Now we're going from one of the classics of shoujo to one of my favorite sub-sub-sub categories: weird shoujo series from CMX! They picked up all sorts of weird little gems during their brief time that are remembered mostly by manga bloggers like myself, including (but not limited to) today's selection.
TWO FLOWERS FOR THE DRAGON (Ryu no Hanawazurai), by Nari Kusakawa. First published in 2005 and first published in North America in 2008.
Shayuka is the heiress to the dragon clan. This grants her the ability to control water, to transform into a dragon and to someday rule over the desert oasis kingdom she calls home. As a child, she was engaged to her friend Lucien, but he disappeared in the desert. These days, she's set to marry Kuwan, the captain of the guard, but those plans go awry after Lucien reappears. Shayuka can only marry one, so the matter will be settled through Shayuka's enchanted engagement tattoos. One hand bears the rose of Lucien; the other has the bellflower of Kuwan. As her love for one or the other grows, their respective flowers will grow and bud, and whomever has the most in a year's time wins her hand. Shayuka is confident that her love for Kuwan will win out, but will Lucien's newfound strength and flirtatiousness even the odds?
Two Flowers For the Dragon is easily the best of Kusakawa's work (or at least those licensed by CMX). It combines shoujo romance with a unique fantasy world and a strong yet sympathetic lead and the combination is somewhat familiar but still a little bit thrilling.
Shayuka is a strong heroine in all the right ways. She's strong-willed without being bratty, confident in herself and her powers instead of neurotic, and powerful without crossing the line into superpowered Mary Sue territory. Shayuka uses her powers responsibly (...for the most part) to protect her family and her land from all threats. A lesser series might have her agonize about her dragon form not being properly feminine or just wanting to be an ordinary girl without so many responsibilities, but Shayuka embraces her role and her dragon self without a thought. It's a good thing that she's such an endearing character because it goes a long way towards making the otherwise conventional love triangle from dominating the story entirely.
Admittedly, when your lead is a literal force of nature it would be hard for any love interest to compare. Even then, neither of them are all that deep. Kuwan is taciturn and duty-driven; Lucien is sly and mysterious. The two of them do get a chance to do a bit of fighting, but by and large neither of them can hold a candle to our fair heroine. If there's anything that I do wish this series could have delved into more, it's the world Shayuka inhabits. She doesn't inhabit any ancient real-world kingdom or expy of ancient Japan or China, but instead a tiny but wealthy desert realm that reminds me of places like Khotan and all those other desert kingdoms along the Silk Road. It lends an exotic touch, but it also makes Shayuka's powers (and thus, her hand in marriage) all the more power and worth fighting for. Plus, there are dragons and dragons are always cool.
Kusakawa's art has always been unusually flat and highly simplified by shoujo standards, even taking into consideration the age of this series. Still, compared to her other works there are some little improvements: the hair is a little more fluidly drawn, the costumes a little more elaborate than normal. She even gets a little more ambitious with her composition, as she makes use of more dramatic angles and delicate framing. The backgrounds are iffy - sometimes she shows off the exotic setting, but other times she just settles for sparkles and screentones.
Two Flowers For the Dragon manages to distinguish itself through its heroine and setting. Otherwise, it's content to coast on a familiar love triangle set-up and mostly average art.
This series was published by CMX. This series is complete in Japan with 7 volumes available. 6 volumes were published and all are currently out of print.