Imagine me flailing wildly in excitement! Today we have two amazing things all at once. First of all, a Guest Review by long-time Okazu reader and commenter and all-around nice gal, Michelle W.! (yaaay!) AND, the review is of the manga edition of Yoshiya Nobuko’s classic Hana Monogatari. (Of which Yellow Rose has been recently translated by Dr. Sarah Frederick and is absolutely terrific.)
So, two of my favorite things – Guest Review Wednesday and Yoshiya Nobuko all at once. Take it away, Michelle, before I cause a scene and swoon… ^_^
If you’re knowledgeable about the history of the Yuri genre, you’ve probably heard of Yoshiya Nobuko’s Taisho-era (1912-1926) work, Hana Monogatari (Flower Tales). The original Flower Tales is a collection of fifty-two short stories involving relationships between high school girls, and is largely considered the birth of the Class S genre. In 2014, almost 100 years later, Ozawa Mari turned fourteen of these stories into a manga by the same name.
Right away it’s obvious that this manga has a strong connection to the aesthetics of the past. Instead of relocating the story to current times, or leaving it floating in a non-specific time, Ozawa has put a lot of effort into reproducing the feel of the Taisho-era. The artwork is reminiscent of the 70s manga style, which is modern, and yet dated enough to be well suited for the material. The design itself is meticulous in its attempt at reflecting the era, and everything from hair, clothing, architecture, and even the trains are reproduced. If you enjoy the 1920s, this is a good manga to look into just for its visuals.
The stories are what you’d expect based on the original anthology. These are stories of two characters meeting, many only a few pages long each, with bittersweet endings. What’s striking is how many cliches are represented in these stories, however, when coupled with the art, you get the sense that this work created many of them. There are many classic topics, such as taking an entrance exam beside a cute girl, or a nurse falling for a patient.
Looking at Flower Tales in such a visual form, you can clearly see the impact Nobuko’s work had on Yuri (and homosexuality in Japan, for better or worse). The idea of fleeting, youthful romances being an ideal more than a reality is definitely present here, but unlike modern Yuri, this feels in context. You can see how impossible true homosexuality must have been in such a strict and orderly time period. It’s ultimately a testament to Nobuko’s passion that she herself was able to maintain a long-term homosexual relationship in this era.
It’s hard to give this story a rating, as it has such a specific appeal, even among fans of Yuri. In many ways, this feels less like a new work of fiction, and more like a loving retrospective of a classical work. For someone who wants to see Yuri’s tragic past come alive, this is for you. However, if you’re a fully modern or casual Yuri fan, who perhaps enjoys pretty artwork and fan pairings more, this is a tough sell. The art style is intentionally dated, and there’s very little, if any, Yuri content. Some of the kanji may also be a little bit difficult, as it relates to parts of 1920s culture that are no longer in common use. This is a world of flowers and subtext, a portrait of the past.
Art – 8
Story – 8
Characters – 6
Service – 0
LGBTQ – 5
Overall – 7
It’s hard to accurately rate something that is simultaneously so old and so modern, so maybe you should try it for yourself!
Squee! No, seriously, this manga sounds just fantastic. And thank you for the great review! I cannot *wait* to get this book. ^_^ I’m not sure I’d say Nobuko created “S”, but her work is definitely good examples of the genre. Her contribution to “girl’s literature” and therefore girl’s manga…and by extension, Yuri, is incontrovertible. ^_^