Butterflies, Flowers, Vol. 8

By Yuki Yoshihara. Released in Japan as “Chou Yo Hana Yo” by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Petit Comic. Released in North America by Viz.

It’s the final volume of this josei series being marketed here as mature shoujo, and there’s still a lot up in the air. Can Masayuki fulfill his dream of regaining the land Choko’s family lost? Can Choko get him to think of her as a woman rather than as a ‘Milady’ he must be subservient to? And can he ever stop being incredibly crass at the most inappropriate moments?

The answer to the last of those questions is thankfully no. Masayuki is as over the top as ever, and the ending to the first chapter, with his telling Choko’s intended about her ‘security blanket’, is one of the better ones. Choko’s reaction is picture perfect as well – she loves this man, but god, he can be such a terrible horndog and seems to think of absolutely nothing except his penis. On the downside, there wasn’t quite as much Gundam in this volume, Combattler getting the obligatory otaku reference this time around.

The middle of the book is comparatively serious, featuring some flashbacks to a surprisingly selfish Choko, and a crisis involving the land that Masayuki has been trying to earn back for so long being sold to an American developer. This actually leads to some conflict, as Choko knows that his desire to get back her land is the ‘servant’ part of him, and she doesn’t care about it if she can have him treat her as an equal. Unfortunately, much like the omiai suitor we saw at the start, the developer has sordid plans for the land, and Choko has to bring out her ‘Milady’ persona in order to get past the crisis… which makes him a more devoted servant than ever.

I will grant the series this, it is aware of its basic conflict, which is the fact that Masayuki will not let Choko get down off of that goddamn pedestal. The proposal in the second to last chapter seems almost too good to be true… and it is, as it’s Masayuki reacting on instinct rather than thinking things through. Sadly, when he uses his brain he realizes that he can’t go through with it, and even Choko proposing herself (an awesome moment) can’t turn him around.

Which is good, as it lets us have a final chapter of slapstick comedy, with some of the best violence and faces in the series. Choko is determined to get him to stamp a marriage license, and he is equally determined to avoid it. The shot of Masayuki leaping 20 feet into the air vertically, and then Choko throwing a huge steel desk at him (it’s helpfully footnoted ‘steel’ in case we were unaware) is priceless. But it’s not humor that gets us resolution – Choko finally gives up, and seems prepared to move on, as she notes that if he can’t do this for her then they can’t be a couple. And she’s right. And so (barring the ending gag, which is clearly a gag) he does, managing to call her Choko at last, and the final page is a wedding.

And so the series ends as it began, with a bunch of sweet moments interspersed with some of the most horrible sexism imaginable. If the series had taken this more seriously it would have been repulsive. But, like Ai Ore but even more so, there’s an undercurrent of humor that makes it more palatable to me. So much of Masayuki’s attitude is not designed to make you uncomfortable – it’s there to make your jaw drop. Exaggerated to grotesque proportions, it loses a lot of its bite. And in this final volume, Choko’s vacillating and tendency to be a damsel in distress is almost entirely absent, allowing her to finally be a strong heroine equal to her partner. This was an experiment for Viz, and I’m not entirely sure it sold well enough that we’ll see more Petit Comic stuff in the future. But I’d like to see more. Despite some reservations, recommended.

Butterflies, Flowers Volume 7

By Yuki Yoshihara. Released in Japan as “Chou Yo Hana Yo” by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Petit Comic. Released in North America by Viz.

I note as I continue to read this series that the reason it succeeds with me in a way that, say, Black Bird does not, is that every horrid moment in it is immediately undercut by some over the top bit of humor or fourth wall breaking that reminds you that this is merely a dumb josei romance. Case in point: continuing where we left off at the end of Vol. 6, Choko has her hand bandaged after Kaori stepped on it in her heels, demanding Choko break up with him. Choko, not one to back down, angrily confronts her the next day at work, whereupon Kaori grabs her hand and sneers “No snitching” while squeezing it hand. A dramatic scene filled with scary tension… until you turn the page, and see superdeformed Choko lying on the floor in a puddle, with a little arrow noting “pissed herself”.

