Boys Over Flowers: Hana Yori Dango
Makino Tsukushi is a student at the prestigious Eitoku high school. Famous for its beautiful and wealthy students, Tsukushi is extremely out-of-place. Although her impressive grades earned her a place in this school of excellence, the Makino family is on the lower end of the socio-economic scale. She has managed to steer clear of any harassment so far, but her tolerance of the bullying of fellow students wears thin quickly--and she takes it out on spoiled rich brat Doumyouji Tsukasa, the leader of the pretty-boy group the F4--the richest, handsomest, and cruelest guys in school. The group declares war on Tsukushi, and of course, the rest of the school follows suit. Tsukushi has no idea how deep her troubles are going to be...
This series took way too long to get to the States. HanaDan was one of the longest-running, most popular shoujo titles of the 90s, and the anime remains to this day one of my favorites.
Many people recommend this series to fans of Marmalade Boy and His and Her Circumstances. While I think it's a fair recommendation, be warned--HanaDan is gritty, cruel, and downright unfair at times. This isn't your fluffy angsty "he likes another girl!!!" fare. Tsukushi (and others) are often victim to abuse--both physically and psychologically. The mean things done are mean, and you really find yourself livid and loathing the snotty classmates.
But such horrible treatment of our heroine makes her triumphs over these jerks all the more gratifying for you, the viewer. Right from the first episode you will find yourself cheering Tsukushi on as she unleashes her special brand of justice on some of the prats she has to co-exist with in Eitoku.
And just as we are made to easily empathize with Tsukushi's struggles and triumphs as school, the most intricately woven plot in the series is more in the love triangle between Tsukushi, Rui, and Doumyouji. While for some it may be obvious how things turn out (or do they?), the indecisiveness that develops in Tsukushi a familiar feeling that many girls (and guys, I am sure) can relate to.
In most shoujo triangles, our heroine hates the guy because he is "mean" to her (read: flirtatious teasing). As a result, we the audience member cannot help but love the guy the heroine holds in such disdain. But in HanaDan, we really hate Doumyouji along with Tsukushi, and it isn't until Tsukushi herself starts to lighten up on Doumyouji that we actually start to appreciate him as well. Why should we? He is a jerk in every sense of the word. And it isn't like one day we wake up and realize, "Aw! Doumyouji isn't baaaad! He just acts that way because of blah-blah-blah!" Nuh-uh. We hate him. He is awful. So why did he just do something remotely nice?
But on the flip side of the triangle, we have Rui. Sure. He is much nicer than Doumyouji. Or at least, he appears to be. But even the dreamy violinist sends up red flags after an episode or two, though we can't really put our finger on exactly why. Is he fake? Is he too good to be true? Is he just using Tsukushi? The brilliant thing about HanaDan is, we don't ever find out until Tsukushi does, and normally we are just as surprised--and thus, just as thrilled or devastated to find out the truth.
As far as artwork, animation, and the technical aspect of Hana Yori Dango goes, there is very little special you can expect from a title that, in its manga form, had nothing extraordinary to offer in the looks department. The manga style is adapted quite loyally to animation (unlike Peach Girl, for a sad example), and the music--a montage of whimsical, pompus brass compositions and classical string ensembles--really develops an air of regality very fitting for the upper-crust school setting. (And, if I may say so, is much better than the Harry Potter-like soundtrack from the recent television drama.) "Tsukasa's Theme" is especially fitting. You'll know it when you hear it...it is normally played whenever there is an uncomfortable, sometimes violent confrontation.
Sadly, only the first half of the manga is covered in the television series, and it is a real shame. We hardly get to see the relationships develop outside of the constant conspiracy between rich families. Does Tsukushi ever get a moment of peace? It seems her friendships and love are founded on conflict rather than anything deeper. What I want to know is--once you take away the evil female student body, the two-faced super models, the predjudiced mothers, and all that--what does Tsukushi and the F4 really have? What is Tsukushi like when she isn't fighting for her right to live a (semi) peaceful life?
The final episodes of Hana Yori Dango, while well-produced and well-paced, are reconciled in a way that is very unsatisfactory to the fans. But this far from the first (or last) series to pull something like this. The manga was still running when the series ended. So what are you supposed to do?
Dur. Buy the manga. Ah, Japanese commercialism, how we love thee.
One of the shoujo classics, though severely lacking in any kind of feel-good fluff. The redeeming growth of the characters, though, can evoke some of those warm fuzzies. — Melissa Sternenberg
Recommended Audience: Tsukushi has to run through a gauntlet of perils, and she must almost daily find ways to avoid being subjected to physical or psychological harm. Several episodes may be way too intense for younger children, as there is a serious threat of violence, and not of the slapstick kind. There's also implications of rape in one episode, and the emotional intensity of this show begs parental discretion.
Version(s) Viewed: Prerelease fansub.
Review Status: Full (51/51)
Boys Over Flowers: Hana Yori Dango © 1997 Kamio Youko / Shueisha / Toei Animation
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