Jason checks out Hideki Ohwada's politically-charged mahjong manga, The Legend of Koizumi.
Reviewby Zac Bertschy, Dec 11th 2003
Boys Over Flowers
At Eitoku High, the student body is ruled by the ‘Flowery Four’, but that's the ‘F4’ to you. The F4 are a bunch of stuck-up, self-obsessed preppy kids bent on ruling the school with an iron fist; they're unchallenged, until a spunky girl from the wrong side of the tracks named Tsukushi Makino comes in to wreck their self-made paradise. Tsukushi won't have any of the F4's ridiculous antics, and her endless challenges threaten to change Eitoku High forever!
One of the most beloved shoujo series of our time, Boys Over Flowers (popularly known as Hana Yori Dango, or HanaDan for short) finally arrives on DVD in the US. In an age where pretty boys with giant swords rule our television screens and hyperactive fighting antics invade every anime section of every video store, Boys Over Flowers is like a refreshing, rose-scented breeze cutting through the fog of war. If you're a fan of shoujo, run out and buy this show. Now.
Boys Over Flowers has a fairly basic premise: spunky girl kicks preppy butt. It isn't really the premise that makes Hana Yori Dango so special, it's the execution. Even among other shoujo series, Boys Over Flowers is a refreshing change of pace. The heroine, Makino, isn't your average blank-girl-with-no-personality-that-all-the-guys-fall-for shoujo protagonist. Here, we have a girl who isn't afraid to stand up for herself, says the right things, does the right things, sticks up for her friends and fights the bad guys (without huge bouncing breasts and magical wands). She becomes the object of affection for more than one guy, but it happens in a natural way. In so many other series, the heroine is the love interest for all the other males simply because she's the series' lead character, not because she displays any traits other than immature selfishness. In Boys Over Flowers, Tsukushi is beloved by the guys she directly associates with; the relationships develop slowly and naturally, and they include all the ugly business of romance that other series seem to be afraid to show.
The ‘villains’ are multifaceted as well. All four members of the F4 are fleshed out slowly over the course of the series, and you eventually learn to actually like some of them. It's this multidimensional character writing that makes HanaDan exceptional; gone are the flat characterizations, hackneyed scenarios and poorly-written story arcs of other series. The stakes are a little higher, as well. Tsukushi deals with problems any high school girl has to deal with (even some usually reserved for college, like waking up and realizing that you slept with someone but don't remember it). Yes, it gets silly and melodramatic sometimes, but the writing is excellent, so you hardly notice how soap-operatic the show becomes.
From a production standpoint, Boys Over Flowers is all substance and no flash whatsoever. This show was clearly done on the cheap. The animation is poor and mostly static, but you really don't need excellent animation to tell a story of this kind. The color pallete – being mostly muted earthtones – lends a sense of reality to the series, but also makes the proceedings look a little dull. The show is more realistic, but it's also a little on the ugly side. The character designs, punctuated by huge, expressive eyes and round heads, stand out as being fairly unique. Praise Yu Watase all you want, but it's nice to see a show that doesn't have one or more Tamahome clones. Basically, if you're looking for top-quality visuals, don't come knocking on this door.
The dub is, unfortunately, a train wreck. Most of the voices struggle to sound ‘hip’ but come off as being poor imitations of kids from Orange County. Tsukushi loses all of her spunk thanks to a lame and flat performance from her English VA, and the F4 are totally forced the entire time. All of the background characters are a complete wash, grating and ear-bleedingly bad. Don't watch the dub.
Essentially, if you're an old-school drama fan, you were probably already anticipating this release. Shoujo fans young and old should embrace this release; this and Marmalade Boy together make 2003-2004 a banner season for fans, ending what seemed to be an endless drought of decent drama series. Boys Over Flowers is like a torrential rain, watering your crops and feeding your… oh, just go buy it.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A+
Story : A+
Animation : C
Art : B
Music : B
+ Great story and characters.
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