by Carl Kimlinger,

The Wallflower

GN 15

The Wallflower GN 15
Sunako is beginning to show signs of normalcy. She has friends, goes to school and hasn't tried to seriously kill anyone in ages. Her four roommates, while supportive of her unique views on life, have actually come to expect a certain level of reasonability from her. Nevertheless it comes as a shock even to them when she expresses interest in going to a mixer. Sunako, members of the opposite sex, and romance? How could she possibly be interested? To begin with, no one told her about the romance part... And then the little glutton for punishment gets an invitation to her junior high class reunion...and accepts. Unfortunately that means facing not only her estranged classmates, but also the jerk whose “ugly” comment started everything. Getting Sunako to face her past has never been more important, 'cause if she can't, everyone'll have to pay the price. So naturally her bishounen buddies follow her to run a little interference. In the meantime Yuki's little brother and sister pay a visit, and Takenaga is shanghaied into working for a host bar, with predictably wacky results.

It was approximately ten volumes ago that Wallflower overextended its ghostly wisp of a premise and officially became a weightless episodic comedy about a really scary girl and her four beautiful roomies. By this point in the series, most readers have grown accustomed to the Sahara-sized deserts of filler between the sporadic chapters with some semblance of substance. By those forcefully lowered standards, this volume is a raging success, with not one, but two chapters during which Sunako confronts the incident that introduced her to the delicious world of darkness. By any other standard it's a weightless episodic comedy. Minus the comedy this time around.

When Tomoko Hayakawa mentions that her editor labeled the school reunion chapter as being “of no particular importance,” it's hard not to have mixed feelings. On the one hand, the man is dead on the money—the chapter ties itself up so quickly that it could hardly be anything but a waste of space—but on the other it's hard not to grasp at the single straw of character development it provides (Sunako's Sunako-esque realization that the past doesn't matter since she likes the place it led her to) and be thankful for its meager support in the suffocating sea of fluff. Ditto for the mixer chapter. The cast—Sunako in particular—grows on you over the course of fifteen long (long, long, long) volumes, so there's a genuine desire to see her come to terms with her painful memories (which have now been ignored for something like thirteen volumes), but the two chapters dealing with the issue are too slight and their treatment of her issues too lazy to provide satisfactory closure.

But let's face it, angst was never one of Wallflower's strengths, and neither was emotional involvement or psychology. It's strengths are silly humor and Sunako, and as the series stretches itself ever thinner, successful uses of either are becoming increasingly rare. Hayakawa's progressive softening of Sunako's character (the old Sunako would have destroyed the restaurant rather than attend a mixer) has drastically reduced those indispensible scenes in which she metes out extreme punishment to the scum that offend her moral standards. The more that Hayakawa tries to get us to sympathize with Sunako, the less interesting she gets. Her appeal lay largely in her unabashedly sociopathic personality; she was cool because she wasn't sympathetic—the cuddly, vulnerable Sunako on display here is enough to give the faithful gooseflesh.

As of late Hayakawa has taken to phoning in the humor as well as the drama (and artwork). Her heart simply isn't in it. Her weightless chapters, which are usually at least mildly enjoyable, are exercises in mind-destroying boredom that rely on repeated character behavior (Ranmaru flirts! Takenaga broods! Kyohei wigs out!) for humor that never really materializes. Just trying to remember what happens between the mixer and class reunion is a chore. Ironically, the two funniest moments (Sunako in male drag and the guys' samurai fantasies about the carnage at Sunako's class reunion) are in the “serious” chapters.

In the absence of the Sunako “impact” shots that usually fulfill the role, Sunako in drag is also the book's artistic highlight. As always happens when Hayakawa's heart goes out of the manga, her art is even sloppier than usual. Not that her linework has suddenly gotten all squiggly—her steadiness of hand, if nothing else, remains professional-grade—but without cool scenes to deliberately build up to, events are simply sprawled willy-nilly across the page—the art crowded, over-reliant on SD simplifications and nearly completely devoid of spatial context. But just when one's faith in her skills is about to die, Hayakawa pulls off a scene—such as a slow simulated zoom onto one of Sunako's crazed eyes—that reminds you of what she's capable of when her heart's in it.

It's just that, with the way that Hayakawa keeps lapsing into auto-drive, it's beginning to appear that the only hope for a resurgence of enthusiasm is for her to end the series and move on. By this point, even ardent fans would have to agree that a new Hayakawa series would be infinitely preferable to watching her force the corpse of the current one to lurch about in a grotesque parody of the life it once had. Not even Sunako has a use for undead manga.

Production Info:
Overall : C-
Story : C-
Art : C+

+ Sunako in male drag; finally deals definitively with the event that triggered her turn to the dark side.
Deals with it poorly; successful comedy is sparse; Sunako is growing soft, nice, and dispiritingly dull.

Story & Art: Tomoko Hayakawa

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Wallflower (manga)

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