The Wallflower, Vol. 30

By Tomoko Hayakawa. Released in Japan as “Yamato Nadeshiko Shichihenge” by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Bessatsu Friend (“Betsufure”). Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.

Recently, Vol. 30 came out of two separate successful shoujo series. Yet while the reaction of most online fans to Skip Beat! 30 is “Yay! I’m so happy that it’s still running!”, the reaction the The Wallflower 30 tends to be more “EEEENNNNDD!!! EEEEEEEEEEEENNNNNNDDDDD!” Partly this is due to The Wallflower’s writer having little to no idea on how to resolve her romance without destroying her comedy, as I’ve noted before. But another reason is that The Wallflower is so episodic. If you jump from Vol. 6 of Skip Beat! to Vol. 25, you’re going to be somewhat lost. This is much less of a problem with this series, where even in this volume, where three of the stories interweave a small amount, each can be read on its own if you just happen to pick up that month’s Betsufure after a 4-year-hiatus.


There is also, every chapter, the illusion that progress is being made and characters are growing. I’m not sure how much of it is deliberate, actually. But every chapter in this volume has that one moment where a character (either Sunako, Kyohei, or both) has that moment of realization where they understand what someone else is thinking and what needs to be done. Their empathy with Sunako’s aunt when she’s once again taken advantage of; Sunako noting that “I’ll just pretend we’re not friends” is a horrible strategy when trying to avoid having your friend get bullied; Kyohei realizing that there is a difference between ‘watching Sunako get embarrassed’ and real emotional and physical pain; and Sunako finding that regarding Kyohei as a ‘bright, shiny object’ as she always does is only what everyone else in the world has done to him forever, and he HATES it. You sense that everyone is gradually growing up… yet you aren’t surprised when they backslide next month.

Because everyone still serves the comedy. Which is how Ranmaru can be the most awesome fiance ever in one chapter and then (literally five minutes later in story terms) announce he’s going to go out and pick up more women. (By the way, props to Takenaga for calling him out on it – Noi wasn’t even there to impress!) Meanwhile, Tamao gets a bit more development here, but I’m not sure it’s to her benefit. She’s always been the nice, perfect princess who loves Ranmaru no matter what and doesn’t get angry, but now we see her life at school involves another, less perfect princess bullying her every day, and she simply takes it with a niceness that borders on surreal. Thank God Sunako shows up (looking gorgeous, by the way, one of the best ‘Sunako pinup’ shots in ages). Oh well, it could be worse – she could be Yuki, who the author has totally forgotten about.

This series continues to have all the weaknesses that it’s well-known for, and is not getting rid of any of them soon. (My favorite being the author’s complete inability to draw backgrounds half the time – the story could take place in a white void for all we know.) But it also continues to have all of the same strengths, and Kyohei and Sunako are both perfect for each other, even if they don’t see it. Best of all, the series is still funny, as everyone in this manga, except maybe Yuki and Tamao, are completely insane. Which is why we get shots of the leads dressed as PIRATES! in the first chapter here. Looking forward to the next 30 volumes!

The Wallflower, Vol. 27

By Tomoko Hayakawa. Released in Japan as “Yamato Nadeshiko Shichihenge” by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Bessatsu Friend (“Betsufure”). Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.

Every time I review a volume of this manga, I feel the need to explain my continued enjoyment of it. I enjoy the romance, while acknowledging it will likely never be satisfactorily resolved. I enjoy the comedy, which admitting that a lot of it is the exact same situation written over and over with variations. And I like the art, despite the author’s complete lack of attention to backgrounds and Sunako still being superdeformed much of the time. Despite all these flaws, I enjoy this manga as it’s a classic example of an artist knowing she has a narrow range and using that narrow range to her best advantage.

Since about Vol. 15 or so, the series has gotten into a pattern. The majority of the stories feature the stormy friendship/something more between grumpy Kyohei and twitchy Sunako, and yes, after 27 volumes, she’s still occasionally freaking out about his “brightness” and wanting to be a creature of darkness. Generally once every two volumes or so she will throw in a chapter about the stoic Takenaga and his gorgeous yet lacking in self confidence girlfriend Noi; or playboy Ranmaru and his far too tolerant fiancee Tamao. Once every 5-6 volumes we may see a chapter devoted to cute and sweet Yuki, who’s the guy on the cover of this volume, but generally not; the author doesn’t know what to do with him, really, as he’s far too normal. His own girlfriend is notably also very normal.

No one reads Wallflower stuff for normal. You read it for things like Sunako deciding that after the events of last volume she’s leaving the mansion again and working at a maid cafe… with the creepy otaku therein. (Word of warning: otaku are portrayed entirely negatively here.) Or Sunako getting possessed by a ghost – again, the others note – who wants to satisfy her desire to pick flowers with an incredibly handsome man (read: Kyohei). Or Sunako getting the flu and Kyohei being forced to take care of her, in what might be the most fanservicey chapter this story has had to date. Or even for the token Ranmaru story, where he is kidnapped by an S&M club and held for ransom.

