Today's title might sound like another story of transformation and romance, but it's got a cynical edge that could only come from the pen of noted josei mangaka and Test Drive favorite Moyoco Anno.
FLOWERS & BEES (Hana to Mitsubachi), by Moyoco Anno. First published in 2000 and first published in North America in 2003.
Mosau Komatsu is a sloppy loser of a high-school student, and all he wants is a girlfriend. In desperation, he tries a makeover at a salon called The World of Beautiful Men. It seems to work, so Mosau keeps coming back for more. From that point on, he becomes the pet project for sisters and co-owners Kiyoko and Harumi. Through their patented system of fashion, style, and verbal abuse, they are determined to turn Mosau into a (reasonably) confident and attractive man of the world.
Flowers & Bees feels in many ways like a sister series to one of Anno's previous manga, Happy Mania. Both are about manic young people on a quest for love, sex, and personal happiness, and both are told through Anno's own particular brand of acerbic wit. The biggest differences lie in the sex of their protagonists and the level of patience she has for them.
This isn't the first manga about a slobby guy getting a makeover, but Anno has no intention of holding her hero's hand through the process. She makes it crystal clear that Komatsu's problem isn't so much with his looks as it is with his mind set. Even after he gets the hang of his makeover, he keeps screwing things up because he can't get past his raging insecurities, his own ignorance about the world, and the toxic attitudes he has towards women. He has to learn the hard way how to be a decent man, and Anno delivers that message with black, self-depreciating humor and a smackdown courtesy of Kiyoko and Harumi.
It's that rough approach that distinguishes Flowers & Bees from its many other shonen and seinen counterparts and makes its message stick. Neither the salon ladies nor Anno herself will settle for easy excuses or token effort from Komatsu (and by extension those like him). If Komatsu wants to get laid, then he's going to have to work hard, learn from his mistakes, and take some tough love.
Anno's art isn't all that different from her other works here, but somehow comes off as a bit rougher than usual. Maybe that's just because we're not following a pretty face here, but instead an average-looking dude who ends up making all sorts of weird faces as he reacts to the insanity around him. Meanwhile, he's surrounded by many beautiful ladies drawn in her usual manner: slightly bobbleheaded, with full lips and big, judgmental eyes. She also keeps the panels close to the characters, and this lends a subliminal sort of discomfort that perfectly echoes Komatsu's mindset.
Carl Horn lent his particular brand of translation to this series, which means that while it's a lot looser than your average manga translation, it's more than funny and witty enough to make up for that.
Flowers & Bees doesn't go easy on its protagonist, but his plight is relatable and the lessons he learns are ones that a lot of guys can (and should) take to heart. It's not an easy series to read, but it is interesting and darkly humorous enough to make it well worth the effort.
This series is licensed by Viz. This series is complete in Japan with 7 volumes available. All 7 have been published, and are currently out of print.