Sunday, March 26, 2017

Manga Review: The Wallflower by Tomoko Hayakawa | Complete Series Review


Title: The Wallflower 
Other Titles: Perfect Girl Evolution & Yamato Nadeshiko Shichihenge
Mangaka: Tomoko Hayakawa
Volumes: 36 | Complete
Years: 2000 - 2015 

I don't know about you, but for me, the years 2002-2005 were all about punk rock.  Even though I grew up in New Jersey, USA, and this manga was written in Japan, The Wallflower, a punky-gothic-shoujo manga, really captures that time period.  Oh nostalgia...

This manga series is a difficult one for me to review.  Mostly because, while I enjoy it immensely, it is hard to recommend it to others.  

The uniqueness of this series does not appear to be unanimously appreciated, so I plan to do my best here to explain what this series is, and what it is not, in the hopes that the people who would enjoy it will be able to find it.   



The Plot


At its core, this is an Ugly Duckling story, but it's definitely a different take on it.  Sunako Nakahara, 15 years old, is the niece of a very wealthy widow and moving into her mansion to attend the high school nearby.  The preexisting tenants, four 15 year old bishounen, are tasked by Sunako's Aunt with turning her into a lady.  

If they succeed, their rent will be free.  If they fail, they will owe 3x the amount of the rent.  The Aunt is never home, instead she extravagantly travels the world and will check in on their progress randomly throughout the series.

Kyouhei, the most beautiful and most desired of the four boys, feels the pressure of this deal the most because he is poor, unable to work, and essentially homeless.
The catch? Sunako is the furthest thing from the ideal proper lady.  She's a recluse who loves slasher horror movies, talks to her anatomical figure named Hiroshi-kun, has a phobia of attractive people, and is not interested in changing. 



The Misconception

 

Hm.  Why this manga loses readership...

I think many readers go into this series with expectations which will not be fulfilled.  The story being told, and the method of storytelling used, in The Wallflower is atypical for a shoujo manga.

It seems the most common complaint about this series, by those who have dropped it, is it's lack of progression.  This is a valid critique in the sense that, yes, there is a lack of linear progression in character development, romantic relationships, and plot development.  

However, the reason for that is because this manga is not telling a linear story.  Instead, it is playing on reader expectations by subverting all the tropes.  And how punk rock is that?

This series is not a romance, its a comedy.  A crude, over the top, sometimes slapstick, comedy told in an episodic style for 36 volumes.  Character and plot progression is often reset when a chapter concludes in a comedic fashion.  Its like a punky Saturday morning cartoon where the monster of the week is nearly always Sunako. 


There are romantic tensions and subplots within this series, but they are not the focus.  The focus is the comedy that ensues when these strong personalities clash while trying to live together in the mansion.

I completely understand why some readers found its lack of progression and character development frustrating, but if you can come to see this story in the light of what it actually is, rather than what you might have expected it to be, its really quite charming.  

I was sad to see it end even after 36 volumes, because I missed being with the characters.  And I can assure you that the instances of character growth and romantic tension, while small, are there.


 Why I think it's Actually Quite Refreshing


From the synopsis you would assume that the four boys turn Sunako into a lady, that all of them fall in love with her, and by the end of the series she must choose only one.  But that is not what happens at all.

First off, the boys are not perfect whatsoever.  Kyouhei is a brute, Ranmaru is a womanizer, Takenaga is a stick in the mud, and Yuki is childish.  They all know each others flaws, but they act like brothers.

Each of the characters have romantic plot lines, but each relationship develops slowly, and in a manner that is very true to the characters' unique personalities and situations.

They do not all fall in love with Sunako, but they do all come to value her for exactly who she is.  Even with her stubborn, selfish, fearful, nature.  

The truth that this manga pursues for its characters is that not all of them are ready for romance.  Some have had traumatic past experiences with love and family relationships that have damaged them.  And this new found friendship among the residents of the mansion, no matter how bizarre it seems, is enough for them right now.  

I love this valuing of friendship, especially between males and females.


The boys can often get Sunako to pretend she is a Lady to achieve a certain goal, but afterwards she goes right back to being a goth with a bad attitude.  


Sunako has serious issues with body image, self worth, and human connection.  The boys seem to realize this about her, as well as, the fact that they can only do so much to help her with it.  

The bulk of the work is on Sunako's end and needs to start with her realizing she has an issue, and becoming willing to work on herself to better her life.

Sunako thinks there is something fundamentally different between her and the so called 'Radiant Ones'.  So when the boys focus on getting her to change her self image while still accepting her for who she is it hits me right in the feels.



That being said, the boys will also hit her with a reality check when necessary, which also hits me in the feels.


And yet, despite their efforts, Sunako continues to resist change.

I love this aspect of the story, because rather than seeing it as a dead-end, it feels very true to Sunako's character.

Sunako is not miserable.  In actuality, she lives an extremely comfortable, indulgent, life.  Her only misfortune is that she has to go to school and has nosebleeds when the boys are too handsome around her.  There isn't actually any catalyst for her to change her ways at 15 years old.


Sunako is not a lost cause.  She is good at plenty of things other than the one thing her Aunt wants for her.  And even the girls in the series whom she befriends adore her for her talents and friendship despite the rest of her quirks.



The Crude Humor


The comedy, and general storytelling, in this series is rather brutish and unrefined.  

Along with the fact that these princes are NOT Prince Charmings comes Kyouhei constantly calling Sunako a bitch, and Sunako repeatedly threatening to murder them.  

Sunako makes references to how much she would like to see a crime scene and a dead body.  

The boys endure an absurd amount of sexual harassment, like when their adoring female fans attack them in a mob formation.  


This manga feels like its about real (rude) teenagers.  

Even if so much of it is absurd.  These characters are very young, living unsupervised in a mansion, and combating a whole slew of unrealistic, extreme, altercations which are often as bizarre as they are entertaining.  Their selfish, stubborn, unwise, and childish behavior feels quite realistic.  


C'mon didn't you curse a lot and do stupid shit as a teenager too?

And as someone who generally prefers sweet, relaxing, nonabrasive stories, the irony of my enjoyment of this series is definitely not lost on me.  

The Art


The art style and quality is all over the place in this series.  Most of the characters spend the bulk of the time in chibi form, which to me makes sense because that is often used to demonstrate comedy and the bulk of the series is comedy.


Even when characters are out of chibi form they are often looking slightly off.  Almost like they are monsters.  Hands and feet might be HUGE and attached to stick skinny arms and legs.  Faces might be extremely pointed with eyes positioned in ways that really throw off the perspective.  


Sometimes the boys look alike, but they have such distinct personalities that I usually had not issue telling them apart. 


It is not a favorite art style of mine at all.  Even when the characters are in their bishounen glam shots, like on the covers, I'm not into it at all.  That being said, I do feel like it fits this story perfectly.

In Conclusion

 

This manga is not going to give you anything you would typically expect from a shoujo manga, and that is what is so fantastic about it. 

If you're a sucker for unlikely friendships, like me, then read this series.


If you like series' with crude humor, read this series.


The sky's the limit with the absurdity included in The Wallflower, so I highly recommend you read it to see for yourself.


Thanks for reading!

Amanda 

Images were screenshot from an online scanlation.  I personally hope this series gets a re-release in quality bindup editions!