Name of the Flower by Ken Saito (amazon)
Since I tend to order my manga months in advance, I’ll often pick up the first volume of a series without knowing much about it. I was pleasantly surprised by Name of the Flower, a melancholy slice of live manga that details the relationship between a young girl and an author who are both trying to get over tragedies in their lives.
Chouko lost her parents in a tragic accident and lapsed in to a semi-vegetative state where she refused to talk for a couple years. She was passed among relatives who didn’t know how to care for her. Eventually she ended up being placed with Kei, a distant cousin and award winning author. Kei’s approach was to tell Chouko that as long as she was living in his house, she had to work – preparing meals, cleaning, and working in the long-neglected garden. Still silent, Chouko starts working in the garden and finds that her labor pulls her out of her depression. She starts talking again. Years pass and Kei and Chouko are still living together when she’s finishing up high school and starting college.
Saito captures small moments of daily life like the way Kei grabs items off the table while Chouko tries to rush to hand him whatever he needs. Kei switches back and forth between acting harsh and indulging in childish whims like a game of rock paper scissors. While Chouko has managed to conquer her depression, she hasn’t been able to socialize like a normal 18 year old. She gets nervous when her classmates try to talk to her, and she tends to spend all of her time with Kei, his talkative editor Akiyama, and a neighborhood senior citizen gardening club.
Saito’s art has a thin, sometimes scratchy line. There’s a great focus on facial expressions and the emotions of the characters. Kei has an impressive barrage of blank looks and glares from behind his glasses and overgrown hair. Chouko tends to display plenty of smiles and awkward blushes, which stand in contrast to her broken doll mode when she’s still recovering from the death of her parents.
Although I think I can tell where this love story is going, I’m looking forward to seeing how this relationship plays out. I hope Chouko is able to become more confident in herself, and Kei needs to stop being so emotionally withholding. While most of the volume is told from Chouko’s perspective, the final story shows Kei’s memories of Chouko when she first started living with him, and the change in point of view was interesting.
I think this would be a great series for someone looking for something similar in tone to Fruits Basket. While Name of the Flower doesn’t have the fantasy element, the way the characters cope with life’s hardships and the bittersweet appreciation for the beauty found in Chouko’s garden ensures that both series share a similar melancholy tone. Name of the Flower is quietly charming and if the remaining three volumes are as good as the first, readers of this series will be in for a rare treat.