17 Dec, 2009

On the Shojo Beat: Butterflies, Flowers and More!

By: Michelle Smith, Melinda Beasi and Jennifer Dunbar

Welcome to another installment of On the Shojo Beat! This month, we look at the December debut title, Butterflies, Flowers, and revisit some ongoing series with reviews of Honey and Clover, S.A, and We Were There.

Butterflies, Flowers, Vol. 1

butterfliesflowers1By Yuki Yoshihara
VIZ, 200 pp.
Rating: Mature

The Kuze family used to be rich, with a retinue of servants ready to cater to their every whim. The daughter of the family, Choko, grew up experiencing the tender care of the chauffeur’s son, whom she called Cha-chan. Alas, after her father’s investments all tanked in an economic downturn, the family was forced to dismiss their household staff and open a soba restaurant.

Thirteen years have passed since then and Choko, now twenty, has just been hired at a new job. Almost immediately, she’s handpicked to join the administrative department by its manager, Masayuki Domoto, who seems to delight in harassing her constantly. It’s only when a disgruntled, knife-wielding man conveniently arrives to threaten her life that Domoto slips and calls her “Milady,” thus revealing the truth: he is Cha-chan. Happily, Choko catches on right away and no tiresome cluelessness ensues.

From then on, Domoto switches between his two personalities—the stern taskmaster and the devoted servant—causing Choko to refer to him as “scary and indulgent.” He picks Choko up for work each morning, but treats her shabbily while she’s there, yet is always around to protect her, whether it’s from the lecherous advances of a drunken client or the massive New Year’s Eve crowds at the family restaurant. It doesn’t take her long to fall for him, and though she tells him so, he doesn’t understand her feelings at all. By the end of the volume, Choko has embraced more of a master role in order to help Domoto see her as an independent woman and not the little girl he helped to raise.

Technically, Butterflies, Flowers is josei, but so far, it doesn’t feel much different from other romantic comedy titles in the Shojo Beat line. It’s a tad racier, with references to sex and some profanity, but one could find that in shojo properties without much effort. I’m sure many will read and enjoy it without being aware of any distinction concerning its origins.

Choko is an okay character: your typical cheerful, clumsy, hardworking type. Because of her sheltered upbringing, she sometimes comes across as incompetent and experiences chibified shock quite often. I like her the best when she switches into aristocratic mode and takes charge of the situation, be it bullying Domoto into seeing a doctor when he falls ill or deciding that even if he can’t grasp that her feelings for him are real, she’s going to keep on demanding his affection until he catches on. Domoto himself is an extremely difficult character to figure out—which one is the real him?—but some of the nicest moments occur when he’s flustered by Choko and shows his more vulnerable side.

Overall, this series is a lot of fun, though definitely lighter fare than I’d been expecting. Still, I like the characters and, even more, I’m intrigued by the new power dynamic emerging in the final few pages. I’ll definitely be back for volume two!

Volume one of Butterflies, Flowers is available now.

–Reviewed by Michelle Smith

Honey and Clover, Vol. 8

honeyclover8By Chica Umino
VIZ, 200 pp.
Rating: Older Teen

After an excellent seventh volume focusing primarily on Takemoto and his journey of self-discovery, Chica Umino replicates the feat with another fantastic installment, this one centering on Yamada and the choice she faces: continue to torture herself by working alongside the long-time object of her affections, Mayama, and the woman he loves or accept the chance to move on presented by Nomiya, Mayama’s coworker.

It’s so very easy to sympathize with Yamada here as she vacillates between anguish over and tearful acceptance of the palpable shift in Mayama and Rika’s relationship. Though she recognizes she has no chance, it’s still difficult to let go of her feelings. Not only did she think she could prove her love was strong by persisting for so long, it also kept her safe from fresh heartbreak. Now, she must finally admit to herself that such a gesture is meaningless, as she takes the first tentative steps toward opening herself up to new possibilities.

Powerful moments aren’t lacking in the other characters’ lives, either. In Mayama’s interactions with Rika we glimpse a far more emotional side of him than we’ve ever seen before, and though elements of one particularly poignant scene are rather unfortunately ambiguous, it’s still nothing short of riveting. I’m also growing quite fond of Nomiya, whose carefully crafted demeanor of cool is shattered by the strength of his feelings for Yamada.

All in all, this is an exceedingly strong volume of a series that is just getting better and better as it approaches its conclusion.

Volume eight of Honey and Clover is available now.

–Reviewed by Michelle Smith

S.A (Special A), Vols. 13-14

sa14By Maki Minami
Viz, 200 pp.
Rating: T

The thing about S.A is that it hits a particular weakness of mine. I simply love manga stories about rich kids running around the world, drinking and eating expensive things, and generally getting to do whatever they want. I think it’s the way how, when such characters are the protagonists, they never really seem that conceited about these things. They’re just normal kids, and these are the fun things they get to do—it’s the ultimate in wish fulfillment, and S.A is really good at giving me what I want to see.

Well, some of the time.

