Flower of Life, Vol. 1-4
written by Fumi Yoshinaga
Illness may have kept Harutaro Hanazono from starting high school along with the rest of his classmates, but he is determined to make up for lost time. Soon enough, he is befriended by Shota Mikuni, a kind-hearted but shy manga fan who is conscious about his weight, and Kai Majima, a tall, dark, and handsome hunk who is in reality an otaku of the most obsessive and antisocial sort. The three classmates form a manga creation club supervised by their manly female homeroom teacher Shigeru. Will they decide to try to go pro in the manga publishing world, or will comics remain merely a fun, classroom hobby?
Of course, because the creator is Kodansha and Tezuka Award winner Fumi Yoshinaga (Antique Bakery, Ǒoku), it is safe to expect Flower of Life to be about a lot more than amateur manga creation. In actuality, this understated yet effective slice-of-life tale is more properly understood as being about a diverse group of young people who, whether they realize it or not, are in the “flower of life.” And so the series ranges far past Harutaro and his immediate circle over the entirety of its four-volume run, exploring the emotional needs, trials, and tribulations of a large, well-conceived, and unforgettable cast of characters.
Among the most compelling of the subplots to be found in Flower of Life revolve around Shigeru’s desire for romance. At the beginning of the series, she is caught in a sordid, secret romance with one of her coworkers—one that her students, naturally, soon find out about. Later on, she ends up involved with Majima, a complicated love triangle that could easily devolve into base spectacle but, in Yoshinaga’s deft hands, is depicted with the utmost sensitivity and humanistic delicacy. Another of the manga’s signature strong yet understated narrative threads follows the life of an outwardly composed but inwardly alienated young woman who finds friendship with the most unlikely of her classmates.
It would be a mistake, though, to assume that this story is all high seriousness. On top of a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse into the workings of manga publishing company Shinshokan (the title’s Japanese publisher), drama and disappointment are well-balanced with positively riotous, often lowbrow, humor. For example, the mismatch between Majima’s personality and his appearance is a constant source of laughter, as is Shigeru’s gender ambiguity. Much of Flower of Life’s comedy is communicated visually—Yoshinaga’s use of the conventions of gag manga and exaggerated facial expression is arguably more pronounced and wide-ranging here than in any of her previous works, and it is a development that serves her purposes exceedingly well. Her artwork may not be the greatest, but she knows how to use her skills to their best effect.
All in all, Flower of Life covers a remarkable range of territory in a tightly controlled, manageable four volumes. Escapist readers must be warned not to expect pat, bathetic happy endings; a part of the beauty of youth is the brevity of its proverbial bloom, and there is a touch of nostalgia here. Still, this is Fumi Yoshinaga at the height of her powers—highly recommended and simply not to be missed.