Butterflies, Flowers Volume 1 by Yuki Yoshihara
It can be rough if you are a female manga fan of a certain age. While reading shoujo romance about high school students does appeal to my inner 14 year old, my inner 23-29 year old remains unsatisfied since there are so few stories about women out of high school that are translated over here. After being deprived of a new josei series for so long, I was exited that the Yuki Yoshihara title Butterflies, Flowers was being published under Viz’s Shojo Beat imprint. Right away you know that you’re going to get something slightly racier than the typical Shojo Beat title, as the heroine Choko is sexually harassed during a job interview. The interviewer asks if she’s a virgin and demands to know the answer. She admits that she is and vows not to work at the company. Unfortunately Benten Real Estate is the only place to offer her a job. Choko comes from a formerly wealthy family and she has to work to help out. Her parents now run a mediocre soba restaurant and her younger brother has the mannerisms and speaking patterns of a feudal lord. She remembers one of her constant companions from childhood was the son of the chauffer, a boy she called Cha-chan.
On her first day Choko finds out that she’s assigned to the administration section where her sexually harassing interviewer Masayuki Domoto works. He yells at her for being late and points out that a stray hair on her sleeve is an indication that she needs to take better care of her appearance. Domoto assigns points values to her behavior, makes her stay late to finish reports, and then fines her for not previously requesting overtime. When Choko is menaced by a deranged ex-subcontractor Masayuki rushes to her rescue, calling her “Milady.” Choko realizes that her new boss is her long-lost childhood companion and former servant. The duo end up working together at the real estate company and helping out Choko’s family after work hours.
I’ve read a few reviews that point to the gender dynamics in Butterflies, Flowers as being problematic. I wasn’t bothered by this at all. The contrast between sexually harassing boss Masayuki and loyal servant Cha-chan is so stark that it is hard not to see his behavior and reactions as being a satirical comment about gender roles. Choko’s ability to snap into “Milady” mode and issue commands gives her the ability instantly turn the domineering Masayuki into the subservient Cha-Chan. Butterflies, Flowers has an engaging combination of humor and warmth as the relationship between Choko and Masayuki begins to develop again. While Masayuki has more power in the workplace than Choko the situations they are thrown into end up showing the couple relying on each other. Their bickering has a familiar quality to it that shows how comfortable they are with each other in once sense since they’ve known each other for years. But their new roles as adults cause confusion as they aren’t quite sure to relate to each other.
I enjoyed the supporting cast, especially Choko’s younger brother Mikihiko who is given to grandiose pronouncements lamenting his current fate like “Lo, our honor has been cast aside, we now must endure serving soba to commoners as we live in frugality!” I’m not quite sure why Masayuki’s best friend Suou needs to be an occasional transvestite, but he provides some outside commentary on the budding relationship that Choko uses to test her resolve and new feelings. Yoshihara does a good job portraying the varied moods and reactions of her lead characters. At times the dictatorial Masayuki looks as if he has been possessed by an unholy spirit. Choko switches from demurely blushing to issuing commands like an empress. Both characters switch into chibi mode with unhinged jaws when they start yelling at each other.
At the end of volume one I’m left to wonder if the couple will be able to overcome the burden of their past and come together as equals. Choko loves Masayuki, but she realizes that a relationship won’t work if he continues to see her as the child he used to indulge or as the doormat he orders around at work. Choko’s awareness of their relationship dynamic does a lot to command reader respect, even if she does find herself acting oddly due to Masayuki. I hope this series does well, I’d love it if a few more josei series get translated here.