Butterflies, Flowers Volume 5

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 was rather surprised to find that this was a far more serious volume of the series. Oh sure, there were a few mentions of barge poles and some wackiness involving Choko’s brother, but the slapstick violence was almost zero. After Masayuki resolving to try to stop being over the top and less sexually harrassing, it looks like the manga may be trying to do the same thing. (The one exception is a completely ludicrous parody of infomercials in the first chapter, which worked great as it was so out of the blue.)

But we also see a fire tragically destroy Choko’s family home and business. After seeing her family lose their fortune and trying to get by as best they can, seeing even that taken away from them is a real kick in the teeth. It also serves to remind us of the sole reason why Masayuki is an up and coming corporate shark, as he immediately offers (with much anger that they didn’t ask for help) money to help them rebuild, pointing out that this is pretty much what he has been working towards all this time.

We then get two problems, both of which dovetail nicely with each other. First, to his embarrassment, Masayuki is suffering from a bout of impotence. While he doesn’t let that stop him from helping Choko to achieve her own pleasure (in a nice scene that once again reminds you why this manga is rated M), it is clearly frustrating to him. Meanwhile, Choko discovers this and worries that the reason for it is that he sees her more as his princess rather than as an attractive sexual woman.

Unfortunately, her solution doesn’t quite work. It SOUNDS good – she wants Masayuki to treat her as an equal, and says they should just be normal ordinary lovers, with none of the master and servant dynamic that has defined them so far – but the trouble is that people are, to a degree, defined by their pasts, and her suggestion seems to indicate that she finds their back history meaningless. If they don’t have the master/servant dynamic, then they cease to be Choko and Masayuki. And really, as Makie notes, ‘ordinary lover’ is not something one should strive for. Especially not with someone as extraordinary as Masayuki.

As readers no doubt will be relieved to hear, Masayuki manages to get over his impotence and have his “second sex” with Choko by the end of the volume. Moreover, he forcefully declares that he will continue to call Choko Milady. One can argue about how healthy this is, but at least it’s not denying the past and present they have with each other. Plus, of course, it allows them to keep the humor. And as we still have 3 volumes to go after this, I’m hoping for a lot more wackiness in future volumes.

Oh yes, and Makie’s face as Choko suggests Suou would be a good lover for her is adorable. :D

Butterflies, Flowers Volume 4

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.

In looking at my review of Volume 3, I noted that one of the things I enjoyed most about this series was seeing Masayuki’s over the top sexual harassment towards his lover Choko, and hoped to see more ludicrousness. Oddly enough, I don’t get that here in Volume 4. And yet this volume pleased me more than the previous ones. Why is that?

I’m tempted to say Gundam, though that’s not exactly correct. What makes this volume work is that the over the top humor that had mostly been confined to Masayuki’s advances in previous volumes expands to cover a much larger array of ridiculousness. Thus you get the ‘elevator’ to the president’s office that looks like the passage to the secret base you see in 70s giant robot shows, or Masayuki bitching about how he and the president are TOTALLY DIFFERENT, as Masayuki prefers 80s robot stuff to 70s. Half the time these jokes read like complete throwaways, which actually makes them funnier. (My favorite was the Saikano reference.)

More importantly is the development of Masayuki. I’d mentioned that there was less of his leering sexual harassment this volume. That actually starts off halfway through the volume, and is noted immediately by Choko, who actually misses the attention a little bit. Understandable, as this was the easiest way to tell his affection towards her. I kept waiting for the punchline, expecting him to be holding off as he’s trying to get into her pants for some special reason. But no, it may just be that he’s actually trying to be a better boyfriend to her. He does, in the end, ask her to move in with him, which might be part of why he was holding back, but I still think it’s a good sign of growth.

As for Choko, she’s still not as strong as I expected her to be from her kickass scene in Book 1, but she does OK. She spends a lot of the first half of this book ‘imprisoned’ in the president’s palatial estate, but at least is strong enough to say no to the president to his face, and also smacks Masayuki the one time he DOES go too far. I’m hoping that Masayuki’s attempts to be a better person allow her to grow as well, and that the two can finally show affection for each other without the passive aggressive behavior we’ve seen to date.

This series can be frustrating at times, but it’s no Hot Gimmick. The main reason for that is there’s a playful tone to the whole thing, both in-universe with Masayuki’s ‘courtship’ and in real life, as Yoshihara knows when to pile on the gags and when to show the hot sex scenes. There’s still a bit of guilt to this pleasure, but this volume in particular was a lot of fun.

Butterflies, Flowers Volume 3

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.

OK, yeah, I’m starting to get that Hot Gimmick feeling a bit here. Just a *bit*, mind…

Oddly enough, Masayuki isn’t the problem. He continues to be the world’s worst boyfriend, constantly giving out mixed signals, vacillating between sweet and caring prince and horrible asshole. But the author is at least trying to show that she knows he’s being an ass. Both times he’s at his worst, Choko calls him on it and stomps off, leaving him devastated. As with Volume One, he has no idea how to behave around her, and thus falls back into easy patterns. Unfortunately, neither of those patterns are healthy.

But they’re funny. Oh god, they’re funny. If there’s anything that’s keeping me reading this series like a madman, it’s that Masayuki’s abuse of Choko is so ridiculously over the top that I can’t help but laugh. I will try to avoid spoiling the best lines, but he really takes sexual harassment to a new level. Your jaw will drop several times as you leaf through this volume, and as you double check to make sure it says ‘Shojo Beat’ on the spine still. Likewise, Choko’s morning after conversation with her two ‘girlfriends’ is hilarious if only as it’s far more accurate than we’d expect from romantic manga, with Choko harping on the painful aspects of losing one’s virginity.

Yeah, sorry, have to give that one away. There is sex in this volume. Not that this should be a surprise, as Yoshihara said in the last volume that she’d never gone two volumes before without her heroes jumping into the sack. They came close last time, but manage to go all the way here. It’s handled pretty well here, with Masayuki being on his best behavior (well, aside from his tendency to scale small buildings with Choko draped over one shoulder…), and it’s explicit while not being crass, just as you’d expect from a mainstream josei title.

However, one of the main problems of the series (like so many other shoujo series that I complain about) is its heroine. Choko needs to take charge more, not of her boyfriend but of her life. She looked fine standing up to Masayuki in the two scenes I mentioned earlier, but both times she then went off and immediately got herself into trouble, which of course required a rescue. (At least the second time she manages to escape on her own, but the implication at the end is this will be more problematic in Volume 4.) So the manga is sending a bit of a mixed message, showing that in the end she really *does* need the big strong man to come rescue her, and keeps her in a default mode of meek and helpless.

I enjoyed Volume 1 so much because it showed that both Choko and Masayuki have personality issues that needed to be overcome before they could be a good couple, and seemed to imply that the goal of the series was seeing them get to that point. 3 volumes in, I worry that the point of the series is that Choko just needs to sit back and let Masayuki take good care of her (and give her great sex), and all her problems will be solved. And while that sounds like a female fantasy, it’s not really one I want to see in a shoujo manga, especially one of the few in North America that stars sexually active women *over* 18. And yes, I know this is a josei manga in Japan, but Viz is marketing it (albeit shrinkwrapped) as a Shojo Beat title. Marketing is important.

I will still be buying the series, because I love the over the top humor. As I’ve noted before (and this is slightly hypocritical), jerkass guys work better for me if they’re being very silly, and Masayuki’s jerk moments are so ridiculous that I actually want to see more of them. I think the author has good characters, and my hope is that we’ll see Choko grow into a strong woman. It doesn’t happen here, sadly.