The little things in each volume are what keep bringing me back. We actually see Sunako transform from superdeformed to her normal self (in three poses) in the first chapter, which once again makes us wonder about how this works in the ‘real world’. The chapter with the ghost shows off Kyohei’s reluctant caring side, as this particular possessive spirit isn’t as selfish as prior ones have been, and he can’t simply tell her to get out and give Sunako back. The chapter with Ranmaru is fun and horrible at the same time, as he blows off his fiancee, who is there to learn from Sunako how to make him delicious food, to date more cheating wives. Tamao is clearly ready to sacrifice a pile of money for his well-being, and though he is grateful, and seems to have some feelings for her (note she’s probably the only woman he won’t actually sleep with, and we all know what that means with playboys), we still question why she puts up with his assholish tendencies. (Luckily, Sunako is there throughout to make these points, as she gets kidnapped as well.)

Then there’s the flu chapter. I’m not the audience for this shoujo material. 18-19 year old girls are. And boy howdy, does this chapter deliver. Kyohei’s half-naked throughout, but that’s not the type of service we’re talking about, for once. No, this is all about the torrid sexual tension between these two epically stubborn people. Sunako’s flu-ridden fever dreams are about Kyohei kissing her, and it’s driving her insane. Kyohei, meanwhile, just wants her to change and get better, but she refuses to do anything she tells him and is generally a horrible patient. This culminates in his blindfolding himself and stripping her naked so he can change her sweaty clothes, which she finally acquiesces to. (It’s very noticeable that for almost 25 pages or so, she’s not superdeformed in the least). And then she runs out into the rain, and he’s going after her screaming that she’ll get more sick, and then they trip and fall on top of each other…

…and then a lightning bolt comes down from the sky and strikes the both of them, ending the chapter. It’s like the hand of God, but more accurately it’s the hand of the author, reminding us all that the manga is still running in Japan and she really does not want to resolve it at all. Sigh. Oh well, in this manga filled with frustrating characters and situations she has now rewritten at least five times each, we still find little oases of awesome. That’s why we keep coming back to this even after 27 volumes.

The Wallflower Volume 25

By Tomoko Hayakawa. Released in Japan as “Yamato Nadeshiko Shichihenge” by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Bessatsu Friend (“Betsufure”). Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.

In a welcome if slightly odd return, the Wallflower manga is back to individual volumes, after a brief omnibus format for the prior three. So we only get one volume of fun here, but it’s a very good one, giving the reader all the humor they need, and even a few romantic bones thrown. Be aware, though: they’re only bones. The series is still running and still not resolving.

The first chapter continues on from the end of 24, where Kyohei kissed Sunako at a party. Despite his insistence that it was merely a ruse to distract people, she’s in full-blown “darkness take this creature of the light” mode and curses him. Strangely enough, the curse seems to WORK – Kyohei feels increasingly ill, and we see (though others cannot) the creepy spirits of young girls attaching themselves to his back. This chapter manages to combine everything good about Wallflower. The spirits are genuinely creepy and unsettling, the explanation for who they really are is hilarious, and Sunako has to admit that she was wrong to curse him and stave off the spirits, in what becomes a very sexy scene. And then they’re both hospitalized. Of course.

In the next chapter it’s Halloween, and Noi has another one of her cunning plans, which somehow always seem to end up about as cunning as Baldrick’s. (This is, I think the 5th Halloween in the manga, showing that the series is very much not running in realistic time.) She shows Sunako this great fake tree with skeletons attached to it, and notes that it’s the prize in a competition. Of course, it’s a modelling competition. Sunako does her best, and seeing her as a goth loli babydoll is so jarring it almost becomes parody, but still lacks confidence in her looks. As always it’s Kyohei to the rescue, even in the hospital, but the resolution is not what Noi wanted at all…

Speaking of Noi, she then gets a focus chapter with the gang all going hunting for Matsutake mushrooms. After approximately 10-11 chapters with Noi feeling unworthy of being Takenaga’s girlfriend, we now have her worried about taking things farther. It’s actually a rather interesting reminder that of the seven main characters, only four are still virgins – clearly this is not a series aimed at otaku guys. :) Of course, the only male in that group is Takenaga, and he still wants to wait, especially after the gang eats some poison mushrooms, and Noi starts trying to seduce him with her sexy. “Not like this,” he says. All ends well, but those frustrated at the lack of romantic progress with Kyohei and Sunako can be equally frustrated that Takenaga and Noi are equally slow.

The last chapter is Christmas (again? wasn’t Christmas in the last volume?), and involves many of our favorite themes. Noi and Tamao (Ranmaru’s fiancee, who is rarely named in the manga itself) are trying to knit handmade gifts, but are thwarted by being a beginner (Noi) or having Ranmaru admit he hates handmade stuff (Tamao). Sunako doesn’t have their issues, but Kyohei is also depressed by all of this talk of handmade gifts, as it reminds him of his past with his mother – one that ended badly. And poor Yuki is just upset that he can’t get a hold of his girlfriend at all. Naturally, all is resolved in the end with Sunako’s help, and the final chapter ends with a big Christmas toast from all four couples (well, OK, Sunako is more surprised than toasting).

If you want another great volume of Wallflower antics, this will give it to you. it’s a lot of fun. If you want character development or resolution of anything, may I recommend a nice cup of tea instead?