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Ages 17+ for sex, nudity, and language, including somewhat graphic love scenes, official Viz Media site

I love Yuki Yoshihara. She’s a prolific josei mangaka who writes lady-centric sex comedies that are genuinely funny and extremely easy to read, since the storytelling has a lot in common with traditional shoujo. She’s basically the perfect gateway for women who love shoujo but want stories that are more “grown-up.” Yoshihara heroines are usually in their late teens to mid-20s, work some sort of crappy job, have an idealized view of love and romance, and find their whimisical hearts leading them into the arms of handsome men…whom they nail. A lot. And while they hold hands with their new lovers at work the next day, their co-workers make super crude jokes about genitals and sexual dysfunction until someone gets hit in the face with a box of condoms. Here’s a good article on Yuki Yoshihara that’s a little not safe for work.

Unfortunately, Butterflies, Flowers is the only series of hers available in English, and despite its delicious self-parody title, it’s simply not that good. Our heroine Choko, a former rich girl, is reunited with her childhood crush Domoto, one of the servants who worked for her family when they were rich – only now she’s entry-level at a company where he’s her direct superior. At first he unleashes some (possibly long-buried) sadism by being The Worst Boss Ever, assigning her horrible duties while putting her through textbook sexual harassment, but once they’re alone he reveals that he loves his sweet princess, and he’s overjoyed now that she’s back in his life and he can serve her once again…until the co-workers walk in, at which point he dumps a pile of paperwork in her arms and slaps her ass hard enough to shift her toward the photocopier.

This is basically a power dynamic comedy, with Choko’s boss/former housekeeper switching between his self-made S & M roles at light speed. Although Choko falls back in love with Domoto pretty quickly, she’s also confused by his rapidly shifting personality, which gets even weirder in the bedroom. Although there are plenty of good jokes packed into that premise, the tone is too bizarre for the story to work as an actual series. Butterflies, Flowers follows Yoshihara’s tried-and-true tradition of one-shot sex comedy gags, but the gags are too complicated and the characters are too weird to overpower the visceral confusion of the reader. In short, this series isn’t simple enough. And that’s why it fails.

There’s also a fine line josei needs to walk when addressing sexual harassment in the workforce and power plays that independent women struggle with in their work and personal lives. It CAN be funny, but it can also hit way too close to home if you’re not careful. Butterflies, Flowers makes it work about 75% of the time, but that other 25%…let’s just say that Domoto making Sad Face when Choko won’t have sex with him (because of a physical problem) is funny, but Choko seriously blaming herself for being too uptight about her personal boundaries when presented with Sad Face is not cool. This is a good example of how josei is sometimes too depressing a genre for its target audience…but that’s a rant for another time.

Educated impression: I wish Viz had picked up a simpler (and better) Yoshihara series like Haa Haa for her English-language debut, considering how weird Butterflies, Flowers is and how much of its premise relies on understanding Japanese office culture and the dynamics of old-money superfamilies. So I dub this a Desperation Josei, aka a series to read if you really need a josei in your life and a mediocre one will fill that void for now. But if you can live without josei, you can live without this. (Lianne)

4 Responses to “Butterflies, Flowers (manga Mini Review)”

  1. on 08 Mar 2011 at 6:48 am Margaret

    I love the line about how “josei is sometimes too depressing a genre for its target audience.” That’s exactly how I felt about “Suppli,” which everyone else appears to adore. I mean, it’s bad enough that the obviously impressively competent advertising-executive heroine seldom gets any positive reinforcement for anything work-related besides her skill at stereotypically “feminine” tasks like apologizing abjectly to customers for problems largely caused by their own incoherent and self-contradictory demands. This at least is clearly related to the peculiarities of Japanese business culture in general. I’ve also seen “attempting to conciliate unreasonable client” scenes like this featuring male characters in BL manga with business settings, such as “Yebisu Celebrities”– although I don’t recall any of those incidents involving a supervisor singling out the protagonist’s ability to placate infuriated clients by humbly taking the blame for everything as said protagonist’s most valuable talent.

    But does “Suppli” ‘s heroine also have to inevitably pick the wrong guy, then compound the error by digging herself in deeper the more problematical the relationship becomes–e.g., when it’s revealed that the male co-worker she’s obsessing over has been in a long-term adulterous relationship with her slightly older female supervisor/professional role model, who has now found out that he “cheated” on her with the heroine and is distinctly pissed off about it? Isn’t enough angst already provided by the local double standard that makes her feel literally doomed if she doesn’t get married within the next couple of years, while making it virtually impossible for a woman to have the kind of career success she deserves even if she jettisons “normal” social life to give her all to the company?

  2. on 08 Mar 2011 at 10:44 am Lianne

    Margaret,

    Internalized sexism sucks. And you see a lot of it in josei and an INCREDIBLE amount of it in shoujo. Even when josei isn’t steeped in that sort of thing, it tends to be realistic about how difficult it is to balance work, life, love, and power as a working woman…and being reminded of that is not how I always like to spend my free time. Especially considering how rare it is for a josei heroine to find her balance without sacrificing things she shouldn’t have to sacrifice.

    I’ve gotten in trouble for saying this before, but I have to be honest…one of the reasons I started reading BL/yaoi is because I wanted to read stories about adults I could relate to and/or which made me happy. Shoujo’s trend of spineless heroines and josei’s trend to get crushed (fully or at least partially) by the patriarchy pissed me off as a female and as a feminist. The men in BL deal much more directly with work and love and have a lot more ownership over their feelings, desires, and choices. How sad is it that female mangaka can’t write a character with self-confidence unless he has a y chromosome? It is INFINITELY depressing.

    That said, there are always a handful of amazing shoujo and/or josei titles that renew my faith in good female characters. Like Basara!

  3. on 06 May 2011 at 10:16 am lijakaca

    There are a couple josei manga I love that really aren’t depressing, even though they’re (fairly?) realistic – everything I’ve read by Makimura Satoru has been great, and I also really liked Tomorrow’s King by Yachi Emiko, although I haven’t finished it yet.

    Unfortunately I don’t think they’ll be translated (unless they already are?? who knows), because they’re old and are much more mature – not in an R-rated way, but in how they’re not OTT in either humour or drama.

    However, at least two series I like by Makimura were made into dramas if you can get subs, Oishii Kankei (Delicious Relations) and Imagine.

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