Butterflies, Flowers Volume 1
Yuki Yoshihara’s Butterflies, Flowers has a bizarre approach to male/female politics with a twisted take on relationships, but readers may relate to the characters’ confusion and control-swapping.
Choko Kuze used to be a rich daughter, but her family went bankrupt. Now she’s an office lady for a company run by her former beloved servant. The tables are turned, as he trains her personally and harshly to be his perfect executive assistant. She’s cheerful and works hard but isn’t particularly talented or skilled.
You know things are going to be weird when the first interview question we see her being asked is “are you a virgin?” The boss is obsessed, remarkably observant, and demanding. She’s overwhelmed, plus her co-workers know there’s something hinky going on, so they resent her being treated with such special attention (even if it is negative most of the time).
In addition to being economically timely, the series has a sharp sense of humor based on exaggeration. Choko’s brother speaks like a samurai wannabe, which others remark on. A knife-wielding disgruntled customer tries to take Choko hostage. Choko may be drawn as a kind of big-headed doll to emphasize her feeling out of control. Everyone’s extraordinarily emotional, except for Choko, and the art plays along, with plenty of closeups on faces — determined, anxious, worried. The art is otherwise refreshingly clean, a modern, updated take that’s easy to read.
The plot is is based on affection gone out of control. The boss cares so much for her that he wants to shape her into the perfect woman. He promised to look after her, and he still wants to do so, because he still sees her as a child. She accepts his control as a sign of his love for her, based on how much she enjoyed him as a childhood companion. Is this really love? Not if taken seriously, but that’s not what the book aims for.
I think some appreciation of Japanese culture is necessary to truly enjoy this story. Aside from the child/woman confusion, some of Choko’s work duties would be considered inappropriate. She’s asked to keep important customers happy by going drinking with them, for example, which leads to attempted rape. That’s another chance for her boss to rescue her, in a dementedly funny matter, but the advice she gets afterwards is that she should have gotten the lush drunker so he would pass out instead of attacking her.
The boss reminded me of the typical Harlequin hero, a strong, silent man who becomes a different person only with the woman he cares for. She’s the doofy girl mistaking control for love, confused by her feelings not sure she understands him. But at least she’s given a chance to take care of him sometimes, as when he catches a cold.
There isn’t enough josei (manga for women) translated in the US; I hope this series continues, because I’m curious about where it will go next. (The publisher provided a review copy.)