Hinako Takanaga – June – 2010 – 1 volume
this is an omnibus containing vols 1-3

Despite the fact that Hinako Takanaga has a lot of work published in English, I’ve only sampled two of her other series: Challengers and The Tyrant Falls in Love, neither of which I was very fond of. A 3-in-1 omnibus series seemed like a good opportunity to give her another try, though. Plus, Challengers and Tyrant are related series, so I thought a fresh start might be a good idea, too.

I LOVED it. Little Butterfly is one of those rare BL series that’s all about the romance, and it’s series like this that keep me coming back to the genre (well, romantic stories and hilarious porn by the likes of You Higashino, but that’s a different story). I’ve probably read about a thousand volumes of manga that cover the story of first love, but very few really peg it as sweetly as this. The vague beginnings that move into friendship, and the slow move to deeper feelings. Here, it’s complicated by Atsushi’s dark family life, and Yuki and Atsushi both have to deal with that, but they do it together. There are one or two sex scenes, but they aren’t rushed, and they make sense in the context of the story.

It has a lot of the same types of plot devices you see in other BL stories. Yuki is the bright, cheery one that approaches gloomy Atsushi in class and, during a school trip, the two get to know each other and become frieds. The mismatched pair is common, as is Atsushi’s utterly tragic family situation (his mother is mentally unbalanced, and his father is cold and uncaring). Yuki is confused about his feelings until Atsushi makes the first move. There’s some drama about whether or not to attend the same college, a potential change in family situation and living arrangement from Atsushi, a long storyline where Yuki has to pass college entrance exams, and lots of danger at home from Atsushi courtesy of a mother who randomly lashes out and a father who beats him.

But somehow, Takanaga takes all these tired devices and makes them work. This is largely because she nails the chemistry between Atsushi and Yuki. Unlike most series, where the grumpy, outsider member of the couple stays that way to comedic effect, Atsushi opens up to Yuki and stops being a jerk after the first chapter. Similarly, Yuki isn’t overly bubbly and joke-y at inappropriate times simply because his character is cast that way. Atsushi opens up to Yuki, and Yuki offers him genuine comfort when he’s going through his rough times. And the comfort scenes never turn inappropriately romantic, either. All of this does a good job of humanizing both Atsushi and Yuki, and makes the romance between them that much more believable.

If this series has a flaw, it’s that so much of it is about Atsushi’s tragic home life. It’s textbook sad stuff, and Atsushi has no friends, family, or comfort outside of Yuki. This part is rather two-dimensional, which is a shame given how skillfully written the rest of the series is. And the situation gets worse and less believable as the story goes on, unfortunately. But it’s not so bad as to wreck the excellent characters, and I like that they have something to do other than be in love with each other and entrance exams.

I don’t think I mention this very often, but I always crack a smile in BL books when, during the sex scenes, the characters moan out each other’s last names. I know calling someone by their first name is a lot different in Japan than it is in the US, but the fact you would call your lover by his last name is still very funny to me. I loved that the last word in the series was about Atsushi trying to trick Yuki into calling him by his first name.

It’s a wonderful, wonderful series for anyone who has a bleeding heart like mine. There’s nothing I like better than genuine romantic stories, and I like them best when they’re not cluttered with comedy or too much drama. Little Butterfly fits my tastes exactly, and I’m so glad I gave Hinako Takanaga another try. I’m also pleased that the omnibus edition brought the series to my attention after so long. It’s a real bargain, and definitely worth a read.