As the month comes to an end, I decided to get away from the dating sim adaptations and towards a reverse harem that's more of a comedy.
THE WALLFLOWER (Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge), by Tomoko Hayakawa. First published in 2000, and first published in North America in 2004.
We beginning by meeting a group of 4 really, really, ridiculously good looking boys: hot-headed Kyohei, scaredy-cat Yuki, promiscuous, flirty Ranmaru, and calm, intelligent Takinaga. They're currently living as renters in a fabulous mansion with an eccentric, world-hopping landlady. One day she gives them an ultimatum: if they can turn her niece Sunako into a 'proper lady,' they can stay there rent-free for 3 years. If they fail, then their rent will be tripled. Well, surely this can't be a challenge for a bunch of lady-killers like them, whose very presence tends to send any woman nearby into a flurry of squees and swoons, right? Wrong. Sunako is a pasty, horror-obsessed hikkikomori who fears beautiful people as "creatures of light" that leave her blinded and bleeding from the nose. Now all five must find a way to live with one another, and just maybe turn Sunako into the 'proper lady' of her aunt's dreams.
All comedies live or die on the strength of their cast, so it's a good thing that The Wallflower has a genuinely solid one. Now it's true that most of them are not deep - my descriptions above are about as much as we learn about anyone. They are distinct and varied, though, so there are plenty of ways to combine them in various situations and get different (if often silly) results. Here the payoff isn't so much about the gimmick of turning Sunako into a 'proper lady,' but about watching Sunako and company save themselves from whatever situation they may have gotten themselves into, be it schoolgirls ganging up on Sunako, Kyohei getting kidnapped by a host club, or simply trying to get Sunako out of her room. Luckily for the reader, the results are usually amusing. If there's one thing that can be said for The Wallflower, it's that it's a reverse harem that does not take itself seriously, which in some ways makes it more endearing than other, more serious titles.
One thing you must be aware of before reading The Wallflower is that Hayakawa really, really, REALLY likes visual kei bands. You know, the bands with the guys that are so made up and teased out that they take androgyny to new heights. I have to mention this because if you don't know that, you may find the character designs for The Wallflower to be truly bizarre.
There are bishonen, and then there are the leads for The Wallflower with their wispy, stylishly tousled hair, enormous dark eyes, and full lips. Unfortunately those good looks come at the cost of expressiveness, as anytime a big reaction is needed things switch over to a very plain chibi-mode. Sometimes this approached is used for dramatic effect, as it is with Sunako. Whenever she feels scared or unconfident, she's in chibi mode. Whenever she briefly finds confidence, she's fully drawn and as equally beautiful as the boys. When she's being scary (intentionally or otherwise), she's somewhere in the middle and looking particularly ghoulish. The switch in appearances can be confusing at first, but it's pretty easy to grasp by volume's end.
Because of the heavy focus on the character's looks, there isn't much effort put into the backgrounds. Instead, they tend to be blank or accented with a few effects or bit of screentone. The pages are composed in a frantic, busy manner, with panels packed in top-to-bottom and left-to-right. The panels themselves are fairly standard in size and shape, save for the splash panels to show off one of the guys being sexy or Sunako doing something awesome. The sparseness of the panels helps to keep the pages from becoming a visual mess, and the franticness of the images works well with the tone of the story.
As per usual for a Del Ray/Kodansha work, there's an honorifics guide in the front and translation notes in the back. There are also brief character profiles and an untranslated preview of Volume 2.
This series is one of my guilty pleasures. It may not be deep or profound, but it's a fun popcorn-munching sort of series to read.
This series is published in the USA by Kodansha, formerly Del Ray. This series is ongoing in Japan, with 31 volumes published so far, all of them in print.
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