Butterflies, Flowers Volume 5

After being very confused by how I felt about this series after reading the two previous books, I’m back for more in volume 5. And a key contrast between two chapters clarified my reaction for me.

In the first, Choko is conflicted between her lover and her family. They’re all eating breakfast together, since boss and boyfriend Masayuki drives her to work every morning, picking her up at home. The two want to live together, but she’s not sure it’s the right time to move out and move in with him, since she’s still shy and nervous about them having sex.

As a way of putting off this decision, they start talking about his apartment, and how it’s mostly empty, so they go shopping for furniture together. Comedy ensues as their involvement changes throughout the process and a salesperson makes a mistaken assumption.

I liked this chapter. That’s the kind of story I’m looking for, the dramatization of potent emotions. He seems much more normal, with understandable feelings, instead of ridiculously over-the-top and behaving in unbelievable ways. She begins to know better what she wants and make some action to getting there (instead of having people fight over her like a pawn or throw her around physically). There’s some actual romance under the slapstick.

Butterflies, Flowers Volume 5

Then comes chapter two, which is much more typical of what I think of when I recall this series. There’s some near-tasteless sex humor, an over-the-top tragedy used as a plot twist, Masayuki being saintly in his actions, ham-handed references to how things were when Choko was a child, Masayuki then being abhorrent in his actions, and a supposedly loving encounter that bothers me in its politics because of the previous contextualization.

For example, here, after a tragedy that has displaced everyone from their home, Choko winds up living with Masayuki because she has nowhere else to go. But he calls her “collateral” and she’s shown topless in a tub to him and the viewers. I was reminded of a similar event in the second season of Remington Steele, only there it was played much more to my taste. In “Red Holt Steele” (one of the best of the series), Laura’s house has been exploded, and she’s spending the night at Steele’s apartment. After playing cat-and-mouse with each other all previous season, they’re staring into each other’s eyes, and Laura says, “Tonight, if you asked me, I don’t think I could say no.” He responds, “Tonight, I don’t think I could ask.”

That’s the kind of guy I want to fantasize about, not this bullying boss who’s nearly a multiple personality, switching among his super-executive status and Gundam fandom and need to operate as a servant (but only at the most confusing times). Masayuki, in Choko’s time of need, seems much more likely to take advantage of her, thinking as much about what he needs as what she needs. She acts like a child around him, since that’s their original interaction pattern, and I find that unpleasant. In short, this isn’t my escapism, and that’s ok. I don’t object to it — although I certainly would emphasize the Mature rating to any prospective readers or purchasers — but it doesn’t entertain me as I hoped. I think I need to read some other reviews of this series, to see what those who enjoy and recommend it are getting out of it.

I’m beginning to see overtones of exploring submission in this series, too. Some of the events could be interpreted to represent the idea that a masochist or submissive, although superficially being dominated, is really the one in control of the relationship, but I don’t have faith that the author has thought everything through this much. The couple is dysfunctional, and while that may be played for laughs and amusing to some, it doesn’t suit my sense of humor, because I want an eventual happy ending in my shojo manga. There is a brief nod at the kind of relationship I’d rather see, but it’s a page at the end, and it doesn’t make up for all the discomfort I’ve sat through up until then.

On a side note, I was very surprised to note two very obvious lettering errors. On page 22, he seems to be saying “general public”, but it’s spelled “gernal”. Then on page 101, instead of “some”, it says “come”. Someone was asleep at the switch with this volume, which is very not typical for Viz, which I hold to the highest standard of English localization.

In contrast, Viz does an excellent job picking other titles to recommend in the ad pages at the end of this book: Nana, Sensual Phrase, Hot Gimmick, We Were There, and Black Bird. All have something significant in common with this book, although what it is may differ from title to title — in order, I’d say it’s a young woman finding her way and growing up; a sex-based relationship between mismatched lovers; and unabashedly sexist abuse of a young lady, just to pick the first three.

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