*Flower in a Storm Book 1 — Recommended

This breezy shojo romantic comedy answers the question, “what would action movies be like if they were aimed at women instead of men?” It’s a high adrenaline piece about finding the person who likes you for you, a twisted love story for a jaded generation super-saturated with media.

Riko desperately wants to be normal, although she’s got the athletic prowess of Batman (but with a lot less control). Her abilities are described as “superpowers” in the promotional material, but I think that gives the wrong impression, because she’s not flying or shooting beams from her eyes or reading minds or anything. She’s just very very strong, tough, and acrobatic.

Flower in a Storm Book 1 cover
Flower in a Storm Book 1
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The book opens with a bang, as super-rich Ran storms into her classroom, points a gun at her (a much more violent image in Japan than it is here), and proposes marriage. Ran is the most powerful 17-year-old in the world, but he’s also a bit wacko. For instance, his next statement, after the gun, is worrying about whether his hair still looks good. His dark suit, sunglasses, and topknot make him look like a weird Japanese version of a slick gangster, but his dedication above all to Riko gives him an odd charm.

The story’s got so much energy that it propels the reader along, and when I had time to stop and think, I found myself laughing. But there’s more to it than just being funny. Ran’s actual statement is “I’ve come to take your life!” He quickly whips out a flower to turn it into a proposal, but for a second, everyone thought he was threatening her. And to girls, especially in traditional settings, they may not be that different. Marriage means giving up freedom in order to take care of others. You’re no longer pursued and desired; instead, you have to be a grownup, sacrificing yourself to your husband and children. Stories end with weddings because who cares about the boring stuff after? There are an awful lot of mixed messages surrounding coupledom, especially for women.

There’s a parallel drawn here between marriage as the end of excitement and Riko’s desire (driven by fear and loneliness) to be normal. Why settle for either, the book says. Riko only wants to be normal because she was earlier rejected for being herself by a boy she liked. If she could somehow become someone else, then maybe she wouldn’t be hurt again by being called “weird”. She’d fit in, and she’d get the happy ending she’s been taught to want.

But with Ran… she could have love *and* excitement, acceptance *and* her unique abilities. It’s a more encouraging, better message for girls … even if it’s camouflaged with a strong male contradicting her. That part of the message isn’t so great. He knows what she really wants, and he’s going to give it to her, no matter what she says. To enjoy the book, you have to see Ran as a fairy godfather prince who fell in love at first sight, not a date rapist using all of his influence to make his kidnapping acceptable. Personally, I kept thinking of Pierce Brosnan in his remake of The Thomas Crown Affair.

Ran is willing to force Riko to marry him, but her abilities let her run away, turning their courtship into a weird contest: If he catches her within 25 hours, she’ll agree. If he doesn’t, she’s free to go. In other words, he’s forcing her to use her abilities to their fullest instead of allowing her to pretend she doesn’t have them. He’s bringing out her true self — and removing her allies, as everyone around her effectively shrugs and says, “he’s rich and powerful, what more do you want?” Even he tries it, telling her:

My looks, family, financial situation, and prospects are great. If you ignore my personality, I’m perfect!

He’s a dream lover, someone who will pursue you no matter what because of the depth of his affection. Instead of being freaked out by her skills, he thinks her stuntman-like abilities are cool. And he starts to listen to her, joining her class in future chapters to try and make their courtship more “normal” and student-like. Also, keep an eye out for the bald classmate, who either keeps the mood light with snarky background comments or does ridiculous things like blow up a classroom to rescue Riko.

The plots are similarly outrageous: An assassin kidnaps Riko to get to Ran. A rival wants to marry her to get back at Ran. The assassin comes back to interrupt summer vacation. See what I mean about an action movie?

This is only a two-volume series, which is about right. I loved the dynamic and over-the-top excitement and humor, but I don’t think you could extend it too far. The conclusion will be published in August, and I’m eager to see it. There’s also an unrelated bonus story, a confusing thing about breathing and kissing, and a three-pager in which Ran worries about getting fat. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

21 Comments

  1. David Oakes

    It’s been a long time since I have wanted to read a manga. But you sold me.

    (Now let’s just see if anyone local sells it.)

