Before there was Yuri Hime, before there was Rose of Versailles, before there was Ribon no Kishi…there was Hana Monogatari. I’ve written about this series of short stories before: by Yoshiya Nobuko, the Hana Monogatari series was one of the earliest and most successful examples of Japanese literature for young women. In the same way that the Little Women and Little House on the… series defined American girls’ literature, Hana Monogatari set an enduring standard (and indeed, many of the tropes we still see in shoujo manga) for Japanese girls’ lit.
These Flower Tales ran in magazines for young women, were set in the Taisho period (1912-1926) in which they were written, and told stories of young women in school, forming friendships, relationships and becoming adults. Each story was named after a flower, hence the title. There are a few stories of the collection that have what we, today, might see as girls’ love. The ones I know of are “Cosmos” and “Yellow Rose,” but as I have not read the entire collection, I don’t know if they are it. And to be fair, neither are what a modern audience might look for as “Yuri.” (As I’ve said many times, ALC’s Yuri Monogatari series is named as a nod to this defining work.)
It is impossible *not* to think of this early 20th century collection when reading this collection of stories by Himawari Souya, Sakura Buntsuu (さくら文通)
The first story, “Cosmos,” takes place in the modern day, but is not truly contemporary. Miyako, having been packed off to an aunt’s to get her away from her cell phone life, finds herself falling for a mysterious girl who frequents a garden of cosmos in front of a mansion. It appears that the girl is merely a spirit who cannot depart, but a twist of fate brings the two together in our plane of existence.
The second story, “Kuchinashi” (Gardenia) is even set in the Taisho period. I have little doubt that the Japanese audience would immediately see is as an homage to Hana Monogatari. Gardenia’s meaning in the language of flowers is “secret love,” and that is exactly what the story is about. A love that, 90 years later would have been free to exist, must remain a secret girlhood memory.
“Sakura Buntsuu” (Cherry Correspondence) is also set in the Taisho period. A note book drops from a bridge in front of Sakurako. In the notebook is a letter, addressed to her – containing a confession of love. She tells the other girls in her class about it, and one of them is a little unkind. But when she waits to see if her own letter, left in the bole of a sakura tree, is picked up, it is of course the other girl who was the confessor. Sakurako saw her true heart in the letter.
“Hare ni Mau Yuki” (Dancing Snow on a Clear Day) tells the sweet story of a princess and her dashing female champion.
And the final Yuri Hime story, “Hoshi ni Onegai wo” (Wishing on a Star) is a rather emotional story of two friends who have lost their beloved friend, remembering her on a starry night.
The book gets a new chapter, one that I don’t believe ran in the magazine, “Sakura Buntsuu: Another Story” in which the story from the earlier “Sakura Buntsuu” is updated to modern days; the hole in the tree where the letters are placed looks awfully similar to the one in the original story. In my head, it’s the same school. 90 years later and this time, the relationship can blossom happily. ^_^
Art – 7
Stories – 8
Characters – 7
Yuri – 7
Service – 1 (with one exception, which was a 5, see below)
Overall – 7
There was another story that I skipped, FYI. It fits neither the rest of the book nor this review and it does not makes me happy, so as far as I’m concerned it simply doesn’t exist.