Now that Kei and Hikari are officially a couple, they are beginning to encounter the standard shojo stumbling blocks to a relationship. Volume thirteen saw them dealing with the displeasure of Kei’s grandfather at his choice in girlfriend and Aoi’s help in keeping together. That was actually interesting, testing the bounds of loyalty between friends, and it got all of the kids to hop on a jet and fly to England—I just love it when people can do that. Volume fourteen, however… not so much. Here we acquire the love rival, a male transfer student named Iori Tokiwa who arrives and is immediately tied with Hikari for the second-highest scores in the class. Hikari befriends him, but Kei bristles with jealousy. Frankly, this entire storyline bores me. I don’t care about Iori, I don’t care about what he wants, and I wish he’d just go away. If Kei and Hikari are going to run into problems, is it too much to ask that they be interesting? The volume is saved, at least, by a fantastic chapter at the end showcasing the friendship between the twins and Ryu, and how it’s shifting now that Ryu’s making space in his life for Finn.

Volume thirteen of S.A (Special A) is available now and volume fourteen will be available on January 5, 2010.

–Reviewed by Jennifer Dunbar

We Were There, Vol. 8

wwt8By Yuki Obata
Viz, 200 pp.
Rating: T+ (Older Teen)

As Yano’s mother prepares for her move to Tokyo, it becomes painfully clear that her financial plans are far from sound, forcing Yano to confront the possibility of leaving Nana behind to join her, something he swore he’d never do. Meanwhile, with things still shaky between Yano and Nana, Takeuchi’s sister urges him to take advantage of the situation, but, unwilling to be a consolation prize, Takeuchi instead confronts Nana to let her know what’s going on, in hopes she’ll convince Yano to stay. Though the news shocks Nana out of her most recent bout of insecurity, she is determined to support him regardless of whether he stays or goes and tells him so, a declaration she ultimately regrets.

Though it’s quite a relief to see Nana finally released from the excruciating indecision that has plagued her for several volumes, it is decision that ends up hurting her most, regardless of whether she’s doing the right thing. One of this series’ greatest strengths, of course, is its refusal to pretend that there is a “right thing,” regardless of established romantic conventions. Obata’s characters make grand declarations in one breath and waffle in the next, ringing more true in their inconsistency than a hundred shojo heroines “doing their best.” Even as the story falls into familiar scenarios of rivalry and forced partings, it does so with a level of nuance so rarely brought to this type of manga that it manages to feel genuinely fresh, even in its most dramatic moments.

Even eight volumes in, this series has lost none of the emotional ambiguity that has characterized it since the beginning, while gaining a romantic momentum that has only enhanced its likability, at least for this reviewer. Its depth and poignancy, matched by very few titles in the current lineup of translated shojo (only Sand Chronicles immediately springs to mind), should be more than enough to place We Were There at the top of anyone’s must-read list.

Volume eight of We Were There will be available on January 5th, 2010.

–Reviewed by Melinda Beasi

7 Responses to "On the Shojo Beat: Butterflies, Flowers and More!"

1 | moritheil

December 17th, 2009 at 3:15 am


Often emotional realism is the real mark of a good story, and you’ve really hit the nail on the head in your assessment of We Were There: important decisions are agonizing, and ambiguity is reality.

2 | Melinda Beasi

December 17th, 2009 at 8:23 am


Well, thank you moritheil! Emotional realism (or emotional resonance, at least) is probably what I value most in fiction, and certainly is the thing I am most eager to talk about in a review. That definitely gives stories like We Were There an advantage when I’m the one tasked with judging them, though I do think it is quite extraordinary. :)

3 | Michelle Smith

December 17th, 2009 at 8:27 am


In fact, it’s just Melinda’s skill in writing about such matters that prompted me to give her this volume to review! Previous volumes of the series have been reviewed by me, but I wasn’t really doing them justice. :)

4 | Melinda Beasi

December 17th, 2009 at 8:34 am


Michelle, you realize of course I can’t go along with *that*. :)

5 | lanugo

December 18th, 2009 at 8:21 pm


I agree wholeheartedly with your review of “Butterflies, Flowers”, Michelle. I felt the distinction between josei and shojo, however. I’m not really sure how to describe it, but there were a couple of things – Domoto is more tsundere than other male leads in shojo (like Otani from Love Com, for example), and Choko isn’t afraid to confess to Domoto, and doesn’t agonise over it for two volumes (aka Haruna from High School Debut). Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

Even the art is cleaner than shojo – less screentone and ordinary panelling (don’t know how to put that – hope it makes sense). There are sweet moments when Domoto somewhat confused by his own feelings for Choko, like when he asks her to “impose on him”. The gags are great, too (“with *loveheart*)!

6 | Michelle Smith

December 18th, 2009 at 10:17 pm


You’re right about Choko’s lack of agonizing and a greater… frankness in their relationship. And yes, the gags are great! I wished I could’ve found a way to mention the Milady-poo joke. :)

7 | lanugo

December 18th, 2009 at 11:52 pm


Yes, that playful side of Domoto : ) I couldn’t help chuckling when I read of his unconventional solution to the “sexually harassing Kuhara” – haha! (It actually reminds me of Yoh’s solution in Vol 8 of High School Debut)… ah, I could go on…