  2. Woohoo! It worked! I hope you enjoy it.

  3. I’m so pleased this series has finally come out in English– I read it illegally (buuuu) a while ago, and I’m so happy to be able to buy it. :D

  4. [...] you and him fight) Leroy Douresseaux on Dry Heat (The Comic Book Bin) Johanna Draper Carlson in vol. 1 of Flower in a Storm (Comics Worth Reading) Tangognat on Fruits Basket Banquet and Songs to Make You Smile (Tangognat) [...]

  5. I also am convinced and I think I shall be picking this up. It’ll be my first manga bought since Dramacon!

  6. Johanna Says:

    “…The book opens with a bang, as super-rich Ran storms into her classroom, points a gun at her (a much more violent image in Japan than it is here), and proposes marriage…He knows what she really wants, and he’s going to give it to her, no matter what she says. To enjoy the book, you have to see Ran as a fairy godfather prince who fell in love at first sight, not a date rapist using all of his influence to make his kidnapping acceptable…”

    Suspension of disbelief can sometimes make for enjoyable reading, but I doubt I’d enjoy suspending my “that’s not romantic, that’s some creepy shit right there” disbelief as much as I enjoy suspending my “people can’t time travel, it would take waaaay too much energy” disbelief. Likewise, in case anyone’s wondering since I did say over at the Ships and Giggles forum that I like How to Train Your Dragonm, I didn’t suspend my “this isn’t cute or funny, this sucks” disbelief for the Astrid-flirts-violently stuff either.

    Johanna Says:

    “…Ran’s actual statement is ‘I’ve come to take your life!’ He quickly whips out a flower to turn it into a proposal, but for a second, everyone thought he was threatening her. And to girls, especially in traditional settings, they may not be that different…”

    Not for these girls in traditional settings and especially not for these.

    Johanna Says:

    “This breezy shojo romantic comedy answers the question, ‘what would action movies be like if they were aimed at women instead of men?’…He’s a dream lover, someone who will pursue you no matter what because of the depth of his affection…”

    Now that sounds less action-movie-aimed-at-women than comedy-movie-aimed-at-men. It reminds me of when I was a teen and first realized that there was a pattern to one of the ways some comedy movies pissed me off: girl says no, guy chases her anyway, girl caves in, guy gets girl. Then The Onion pointed it out better. ;)

    Anyway, speaking of trying to force marriage at gunpoint, strong female teenagers, and action movies…

    Binoo Joshi, BBC News, Jammu, in Kashmir girl fights off militants,’ 11:15 GMT, Tuesday, 29 September 2009 12:15 UK,” Said:

    “A teenage girl says she killed a militant with his own gun after insurgents attacked their home in Indian-administered Kashmir. … Ms Kauser, 18, and her brother turned on the gunmen, killing one and injuring two more. Police praised their courage. One of the militants wanted to marry Ms Kauser against her will, police said. The militants escaped and are now being sought by police who are using their blood trails as clues.”

  7. David Oakes

    It turns out I didn’t have to trust the vagaries of commerce, as the local library had a copy.

    I can see what the book wanted to be, and if it had the giggly breezy voice acting of most anime, or the ironic earnestness of “Middleman” or the Thin Man series, I might of been able to suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy it. But I couldn’t get past the creep factor, especially after they upped the ante by saying “Hey, Ran may be a stalker, but at least he isn’t a rapist!” (Which, come to think of it, is why we are supposed to like Richard Gere’s character in “Pretty Woman” as well.)

    Though I will admit that Ran was redeemed as a character for me in the end, if only because the girl decided to like him. But it is telling that I can’t even remember her name after putting the book down only five minutes ago. For all her “superhuman physical abilities”, she does nothing in this book except run away, get kidnapped, and get shot at. Even her overwhelming desire to be normal isn’t her own, but rather a response to a boy.

    I was hoping for something like Pitt and Jolie in “Mr. And Mrs. Smith”. But for all the action, the story was about ownership, pure and simple. (And again, I find myself back at “Pretty Woman”. Sad to say that even in this day and age, girls are supposed to look no farther than Cinderella for inspiration. Give me “Rapunzel’s Revenge” any day.)

  8. I don’t think the message “you can have a wildly romantic guy who likes you for you, instead of who you feel forced to pretend to be” is a message of ownership.

