Flower in a Storm Volume 1
This breezy shojo romantic comedy by Shigeyoshi Takagi 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 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.)