The Name of the Flower Volume 1
I love the word “aphasia”. I don’t know why I always remember the complicated term for forgetting words, but the irony amuses me. So when I saw the online preview for The Name of the Flower by Ken Saito, which prominently uses the term, I had to check it out.
High school student Chouko has been orphaned. With no one to take care of her, she winds up staying with a remote cousin of her father’s.
(There are a few things to hand-wave here. The main story takes place after she’s been staying with him for two years. It’s stated she’s then 18, thus “old enough” to avoid causing the romantic undertones to be unpalatable to American audiences. There’s a whole string of stories of kids being raised up into love partners, dating all the way back to The Tale of Genji, although I’ve never really liked the plot device of eventually marrying your ward. Then there’s the question of just how distant a cousin one needs to be for the love story to work… but let’s chalk all that up to cultural differences and move on.)
The cousin, Kei, is a prize-winning author with little personality, and what there is is stubborn and curt. Chouko is too traumatized to speak at first, but she regains herself through housework. Kei has her do the usual chores, cleaning and cooking, as well as tending the garden. Aside from grumpy-pants, her other main contact is his editor, a former college friend of Kei’s who has reattached himself.
The appeal of this series is the emotional interplay. Chouko is grateful to Kei’s help getting over her trauma, even if he did nothing but give her a place to live and something to do. He’s humanized by her presence and the way she takes care of him. The editor’s just a goofball, there to provide a more normal contrast to the two of them as well as spur things to happen and bring some comic relief.
It’s later hinted that Kei understood her withdrawal from the world because of his own coldness. He inspires others with his writing skill, but he also intimidates them, since he obviously cares nothing about what anyone else thinks. While in the US, this would be an admirable example of independence and self-determination, here, it’s a loss, pulling him away from community events and routines.
What struck me most about the art was the hair. Kei’s is ragged, partially covering his eyes, hiding him from view and giving the impression he doesn’t care what he looks like. Chouko’s is long and lightly wavy, framing her face. Her bangs highlight her eyes and give her the look of a doll, reinforcing the idea she’s someone who needs taking care of, especially during her mute period.
Kei spends most of the time in a kimono. (“Is it an author thing?” wonders Chouko.) This gives him an ancient, imposing look. When he puts on a suit, trapped into attending a social event for his business, he looks uncomfortable and out of place (although handsome), hunched over with the giant sound effect “SULK” placed next to him.
A later story features a disturbed fan, someone attracted by the early, unremitting darkness of Kei’s books. Kei’s latest work, Hana (Flower), shows a glimmer of hope, since he’s been inspired by Chouko’s presence. The fan resents this, in a classic case of “your old stuff was better!” (as heard by any creator with a career of any length). Chouko’s reaction, which I won’t spoil, made me laugh out loud. Her message is that we’re each responsible for how we decide to handle our own emotions, although we appreciate help from others.
I want these two wounded hearts to find each other, since their relationship works for them, regardless of how it came to be. I was surprised by how much ground this volume covers, and I’m looking forward to the next book in the series. (The publisher provided a review copy.)