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)