  9. Again, I think that is the moral the story *wants* to tell. And to some degree, it does. But her passiveness throughout, and her only active choice being to run away or give in to Ran’s attentions, completely undercuts the message of “Be Yourself”. By the end of the book, Ran appears to have learned something, but she still hasn’t.

  10. I agree, I would rather see more active girls in some shojo, but I think I’m putting too much of a cultural filter on the books. This is a female fantasy from another culture, putting her at the center, where what matters is her decision and everyone is focusing on her. Many girls fantasize about being taken away, about escaping their humdrum lives without having to do anything but be recognized for their own specialness. It’s a more modern take on being “discovered” — instead of a talent scout, he’s a mega-mogul.

    I think you’re criticizing that desire more than this book, and I’m not sure that’s fair, because I think you’re putting a male American filter over a Japanese girls’ fantasy.

  11. But she doesn’t want to be taken away. She *wants* a “normal life”, wherein she is not exceptional because she is female. Ultimately Ran doesn’t take her away from that life, or make her want more. In fact, the reason that Ran is a better boyfriend than the Date Rapist is because he doesn’t ridicule her for wanting to be normal.

    I think that “being discovered” is a perfectly valid theme. Heck, it is the basis of all superheroes, that mild mannered Clark Kent is really Superman, if Lois could only see past the glasses. And I think that “Flower in a Storm” wants to have that theme, and pays lip service to it for a while, but ends up telling us “Women should not want to achieve, and should let Men do it all for them”. I think that was sad when our mothers were told that in the 1950s, and I think it is sad that Japanese girls are being told that now. (And quite often, American girls are as well: “Math is Hard. Let’s Go Shopping!” Barbie, anyone.)

  12. This is a case where the reader is supposed to be smarter than the lead character. We know that what she says she wants — a normal life — isn’t what she really wants — to be loved for herself. We can see this in the book when, every time she has the chance to react “normally”, she does something exaggerated (like jumping over her teacher’s head).

    I think your reading of the theme is misguided and inaccurate. Everything that happens in Flower in a Storm encourages her to use her abilities to the full. That’s not “women shouldn’t want to achieve”.

  13. David Oakes

    Not going to argue with you, because as I said, that is what the story wants to tell, and superficially does.

    But when we have to make excuses like “It’s a Japanese Fantasy, not an American one” and “We have to be smart enough to know what the character really wants”, it no longer matters what the work actually says. We have rationalized away everything but what we want it to say.

  14. My, you get tetchy when people disagree with you! :) You’re assuming that *your* reading is “what the work actually says”. I’m disagreeing with your interpretation of that, not the work, and pointing out that I see cultural bias in your reading.

  15. David Oakes Says:

    “It turns out I didn’t have to trust the vagaries of commerce, as the local library had a copy…”

    Libraries rule. :)

    David Oakes Says:

    “…But her passiveness throughout, and her only active choice being to run away or give in to Ran’s attentions, completely undercuts the message of ‘Be Yourself’…”

    Given the volume ending Johanna mentions in the review, that sure seems more like “Give In and Be Whatever He Wants [that is, someone who doesn't say no to him]” than “Be Yourself” to me.

    It’s like the way a certain chick lit novel, which I won’t name here because I’m going to describe the ending and don’t want to spoil the book, has an interesting story about a young woman dating but its ending sours that with the main character ending up dating the guy her mother pushed at her in the beginning of the book and saying she’s “finally realized the secret of happiness with men…’Don’t say ‘what,’ say ‘pardon,’ darling, and do as your mother tells you.'” as if she shouldn’t have worried her pretty little head over who was right for her.

    Johanna Says:

    “…where what matters is her decision and everyone is focusing on her. Many girls fantasize about being taken away, about escaping their humdrum lives without having to do anything but be recognized for their own specialness…”

    Speaking as someone who vividly remembers being an adolescent girl myself, I doubt that as many girls (outside the sub subset of the BDSM orientation, of course) fantasize about being violently (see below) taken away by someone who doesn’t take what she says seriously (see below). Sure that scenario’s not humdrum, but when it happens IRL it’s often a fate worse than humdrum.

    Johanna Says:

    “…The book opens with a bang, as super-rich Ran storms into her classroom, points a gun at her (a much more violent image in Japan than it is here), and proposes marriage…He knows what she really wants, and he’s going to give it to her, no matter what she says…”

    Hmm.

