by Yoko Kamio; adaptation by Gerard Jones
published by Viz; $9.95 US
Tsukushi is a middle-class student at an ultra-elite high school. Her schoolmates are dropped off by chauffeurs and carry designer bags costing thousands of dollars, while she works part-time just for spending money. The school is run by a clique of cool, rich, and handsome students who ostracize anyone who displeases them.
Tsukushi’s innocently good heart manifests through her huge, round eyes (resembling out-sized marbles) and her braided pigtails. She feels everything intently, allowing the inequities to build up in her until she has to scream her frustration with the world every morning before class.
She’s only at the school to earn prestige for her father. For the next two years until she graduates, she waits through every day, hoping only to avoid being noticed. She’s become the kind of person she hates, the kind who doesn’t stand up for what they believe.
When a friend trips and falls on one of the clique, Tsukushi finds herself forced to confront them. The clique calls themselves F4, the flowery four, to reflect their beauty. To fight them, Tsukushi decides she’s a weed, something that can’t be eradicated easily. As a result, she’s shunned by the rest of the school because they’re afraid to draw F4’s wrath.
She’s all alone, with even the friend she was protecting gone, but she’s recaptured her inner strength and integrity. When F4 sets her up to be raped, one of them rescues her, demonstrating unexpected kindness. It turns out Tsukushi resembles the F4’s leader’s older sister, providing psychological complication.
One of the themes is that beauty doesn’t reflect character. You can buy clothes and hairstyles, but you can’t buy a good heart. The look is stereotypical girls’ manga, with a childlike heroine and pretty boys, although they have strangely elongated faces with Jay Leno-like chins.
Boys Over Flowers has some plot elements in common with Hot Gimmick, but since it was originally published in 1992, it’s more traditional in its treatment. There’s less psychology, more comedic incidents, and a lighter touch. Also, the fashions and hair styles are now outdated, so that the cool kids are easier to laugh at for thinking they’re hip.