Hana Yori Dango
by Paul Jensen,
I can tell we're still a long way away from the heart of winter because I still feel annoyed instead of relieved when the forecast predicts more snow than we actually get. If it's going to snow, let's skip all the inconsequential flurries and get on with it! (Let's see how long that attitude holds up.) Welcome to Shelf Life.
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Hana Yori Dango
On Shelves This Week
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Shelf Life Reviews
This week, I took a trip back to the 1990s to review Hana Yori Dango, which some fans will know better by its English title Boys Over Flowers.
At its core, Hana Yori Dango is a relatively simple high school romance story. Tsukushi Makino has managed to get into an elite private school despite her family's meager finances, and all she wants is to make it to graduation without any trouble. Unfortunately, she runs afoul of the infamous F4: four sons of hideously wealthy families who wield more power over the school than even the teachers and staff. The rich boys are led by Tsukasa Domyouji, a rude and crude guy with a major mean streak. Domyouji and Makino become enemies at first sight, and he makes it his mission to run her out of the school. The only member of the F4 who shows any sympathy for Makino is Rui Hanazawa, an aloof daydreamer who spends most of his time playing the violin on an outdoor staircase. As Makino goes head to head with the F4, she finds herself being drawn closer to both of these boys.
While the show has a big supporting cast, it's really these three characters who drive the plot forward. They also represent the essence of the series, and their actions most clearly illustrate its highs and lows. Of the three, Domyouji is easily the most abrasive character, but that doesn't mean he isn't interesting. On the one hand, he's essentially a dumb and vicious brute with too much money. There's a sinister quality to his bullying, and he's usually the cause of the humiliating and dangerous situations that Makino ends up in, be it through his own direct actions or through the influence he wields. One we get to know his family though, it's easier to understand why Domyouji is such an unpleasant and even frightening guy. He's a lonely kid with a fear of abandonment, and there's at least some part of him that wants to do right by the people he cares about. The idea of a bad boy trying to change his ways is pretty common in shoujo manga and anime, but Domyouji is a more complex character than what we usually see from that archetype.
Hanazawa also ends up being more fascinating that he first appears, and at least in his case it's a little easier to actually like the guy. He has that wistful, dreamy vibe that's so common to male romantic leads, and it's not hard to see why Makino falls for him early on in the series. Again, there's more to him than meets the eye. As calm and collected as Hanazawa is, he also has a selfish side and can be distant or even cold to other people if he thinks that their problems don't concern him. He's usually too busy pining after the girl of his dreams to return Makino's affections, but his own romantic trials and tribulations eventually make him into a grounded and likable character. Considering how much time Hanazawa spends thinking quietly about what's going on around him, a part of me would be curious to see this story retold from his perspective.
And then we have our heroine Makino, who is endearing and frustrating in equal measure. She manages to come across as determined and charismatic without falling into the bottomless pit of generic “strong female protagonists.” There are moments when she genuinely wants to give up and run away from her troubles, which makes it mean more when she manages to overcome whatever obstacle is standing in her way. At the same time, many of the decisions she makes are baffling and occasionally infuriating. The show's drawn-out pacing doesn't help here, as we're often forced to watch her make terrible mistakes in the narrative equivalent of slow motion.
The strange thing about all this is that the characters' questionable actions are a big part of what makes Hana Yori Dango worth watching. Considering that the protagonists are teenagers, it makes sense for them to do dumb things and let their emotions cloud their judgment. Those hormone-fueled mistakes make the characters a little more human, and they're a useful reminder that perhaps we shouldn't always expect our fictional heroes and heroines to make the right call. It's alright to disagree with the protagonist from time to time, even if it means shouting expletives at the screen as I often did while watching this show.
It's also worth remembering that Hana Yori Dango is now twenty years old, and the original manga is even older. I think some of my frustrations with the story stem from two decades' worth of cultural changes. That time difference is also easy to see in the show's visuals. The animation has not held up particularly well on a technical level, but it's balanced out in part by artful visual direction that manages to do a lot with little. The English dub also sounds somewhat dated, though it's tolerable if you really hate reading subtitles. I'm not in love with the orchestral soundtrack, as it feels overbearing at times, but I will admit that I have a soft spot for the opening theme. This release is certainly a saner way to own the show than hunting down all twelve of the single-disc volumes that hit the US market between 2003 and 2005. The only extra of note is a half-hour “movie,” which tells an alternate version of the story with the characters as members of a New York dance troupe.
If you're looking for an approachable, feel-good romance series, my first instinct is to steer you away from Hana Yori Dango. Like some of its characters, it can be a little difficult to get along with, and you may not always agree with the ideas it puts forward. It is, however, a much more human take on teenage romance than we often see in manga or anime, and I think that makes it worth watching. Sometimes the most memorable shows are the ones that you have to argue with a little.
Whew! That show was tougher to review than most, so I hope I was able to make some sense out of it for y'all. Thanks for reading!
This week's shelves are from Tony, aka SaitoHajime101:
"It's always awesome to read your Shelf Life articles as I always find something new to watch from the anime you talk about and from the pictures others provide. Thank you very much for writing your column and thanks to every who share photos!
The pictures are of the shelf (and a half) that my wife and I throw our collection of anime on (separate from the manga). We don't get to buy often, and our collection is a bit dated due to the infrequency of our ability to purchase an awesome series, it is of our favorites; that's all that matters! (Been working on our collection off and on for almost 15 years)
Dango, dango, dango, da-n-go daikazoku!"
I've got a few of those old ADV thinpack collections on my shelves as well, and do I spy a plush Han Solo in carbonite next to Boba Fett? That's adorable. I'm happy to hear you enjoy the column, and thanks for sharing!
I'm always looking for more collections to show off in this segment. If you've got a shelf full of anime and manga, send me your photos at [email protected]!
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