Linear inequalities and masturbation are things that should be learned before the end of junior high!
By: Fumi Yoshinaga
Publisher: Digital Manga Publishing
Age Rating: OT/Older Teen/16+
I’ve never read a Fumi Yoshinaga manga I didn’t like, so it came as no surprise to me when Flower of Life captivated me within a few pages and kept me eagerly reading and wanting more throughout its four volumes. It’s a refreshing change to read a high school-based comedy that is apparently set in the real world, not the extra-dramatic fantasy world where most shoujo and shounen manga take place. The characters are real (even the strangest ones), and the situations are real (even the wackiest and most dramatic), which makes the emotions evoked in the reader all the more profound.
The main character is the blond-haired and cheerful boy Harutaru Hanazono, who explains on his first day at a new school that he has had to miss a year due to being treated for leukemia. The dropping of that bombshell leaves his classmates not quite knowing how to react to him, but Hanazono’s adaptable and generous personality smoothes over the awkwardness and he quickly makes friends — and his friendships have knock-on effects, altering the relationships between the other students. The structure of the manga is much like another Yoshinaga series, Antique Bakery, with a series of loosely related episodes gradually coming together to reveal connections that weren’t immediately apparent.
Hanazono’s interest in manga, and his talent for drawing, gives rise to a number of subplots that give Yoshinaga a chance to poke gentle fun at obsessive otaku and the dedicated amateur artists who work in frenzied bursts to get their books ready for Comiket twice a year. Being something of an otaku myself, these subplots have a particular charm for me, but what’s especially lovely about them is how grounded they are. Even when it seems like a standard shounen manga train-fight-defeat-train-fight-victory cycle is setting in, something mundane happens that cuts it off and reinforces the ordinariness of the characters. And that very ordinariness is what makes them so likeable and so believeable: they all have the worries and concerns and joys and sorrows that real high school students have; any hint of melodrama or contrivance is swiftly nipped in the bud, and though the kinds of stock situations that crop up more often in manga than in real life do sometimes pop up, they’re never allowed to play out in the standard and prescribed manner.
Flower of Life is very funny, with its humour always flowing naturally from the characters and the situation, and it’s also very moving; the moment when the significance of the title is revealed brought tears to my eyes. Yoshinaga’s crafted another winner here, a subtle and clever coming-of-age comedy with depths that reveal themselves gradually. Highly recommended.