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 chubby, loveable pal, Shota – but Kai Majima, president of the manga club and all-around hard case, seems intent on making Harutaro’s high school life a living nightmare. Join Harutaro as he makes new friends, learns to draw mang and discovers surprising facts about his “kinda gay” teacher!
While I enjoyed my first Yoshinaga series, Antique Bakery, I wasn’t wowed by it like I expected to be. Yoshinaga has gotten a lot of praise from the mangasphere, but I just didn’t see it in Antique Bakery. But I’m always willing to give a creator another try, and with Yoshinaga’s series Flower of Life, I’m really glad I did. This 4 volume series is filled with quirky characters, funny and dramatic scenes, and a story that offers a portrayal of high school life that feels real.
Flower of Life revolves around Harutaro Hanazono. He has just recovered from leukemia, after getting a bone marrow transplant, and is starting high school late. He is an honest and forthright person, sometimes too much so for his classmates, as when in his introduction to the class, he tells them about his illness. He is friendly and in general easy to get along with. He is also rather possessive of his first friend, Shota Mikuni. Shota is quiet and shy when he first meets Harutaro, but through their friendship he starts to be more assertive. Kai Majima, who is also Shota’s friend is a full-blown otaku who doesn’t get along with people very well, and is always looking to turn any situation to his advantage. He is oblivious to other people or their concerns, and really not a likable character for the entire series.
In contrast, Harutaro’s family and classmates are quirky and fun. His older sister Sakura, is a bit of a shut-in, living at home and doing all the domestic chores. She loves to cook and bake, and has a thing for khaki clothes. His father works two jobs, his main one being as a chicken sexer. He looks tough but is really just a big softy. His mother is also a chicken sexer who is working overseas teaching her craft. As a family, they care for each other, but also bicker like the dickens! And it’s Mom who wears the pants in the family. At school, Sumiko Takeda becomes part of Harutaro’s circle of friends despite not being his class, when she is outed when Majima learns she likes to draw manga. She seems timid at first, but turns out to be more than a match for Majima. Tsuki is one of Harutaro’s male friends who likes to party and has a crush on Sakura. Harutaro’s teacher, Shigeru Saito, is just a bundle of issues, much like the students. Yoshinaga did a great job with Shigeru, keeping the character’s sex ambiguous all the way through the series, even after it’s revealed.
All these characters would be wasted without a great story, and that’s where this series really shines. Since it’s a slice of life, it doesn’t have a plot like you would normally think a story would have. Instead, every chapter is a glimpse into the life of Hartaro and his friends as they go through their first year of high school. I have to say, this is the best slice of life series I have ever read. Yoshinaga does a great job of capturing both the good and the bad moments of high school life, as well as showing all the teenage insecurities. The characters and situations she creates feel real, and that makes them all the more interesting. Even tired clichés, like the Cultural Festival become interesting and fun in her hands. It doesn’t matter if it’s humor or drama, she portrays them both with the playfulness or power needed to make the right impact without falling into the trap of silly or melodramatic.
It was such a pleasure to read this series. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. The ending was just right as well. I felt satisfied at the end. While I enjoyed all of the characters, I didn’t feel I had to have more. The four volumes felt just right (not that I wouldn’t read more if given the chance). Even in this school life series, Yoshinaga’s love of food still comes through in the characters of Sakura and Isonashi, one of Harutaro’s classmates. There is even a bonus chapter about how to make one of the breads featured in a chapter!
Flower of Life is a series I not only high recommend to manga readers, but I think the casual comic reader would enjoy it as well. The realistic characters and story and lack of manga tropes should make it more appealing to a casual reader. Yoshinaga does have some funny faces, but these are used in obviously comic moments and enhance the effect rather than distract from it. If you get the chance to read this series, do not pass it up.