Monday, November 3, 2008

Blooming Garden

Here is another manga/anime review.


Sunday November 2, 2008

Blooming garden


The tale of a spunky girl and four bullies indeed provides a fertile ground for dramatisation.

IF you’ve been a follower of manga or anime for any length of time, it’s likely that you’ve heard of the popular shojo series, Hana Yori Dango. Doesn’t ring a bell? Maybe you will know it by its English name, Boys over Flowers, or its Taiwanese TV adaptation title, Meteor Garden.

At its core is a love story – with a touch of comedy and a whole lot of drama – about a poor but spirited girl and four rich, handsome boys.

If you take that description at face value, you might be thinking, “Oh, great, it’s another lovey-dovey soap opera with love triangles and jealous rivals. And the hero and heroine will be fighting all the time but you know they’re going to end up together in the end.”

Makino Tsukushi (Inoue Mao, centre) and the F4 boys (from left) Mimasaka Akira (Abe Tsuyoshi), Domyoji Tsukasa (Matsumoto Jun), Nishikado Sojiroh (Matsuda Shota) and Hanazawa Rui (Oguri Shun). From Hana Yori Dango Final (called Boys over Flowers the Movie in Malaysia).

Well, you wouldn’t be completely wrong to think that, but there’s something special about Hana Yori Dango that makes it stand out from other similar shojo stories. Something so special, in fact, that it saw the original manga turned into an anime, an animated film, two live-action movies and two drama series (with another in the works). It’s really hard to deny its popularity.

Girl vs boys

But before we take a look at Hana Yori Dango’s surprising appeal and numerous adaptations, let’s take a step back and see how the series started.

In 1992, mangaka Kamio Yoko published, in Margaret manga magazine, the first chapter of what will become one of Japan’s bestselling shojo series.

Makino Tsukushi confronts big bully Domyoji Tsukasa, leader of the F4, in the anime Hana Yori Dango.

The story opens with Makino Tsukushi, an “ordinary” girl from a poor family, enrolling in the prestigious and elite Eitoku Academy. When she tries to protect a friend, she quickly runs afoul of the F4, Eitoku’s most privileged, most popular and most notorious boys.

Leading the quartet is Domyoji Tsukasa, a hot-headed, self-centred guy who is used to getting what he wants. Hanazawa Rui is the most introverted of the four, and as Tsukushi’s first crush he vies for the role of lead male. The two playboys of F4, Nishikado Sojiroh and Mimasaka Akira, complete the group.

The manga, Boys over Flowers, is a startling 36 volumes and has been translated into several languages including English.

Naturally, the bullying of the preppy, arrogant bunch makes Tsukushi’s life a living hell. Much to their surprise, however, Tsukushi proves to be more stubborn than they thought. The “weed”, as she calls herself, refuses to bow down to the four “flowers”. Eventually, Tsukushi’s spirited personality wins the F4 over, and they start calling her their friend ... or, in Tsukasa’s case, his girlfriend.

Life’s not a bed of roses, however, because even in the company of the Flowers, Tsukushi has to weather love triangles, jealous rivals, disapproving mothers, conflicting emotions, heartbreaking separations, teary reunions ... you know, the stuff lovey-dovey soap operas are made of.

With 241 chapters (that’s 36 volumes!) plus one special “epilogue” chapter and the 1996 Shogakukan Manga Award under its belt, Hana Yori Dango could have easily settled with being a successful manga and left it at that. But it didn’t stop there.

Live-action mania

In 1995, the first live-action movie based on Hana Yori Dango was released in Japan, with Uchida Yuki in the leading role. Then, like most manga, Hana Yori Dango spawned an anime series – in 1996. It stayed rather faithful to the original manga story, at least by anime standards, and ran for 51 episodes.

Later, somebody thought it was a good idea to mesh the two previous ideas together, thus creating the Hana Yori Dango anime movie in 1997. Except this time, they changed the setting from a school to a dance theatre. The next adaptation of the manga didn’t even carry the Hana Yori Dango name. Instead, it was called Meteor Garden. If you love your Asian soaps and love stories, you must have heard of it. This Taiwanese (live action) drama ran for two seasons, starting in 2001, but it differed from the original manga in many respects. For one, everybody was in a university now, not high school. Regardless, the Mandarin series was such a hit that the lead male actors were launched into stardom as the boy band F4 (how apt!), now known as JVKV (whose members comprise Jerry Yan, Vanness Wu, Ken Chu and Vic Zhou).

Given the popularity of Meteor Garden, it became quickly apparent that it was pretty difficult to top the success of the Taiwanese series ... unless, of course, the Japanese also had a go at it.

The Japanese TV drama adaptation of Hana Yori Dango (retaining the name and running closer to its manga roots) was first aired in 2005, and the second season (or sequel, however you wish to see it) premiered last year as Hana Yori Dango 2 (or Hana Yori Dango Returns).

The final movie ... for now

This brings us to the current Hana Yori Dango movie, released in Malaysia last Thursday. Hana Yori Dango 3 – or Hana Yori Dango Final (Boys over Flowers the Movie, in Malaysia) – takes off where the second season ended. Four years after accepting a marriage proposal from Tsukasa during the senior prom, Tsukushi looks set to be married to her love. Of course, as with anything in this series, nothing is so straightforward or easy. Hijinks ensue when the Domyoji family heirloom – a valuable tiara – is stolen just as Tsukasa announces their wedding date at a press conference.

After the success of the Taiwanese version came the Japanese drama, Hana Yori Dango.

It’s up to the usual gang of five (Tsukushi and the F4, not Scooby Doo and company) to go on a worldwide chase to recover the item, hopefully in time for Tsukushi and Tsukasa’s wedding.

I don’t want to give away any more spoilers, but this is a movie that fans of the Japanese drama wouldn’t want to miss. Hana Yori Dango Final, as its name implies, is the conclusion to the TV series.

But, wait, there’s one more adaptation comin’ up! The South Koreans are also planning to run a TV drama based on the series. It’s not out yet, but keep your ears on the Asian TV grapevine – they plan to show it next year. Oh man, people really, really love Hana Yori Dango, don’t they?


Hana Yori Dango has transformed from a shojo manga into a story that spans various media: print, TV and cinema. It’s really hard for you to miss it.

At this point, you might be wondering, “so what makes this series so special?” Personally, I don’t know; there are too many possible answers. Perhaps Makino Tsukushi’s never-give-up personality serves as an inspiration to girls who have had to put up with bullies in real life. Maybe it’s the drama and emotions that people find compelling, and fans just can’t wait to see how Tsukushi and Tsukasa’s love survives its many challenges. Or it could be that Tsukushi’s story is reminiscent of a modern Cinderella fantasy, where a peasant girl finds love and becomes a princess, albeit one in the company of four princes.

Whatever the answer, Hana Yori Dango – in its various incarnations – is a love story that has captured the hearts of many, many fans. Perhaps they’re the best people to ask if you want to know why a girl would pick boys over flowers.

> ‘Hana Yori Dango Final’ (Boys over Flowers the Movie) is currently showing in the Klang Valley and Johor Baru cinemas.

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