This is perhaps why I didn’t have as much of an issue as some others did with the date rape scene later in the volume. First of all, the moment it “happened” I knew that it would turn out to be something just for show – we’ve known the leads for 6 volumes, and the other man involved for 2, and there just isn’t any way that he would do this sort of thing, and thus it was purely for potboiler show. That said, it was a horrid thing to do, and Masayuki’s response (not immediately telling Choko he knew things didn’t get that far) is equally bad. But then, this is Butterflies, Flowers. If you aren’t ready for the men to be gloriously horrible (but sweet deep down), you’re reading the wrong manga. And again, when she finds out, we cut immediately to Masayuki… who is hiding himself behind her, wearing palm fronds, disguised as a plant.

Then there’s the popularity contest, and the sheer gall of the ex-girlfriend trussed up on the bed like a meat market sale, and Choko’s having to really think back on when the two of them last had sex, and of course the best line of the volume, which I won’t give away here except it involves the word “semen”. Every time something that would be offensive in any other manga comes by, Butterflies, Flowers is here to be so gleefully trashy and over the top that at most you just slap your forehead and sigh.

In terms of the actual couple, Choko gets some good development in the latter half of the book. She’s been, despite the sex, very much the naive and innocent heroine throughout this, and thus when she is confronted by several angry women noting that she’s frustrating Masayuki by her lack of sexual desire for him, she’s not sure what to think. Of course, these girls not only don’t have her prior history with him, but also don’t have him acting like a flaming moron in front of her all the time. But we do start to see Choko think about Masayuki as an actual desirable man, and try her best to understand her own passions. Unfortunately, she doesn’t really get far. Fortunately, the next volume is the final one, so I anticipate that she will soon!

So yes, the sexual politics of this series remains as questionable as ever, but it’s so ludicrous that I don’t care. I like Butterflies Flowers because it’s funny. I dropped Black Bird because it was painfully earnest. Your mileage may vary, but I guess that’s how I see the series. So if you want more of what you’ve seen in the first six volumes, well, you won’t be disappointed.

Oh, you might be disappointed in that there are no Gundam references this time. But they do namedrop Space Battleship Yamato, so I guess it’s OK.

Butterflies, Flowers Volume 6

By Yuki Yoshihara. Released in Japan as “Chou Yo Hana Yo” by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Petit Comic. Released in North America by Viz.

Things have been going fairly smoothly for our couple lately, well, at least as smoothly as you can get in a soap opera melodrama sort of world. And given this, it will come as a surprise to no one that various bad things happen in this volume to try to break them up. This involves both Choko’s self-doubt (she finds out that Masayuki had an ex) and new characters arriving on the scene to be impediments. Unfortunately, the fact that two of these new characters are introduced one right on top of the other sort of makes it feel a bit as if Yoshihara is tossing in complications to extend the series out.

One thing I noticed right away is that there’s very little of Masayuki being an over the top lunatic, something which was both the main fault and the saving grace of previous volumes. Despite the occasional Gundam reference and outbreaks of ludicrous violence, he’s really mellowed out now that he and Choko are together, and doesn’t feel the need to be obnoxious about it anymore. There’s one sex scene at the start of the volume, and it’s probably the sweetest one we’ve had in the series. Now if only he could stop himself putting tracking devices in her underwear…

Choko, on the other hand, is still having issues, mostly as she’s the female viewpoint heroine in a josei series, which means she’s plagued by self-doubt and concerns. Hearing Masayuki once had a lover who wasn’t her makes her jealous, even when she doesn’t know quite how to deal with it. She handles the introduction of a new man to the office much better, first attempting to work with him in order to help her friend Makie avoid an arranged marriage, and then fending him off once he starts to fall for her. Luckily, Otaki is somewhat socially inept, so she thinks he’s merely being rude to her when he tries to give her a ring. (?!) The arrival of Masayuki’s ex, Kaori, comes right on top of this, and to be honest feels a bit like overegging the pudding. Especially given she’s just as bad as you imagined she was going to be, threatening Choko right off the bat.

Overall, the manga is getting subtler about both its romance and its drama. There’s still humor (I loved Masayuki’s reaction to finding out Suou and Makie were in love), but it’s nowhere near the level of early volumes. Likewise, the relationship between Choko and Masayuki, despite its hiccups, also seems more mature and has come a hell of a long way from that job interview at the start. It’s nice to see, but I do feel that I didn’t get as into this volume as much as previous ones due to a lack of ludicrousness. Without Masayuki being grotesque and over the top, Butterflies, Flowers feels like another romance manga, just with a bit more spice as it’s josei. I’m hoping the last two volumes bring back a bit of me staring in awe at the sheer gall of it all.