    Johanna Says:

    “…It’s a more modern take on being ‘discovered’ — instead of a talent scout, he’s a mega-mogul…”

    More modern take? Weren’t aiming guns, amassing currency, and forcing marriages invented before talent scouting was?

    David Oakes Says:

    “…But I couldn’t get past the creep factor, especially after they upped the ante by saying ‘Hey, Ran may be a stalker, but at least he isn’t a rapist!’ (Which, come to think of it, is why we are supposed to like Richard Gere’s character in ‘Pretty Woman’ as well.)…”

    Good thing there’s so many other books out there for you to read! :) As for saying you couldn’t get past something in order to enjoy the book, that’s a fair statement even if you don’t also say what that something is – it’s simply describing the experience you had reading the book.

    Johanna Says:

    “…I think you’re criticizing that desire more than this book, and I’m not sure that’s fair, because I think you’re putting a male American filter over a Japanese girls’ fantasy.”

    Is it a common Japanese girls’ fantasy, or is it what the author thinks good Japanese girls should fantasize about?

    Also, is disapproving of stalking and finding it creepy “putting a male American filter” over it, as if it’s actually wrong to stalk male Americans but “just part of their culture” when it’s done to other people? Or should everyone have the right to not be stalked (which would also mean it’s unbiased for David to call stalking a “creep factor” in a story even when the stalking victim character isn’t American and male).

    Speaking of forcing marriage and cultural filters…

    someone at the BBC, in Schools warned on forced marriage,’ 19:49 GMT, Monday, 23 November 2009,” Said:

    A leading campaigner against forced marriages has warned that thousands of south Asian schoolgirls in West Yorkshire could be at risk of abuse.

    “Jasvinder Sanghera, who fled her home to avoid being forced into marriage at the age of 15, was speaking at a major conference on the issue in Bradford.

    “She said her charity Karma Nirvana had identified several schools in West Yorkshire where girls had gone missing.

    “She urged schools not to be culturally sensitive and ‘engage’ with the issue…

    “‘Cultural acceptance does not mean accepting the unacceptable.'”

    Johanna Says:

    “This is a case where the reader is supposed to be smarter than the lead character. We know that what she says she wants — a normal life — isn’t what she really wants — to be loved for herself…”

    Meanwhile, ‘when she says no to me she doesn’t mean it, she really does want me and is just coy’ is a popular excuse to harass and even rape people IRL. No wonder David Oakes finds it creepy when he infers that Shigeyoshi Takagi wants him, the reader, to accept a character acting on that belief as a good guy and male role model.

    David, frankly I’m glad that you find stalking creepy instead of romantic, not only for your sake but for the sake of everyone else in your vicinity IRL. You go, guy! :)

    BTW Johanna, when you abridged my earlier post (as you have every right to do, it’s your blog and your editorial discretion! :) ), you accidentally cut the detail about why the article is so relevant to “speaking of…action movies”:

    Binoo Joshi, BBC News, Jammu, in Kashmir girl fights off militants,’

    11:15 GMT, Tuesday, 29 September 2009 12:15 UK,” Said:

    “…[Ms Kauser said] ‘I had never touched a rifle before this, let alone fired one. But I had seen heroes firing in films on TV and I tried the same way. Somehow I gathered courage – I fired and fought till dead tired.’…”

  16. Hsifeng, I edit your quotes when you copy too much of an article — I’d rather you just include a limited, relevant section than paste in the whole thing when you’ve already provided a link.

  17. [...] and Seiho Boys High School Volume 1. But I think my choice will be the second (and final) volume of Flower in a Storm, which I thought was a funny action/romantic [...]

  18. [...] of the need to wrap up the series quickly in this second and final volume of the series, the flow here is choppy, but there’s still plenty of entertainment in its escapist, [...]

  19. black bird forever's

    Meh! You made it sound So promising. But i find the manga to quite boring. It didn’t really had a point. The only cool attention grabbers were the guns and holicopters. But i praise you for your review. You sure sold it well!!!

  20. I’m sorry to hear our tastes didn’t match when it came to this title. I hope you’ll find other books you like more in the other reviews on this site.

  21. [...] Flower in a Storm — My love for this romantic adventure, only two books, by Shigeyoshi Takagi didn’t seem to be widely shared, but I thought it was a hoot, just the kind of escapism I like. [...]

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