flower of Life.
Then it delivered. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there is more drama between Majima and the teacher later that leads to one of the best scenes I have ever seen in a manga. It’s a scene between Majima and Haru. Both boys remain totally in character and are somehow there for each other without realizing what they are doing to support one another. Haru in particular shines brightly with an amazing and very long speech that I wish could have gone on forever. This scene was also magical because it relates back to something Shota had said about the manga he was making with Haru.
But that scene wouldn’t have been possible without the other excellent scene was between Haru and his sister and family. Not much gets Haru down, but he loses it after what his sister tells him and what he realizes about secrets between family members. We also find out the meaning behind the title of the series from the end of this scene (not that it wasn’t already apparent, but this made it pop even more).
The small details, things that other series would ignore that Flower of Life focuses on, also make it for the finale. I like all the story time dedicated to the random members of Haru’s class. They don’t have much to do with the main characters at this point, but we still learn about classmates dating and breaking up, how one girl might transfer out, and one boy working up the courage to ask an older woman out. Lots of time is spent on this character development, actually, and while much of it was lost on me since I had a hard time remembering who these people were from the previous volumes. As I said, it’s yet another thing that makes Flower of Life special.
There are lots of other details in the story I could call attention to. Though I mentioned I was a bit disappointed with the beginning of the book, the first few pages didn’t let me down, since Haru’s mother was introduced and she was more funny and charming than she had any right to be. There’s a lot of time spent with a manga editor and what he thinks of his job. There are even discussions about how the characters have changed over the school year. The actual ending is something like Antique Bakery’s ending in that it just sort of ends, but, you know, life goes on, and the conclusion that was offered in the two scenes that I described above was enough for me.
It’s just wonderful. It’s funny and sad and inspirational and just… wonderful. Definitely my favorite of Yoshinaga’s work, and it’s not an easy thing to play favorites among her series.
So this is the last one I had backlogged for review. I wanted to finish with this, because this is one of the best series I am currently reading. I was thrilled when I found out that there’s one more volume coming out.
What makes this one of the best series I’m reading right now, standing with Jojo and Holic and the like? Unfortunately, I cannot adequately describe to you the charms of this series. It is almost wholly based on conversation and everyday events between high school students, and everything about it is touching and funny and just hits all the right spots for being a really sweet series.
One of the things I admire most about it is that it has not fallen into romance territory at this point. There are two side romances going on, but none of the main characters are really falling in love with each other, and to avoid that plot trap in favor of having Christmas parties is truly a feat. One of the two romances is actually more for comedy’s sake than anything else, and I about DIED when I read the last page of this volume… not only because of the situation, but the perfect joke that was thrown in there as well (not the one about the breasts, the one about the situation). It’s also almost totally aware that it’s a manga, and manages to make snide and perfect geeky commentary on the medium via one character’s shounen ai mangaka hobby and another character’s total otaku-ness.
There’s usually a perfect moment in every volume, and this time around it was a quiet one on a train between two secondary characters where they discuss how Christmas was their favorite time of year because you’ve finally gotten to know everyone in your class, there’s no pressure for exams yet, and the time when you all split up and move on to separate classes and have to start over again getting comfortable with other people is far away. It was bittersweet and just… wonderful. Absolutely wonderful.
This series is just perfect. It blows Antique Bakery out of the water, and that’s hard to do.
I really like this one. It’s quite a fine manga. It continues to kind of meander, but we do get a few things introduced here and there that could be construed as continuity.
There were three instances of pure genius, though. One is where the nerdy kid busts into a classroom and yells “Hey Sadako, you forgot something!” Everyone in the class is horrified that he bluntly spoke what they were all thinking. As someone who has had to sit through both versions of the Ring three times with three different sets of people and been accused of a likeness to Sadako all three times, I thought that was particularly hilarious.
Another great scene was where the nerdy kid suddenly bursts out at Sadako (which isn’t her name, but is close enough for me) and just reams her for making both the men in her gay couple burly, then launches into a long diatribe about the mechanics of yaoi manga. I resent reading a manga about manga culture a bit, but I forgive this series some because it’s really only the nerdy character, and he pulls it off perfectly.
The third moment was when Haru tells all his friends that his sister is a shut-in. The absolute stop to pleasant chatter and the looks on all their faces, along with his sister’s reaction, is perfect. (edit: this is a lot funnier if you know what a hikikomori is, which is likely what he accused his sister of being in the original. I didn’t find out about the hikikomori until, like, two years after I read this)
There were many other good things about this manga, and the nerdy guy was clearly the star this time around. He just had too many funny scenes. At one point, his “priceless reward” for doing something is getting the opportunity to call a girl a bitch in a play. He also gets a really funny scene with the teacher, who goes on at length near the end about how she became what she calls an ambiguous metrosexual who is in the middle of an affair with a married man.
I could read this series forever. I’m sad things are wrapping up with the next volume.
If I tried to describe the plot of this to you, you would think it was boring. In fact, I’m not sure how it DOESN’T manage to be boring, but it does. It’s entirely based on conversation between completely normal high school students. That’s it. That’s all there is. With this in mind, this is one of the most… I don’t know, genuine manga series I’ve ever read. Also, though several signs do point to yes, it’s not a Boy’s Love series.
All there is to the plot is that the main character is transferring into high school one month late because he’s been recovering from leukemia the past year, so he’s also a year behind everyone else in his class. He puts this out front when he introduces himself so noone has to talk behind his back, and he continues to stand up for both himself and others. The rest of the book is basically him making friends with a shorter, overweight kid who’s really shy but nice and making enemies with this kid’s glasses-wearing friend, who is a huge… otaku. There is also a teacher struggling through an unrelated affair she’s having with another teacher, some other stuff going on… but mostly it’s just talking, and somehow it manages to be awesome. Very awesome.
If you ever had any doubt that Fumi Yoshinaga writes some of the best characters ever, read this one where the characters literally need no plot in order to shine. It’s pretty fabulous.