Butterflies, Flowers, Vol. 1
written by Yuki Yoshihara
“Are you a virgin?” It’s one of the questions lobbed at Choko Kuze during her job interview for an entry-level position, and it ought to have served as a terrible premonition—for it is only the first in a seemingly interminable series of awful indignities this daughter of an aristocratic family recently fallen on hard times is subjected to in her new workplace. Her tormenter in question is Director Masayuki Domoto, the handsome yet hard-driving head of the Administration Department, and soon enough he has taken a decidedly unhealthy interest in her. Why does this insufferable, sadistic suit seem to have it in for Choko?
The answer, as it turns out, lies in Choko’s privileged past. Back before her family was running the local ramen shop, they were the lords of a great estate with many employees. One of these was Choko’s beloved “Cha-chan,” a gentle boy with whom she became fast friends. The heroine soon learns that Director Domoto is actually Cha-chan, all grown up and apparently hardened by life after the Kuzes, and he continues to secretly cherish the girl he once called “Milady.” Armed with this knowledge, Choko decides to tough it out in the Administration Department—no small decision, given that Domoto is just as autocratic a slave driver as ever. But of course, you never know…love might be just around the corner!
Not since Yayoi Ogawa’s Tramps Like Us has such an observant, flinty-eyed—yet riotously funny—vision of the working woman’s life in modern Japan been published in the United States. Manga artist Yuki Yoshihara, who made her professional debut over 20 years ago, is a consummate professional. On top of the usual workplace romance scaffolding, she has hung matter of fact depictions of sexual harassment, over the top gender-bending, and humor enough to make Choko’s long-suffering employment exploits seems nearly worth it all. Plus, the artwork of Butterflies, Flowers is exquisite and clean-lined, yet another hallmark of the experienced creative professional that Yoshihara so clearly is.
At times, it may be hard for the Western reader to take Domoto’s abuses at face value…or, for that matter, the many indignities, both major and minor, that Choko faces every day. Arguably among the worst is the time where she nearly gets raped by one of her company’s most important clients during an after-hours carousing session. On the other hand, her cross-dressing colleague strains believability in a positive, cathartic way. Fortunately, there is never the sense, as there could easily have been, that any of this behavior is condoned, and you often get the sense that the humor, invariably delivered with impeccable comic timing, is a sort of whistling in the dark.
Yoshihara’s beautiful layouts and character designs are the icing on top of what, on the strength of story alone, would have already been one of the best shoujo releases of the year. Her lines are delicate yet confident and charismatic, and it’s easy to love Choko, Domoto, and the rest purely on the basis of the subtlety of their facial expressions. In short, Butterflies, Flowers is a must-read. Highly recommended.-- Casey Brienza