Flower of Life Vol. #01 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, September 17, 2007
Release Date: Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Translated by:Sachiko Sato
What They Say
For some, high school represents the best days of their lives. For others, they would rather bury the memories in the deepest, darkest corner of their minds. For Harutaro Hanazono, the ball is still up in the air. Forced to enroll one month late after recovering from a serious illness, Harutaro does his best to remain optimistic about the whole situation. The other students try to make Haru feel welcome - especially his lovable pal, Shota - but Kai Majima, President of the Manga Club and all-around hard case, seems to be the one person intent on making Harutaro's school life a living nightmare.
A charming and humorous "slice of life" school story. And though it's Fumi Yoshinaga, it's not BL, so there's no impediment to any reader who might enjoy this thoughtful and funny series.
The cover art shows Harutaru and Saito sensei placed above a large grouping of sunflowers, and the layout captures the intent and overall feeling of the story inside. It's a collage of related but not integrated images. The sunflowers, emblematic of love and respect in the language of hanakotoba, open their faces to the sun much as the beaming and open face of Harutaro looks off at some distant horizon. In the upper right, Saito sensei gives a sideways glance in a similar direction. Just the right tone for a story about school life with the hopes and aspirations of students and teachers alike. The back cover shows Shota kun and Majima kun and the inside flap has a somber, almost menacing picture of Majima.
The paper and print quality are both up to DMP standard. This volume is the usual DMP trim size with advertisements for other DMP and June works. There is a short, character defining four pages on otaku Majima's trip to the summer comic market.
Fumi Yoshinaga makes it all look easy. There are very few mangaka who can get as much out of a drawing as she does. In her work, form is defined by expressive and variable linework with a liveliness that wants to burst out of its bounds. However, her characteristic style loosens up here. While one stills sees her distinctive design, the humor of the work is delivered through a more flexible range of styles, and the quicker, breezier looking artwork provides energy and liveliness, especially in the classroom scenes. Yet Yoshinaga does occasionally have the less than inspired panel and will go off-model(clearly seen in a panel where the usually cheery Shota kun looks flat and torpid).
All sfx are translated and honorifics are maintained - mostly. There is a deliberate use of a form of Saito sensei's first name among the students indicting a fondness and familiarity. The text reads naturally and the work contains no localizations, but there are a few clumsy word choices. There's quite a roster of supporting characters, and Yoshinaga gives each a distinctive voice that comes through in the translation.
Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
It's Harutaro Hanazono's first day at his new school. He is arriving one month into the term and after introduction by his new homeroom teacher, Shigeru Saito, he introduces himself. In a move that shocks the class, he announces the reason that he is joining so late - he has been recovering from a bone marrow transplant for leukemia!
Haru's introduction to the new school is eased by Shota Mikuni, the boy with the wide and friendly face, who reaches out to Haru with encouragement when Haru presents himself to a sea of unfamiliar faces. Shota kun welcomes Haru as a friend much as he had Kai Majima, the school otaku and geek. Haru takes an instant dislike to Majima, initially because of Majima kun's obsessive dissertations on manga and anime, but later on because of Haru's own wish to monopolize Shota kun's time for himself.
Haru is very much a typical teenager. He's boisterous, well-meaning, opinionated and conservative, especially when it concerns the attitude and behavior of adults. He is well-matched with the kindly, mediating Shota, who just wants everyone to get along. It's Shota's request that brings Haru into the manga club, where it's destined that Haru get into confrontations with the president, Kai Majima.
Because of Majima's obsessive interests to the exclusion of school (his calm amd measured explanation to Saito sensei for his poor grades is hilarious), his classmates are considerate of him and tolerant of his disinterest. While he does have a craftiness and lack of scruple, Yoshinaga gives him a fair amount of perception about other people and surprises the reader with some of his abilities.
The majority of the volume involves short episodes of daily school life from which we get to learn not only about the principals, but also their fellow students and teachers. There is a large supporting cast here and Yoshinaga makes them more than faces in a crowd. There's swimming class, manga club, at the blackboard in math class, recalling life-altering "lies" told to the unwary, and observing (and interfering with) teacher-teacher romances. More somber moments occur when Shota meets Haru's family. In a quiet moment, Haru's dad explains to Shota just what Haru's experience has been and what his fears are, and makes a plea that Shota remain Haru's friend for life.
I wasn't without some initial hesitation with this title. It began with the way Saito sensei initially was presented. It was over the top and called attention to itself, almost a parody. Later revelations gave a reason for this, but the whole issue seemed awkwardly introduced. (I can't be the only one to recognize the change in character design after a certain point, can I?) The introduction of serious illness also gave me pause, but the life affirming attitude that Haru presented was reassuring. His leukemia is not played for pathos, and Yoshinaga keeps it the background as a somber counterpoint to the joyful presentation of school life.
It's the small things that make this a rich reading experience. There are Saito sensei's comments to Haru's on his openness about his illness. Very surprising and sensitive observations that not only tell the reader a bit more about how Yoshinaga thinks of Haru, but become important in how one views Saito sensei. I especially liked the short episode with Koyanagi sensei's math class, where Isonishi is at the board and is obviously going to tough it out since she can't do the problem. The panel in which Koyanagi sensei throws his book down on the desk leaps out from the page, and we feel her discomfort and his displeasure. "Flower of Life" is packed with these small glimpses of school life and they add up to quite a lot.
I've had a reluctance to read much of Fumi Yoshinaga largely because I considered the merits of "Antique Bakery" to be very much oversold. I have no such reservations anymore. This is a wonderfully observed and realized story. Highly recommended!
Mania Grade: A
Art Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: A
Text/Translatin Rating: A
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Released By: Digital Manga Publishing
Orientation: Right to Left
Series: Flower of Life