April showers are bringing forth a month of manga with flowery titles, starting with one of Viz's first forays into the world of josei.
BUTTERFLIES, FLOWERS (Cho yo Hana yo), by Yuki Yoshihara. First published in 2006 and first published in North America in 2009.
Choko Kuze is the daughter of an old-money family that's fallen on hard times. They've lost their fortune, their mansion, and even their servants, and Choko is the only one willing to support them by taking on an office job at a notable real-estate agency. She could have never expected that boss who harasses her with awkward questions and tyrannical demands was also her family's former butler. Domoto has never forgotten her family's kindness nor the little girl he used to protect, and when he's off the clock he reverts to the fond, deferential young man he once was. Can Choko learn to look past Domoto's harshness to the sweet man within or will she always be stymied by his hot-and-cold treatment?
Like a lot of Viz's josei licenses, Butterflies, Flowers takes a lot more from the Harlequin-esque side of josei than the more personal, scathing dramas that defined it. It's firmly entrenched itself with a lot of regressive ideas about romance but it lacks the charm or cleverness to rise above them.
At least Choko makes for a decent heroine. Unlike the rest of her family, she's too sensible to sit around pining for their glory days. While she's still trying to get the grasp of basic life skills like cooking, she demonstrates both a good work ethic and a willingness to help others that makes her sympathetic. Alas, like all too many sensible working women in these sorts of stories, she loses most of that good sense once a man enters the picture. The revelation that her boss Domoto and her beloved childhood friend Cha-chan are one and the same stops her harsh criticism of his management in its tracks, replacing it instead with passive-aggressive jealousy and drippy pining.
Meanwhile, Domoto can harass Choko all he wants at work, comfort her at night, and no one ever questions why he performs this two-faced act at all. I get that Yoshihara is using him to deliver on a few tried-and-true romantic fantasies. Domoto gets to be not only the cold, domineering alpha male who is defrosted by a spirited young woman, but also the white knight who will do anything for the sake of his lady love, and all as part of the well-worn boss/secretary dynamic that's been a part of romantic fiction since women started working outside the home. That's not what bothers me about him.
What does bother me is that his relationship with Choko is all take and no give. Time and again, Domoto insists on helping Choko with her life, despite the fact that she is too proud to simply ask for help. Even as he does so, he keeps up this protective macho front, so his assistance comes off less as a romantic gesture and more like him patronizing her. In the end, the result is always the same: Domoto is always right, Choko is always the one who has to make amends, and she is rewarded for her deference with affection. Perhaps if Domoto was more willing to explain himself and let Choko in on his act, their relationship might find a healthier balance. Instead, his macho bullshit combines with Choko's drippiness to create a romance that is both boring and insulting to its readers.
Yoshihara's art is fairly pedestrian, fitting nicely within the shoujo spectrum. She's good at broad takes and takes a light hand with the shoujo sparkles, but she tends to abuse the manga equivalent of soft-focus flashbacks. It's just incredibly safe, and I don't know how much of the blame lies with Yoshihara's lack of talent and how much of it lies with editors who are playing things far too safe.
Butterflies, Flowers isn't the worst of Viz's silly, smutty josei titles, but it will never be the best because it's too hung up on its regressive notions of romance and too plain to catch the eye. You might as well spend the $10 cover price on a pile of used Harlequin novels. You'd certainly get more entertainment from it.
This series is published by Viz. This series is complete in Japan with 8 volumes available. All 8 were published and are currently in print. This series is also available digitally.