Flower of Life--Manga

Some days Ms. Shakespeare and I both feel that we could easily change the title and purpose of Squeefinity into the We Love Fumi Yoshinaga blog. We do love Fumi Yoshinaga. This artist and writer of us-favorites (like fan-favorites only more specific) Antique Bakery, All My Darling Daughters, and Not Love, But Delicious Food makes me Happy has written a ton...yes, a TON of other titles, and nothing Ms. Yoshinaga has written has failed to be mature, complex and honest about the struggles, insecurities, small triumphs and heart-sinking failings all human beings face, regardless of gender, sexuality, social status, finances or goals. She shies away from very little, fully acknowledging the complexities of her characters in her manga.

This series Flower of Life, centers on the complex lives of a group of high-schoolers. Traditionally her characters have been older, some even facing mid-life crises, but this time she has developed a true, and honest feeling, coming of age story. The characters Harutaru, Shota and Majima, are all high-school students facing different obstacles. The story begins with Harutaru's arrival at school. Haru arrives mid-year because he had been hospitalized and treated for Leukemia, his boisterous personality, blunt honesty and positive attitude, and bleached hair are his trademarks. He instantly befriends Shota, a pudgy little fanboy who is too cute for words (everybody thinks so), and creates a quick enemy of Majima, a pale (creepily beautiful) otaku with serious personality issues.

Harutaru and Shota
How cute is Shota? Supercute! Haru talks about wanting to eat him up.
Flower of Life makes me happy. It isn't super dramatic. It isn't a love story (although there is a fairly scandalous love affair later on between the androgynous school teacher and Majima). It's a story about kids struggling with life and decisions that will affect their future. Haru's older sister suffers from some rather intense agoraphobia. Shota struggles with self-esteem. Haru struggles with his future, and the possibility that his leukemia will relapse. Majima struggles with actually having feelings. Other classmates have their own stories and we see glimpses into their lives and their individual obstacles, some of which can be overcome, some of which will remain long-standing. It's a slice of life: sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, sometimes confusing, but always completely and utterly straightforward.

My favorite part of this series comes in the last volume. In it, Shota (writer) and Haru (illustrator) decide to take their little manga club, and their doujinshi (an amateur or fan created manga--some are original stories, and some are fan fictions) to the next level. The two make a good team, although they struggle with their egos like any duo working on a creative endeavor. The story of the two boys struggling to find success in manga writing and illustration may be a way for Yoshinaga to share her experiences as a manga-ka. Shota, even says at one point, "I'm expressing in manga what I can't explain in words." This statement may speak to Yoshinaga's approach to manga writing. Certainly her work has a subtlety and maturity that many writers shy away from. I suppose critics of her work could suggest that she is a little obscure and slow-moving in regards to plot, but I like to think that like all good writers, plot is a product of character development.   Yoshinaga is not just a good artist, she is a good storyteller. I recommend all of her work. I haven't seen anything by this manga-ka that hasn't been interesting and insightful. She speaks, even in her few yaoi titles, about the human experience: love, pain, insecurity, desire, fear...all the things that make us human.


Kris said...

"Majima struggles with actually having feelings." Heehee.... I love Majima. For some reason, I enjoy reading about broken characters like that.
I'm a big Yoshinaga fan, as well. There's a real honesty in her works that makes every piece an absolute joy to read.
If you are interested, I hosted a Yoshinaga tribute on the website I write for. Please check it out!

The Moon in Autumn said...

Uh-oh. I think this is another site I'll have to follow. Oh, Flower of Life and the classic Yoshinaga "characters think they know what's really going on and they don't" moments.. It's the stuff real life is made of but manga frames better.

William Shakespeare said...

@Kris Thanks for the link! Yoshinaga is the best! It's nice to see so many people writing about her work.

I always try to get my non-manga friends to read her work _because_ of that honesty. It's something any reader can connect with.