Flower of Life Volume 1
Fumi Yoshinaga previously created Antique Bakery. I liked the premise of that near-yaoi title, especially the dessert-heavy setting, but it was a bit scattered and dissatisfying for me in terms of plotting.
Flower of Life isn’t strong on plotting, either, but here, it works better for me. Everything’s so dramatic and overplayed (in a gripping, enjoyable way) that it’s hard to notice that all that happens is kids getting to know each other (and finding out some teachers’ secrets).
Harutaro is enrolling in school late due to his recent recovery from leukemia. He’s a year older than his classmates due to his illness. He’s outspoken, saying what he thinks directly, and he quickly makes friends with chubby, welcoming Shota.
Also key to the cast is Majima, a full-of-himself manga fan capable of running on unceasingly about his favorite entertainments. He and Shota make up the manga club, which Harutaro soon joins. Harutaro has manga drawing skills, but he needs guidance. Majima has the knowledge, but his lecturing is hard to accept.
There’s also Shigeru, who teaches Japanese but doesn’t act much like a teacher. “Shige” is shorter than some students, speaks and dresses casually, hangs out with the kids, … and gets caught kissing another teacher.
Yoshinaga’s people are prettier, to my eye, than the standard shojo designs, with shading to give their eyes, lips, and hair depth. Especially the eyes, which are sleepily suggestive. Harutaro’s background gives him serious undertones, but with cancer recovery behind him, he’s trying to have a normal life.
Most of the book consists of kids telling stories to each other: sharing things they’ve seen or experiences they’ve had or how they feel. The strong personalities are appealing, and the wide variety of backgrounds, motivations, and character types are immediately interesting. Surprises and revelations can be exaggerated but kept me turning the pages. (The publisher provided a review copy.)