Let me introduce you to my favorite manga of all time. I have actually read every single book in the series, although sadly I only own the first five in paperback: something I intend to rectify, as these books are 100% reread worthy and there's a reason there's multiple C-dramas, K-dramas, J-dramas, and an anime.
It's just that good.
First, let me put my feminist principles on ice because even though the heroine is probably one of the strongest shoujo manga heroines I've ever read about, the manga series (and the dramas, anime, etc.) are super rapey, and the relationship between the hero and the heroine (and the other girls, and the other guys) is super toxic, with a relationship many would consider abusive, and lots of slut-shaming and girl-on-girl shaming.
I'm not even sorry.
I mean, I am, on one level sorry. But the story is so cracktastic and the manga is so nostalgic for me that I'm just going to admit that I'm trash for this series and these characters, and we all have those problematic faves that we know not to emulate but like anyway. And this is one of mine. I read it for the first time in high school, buying the series out of pocket or earning them by doing chores. It's kind of like the "OG Bully Romance," with a dash of "poor girl/rich guy." Which is, again, way more cracktastic than it should be.
Tsukishi Makino is a poor girl with working class parents who have scrimped and saved to send her to the private Eitoku Academy, so she can hobnob with the rich sons and daughters of her father's superiors. They hope that she'll network and maybe even find a rich boyfriend (they are such gold-diggers at Tsukishi's expense, it is kind of sad).
At the school, bullying and classism run rampant. The four most popular boys in school are also the most wealthy: Mimasaka, Nishikado, Domyoji, and Hanazawa (their last names). They call themselves the F4, or the "Flowery Four." They have so much power that not even the faculty oppose them, and when they decide they hate someone, they put a red slip in that person's locker and bully them, while the rest of the school pitches in, eager to get in the F4's good graces.
When Tsukishi sticks up for a classmate, she ends up getting red-slipped (and said classmate drops her like she's hot). But Tsukishi isn't about to put up with that bullshit and fights back in some pretty clever and innovative ways. It's hard not to root for her, since not being able to compete with wealth and conspicuous consumption is maybe an even more relatable problem now than it was then, in the early 90s (when this was published) thanks to influencer culture and social media.
While reading this second time around, I kept thinking about how this series would be like if it were modernized. I also thought about all the attempted rapes and rape threats, and how those tie in to #MeToo culture of today. Would it still be so easy for the F4 to get away with what they've done in today's culture, with that archaic and sexist boys' club mentality, or would enough be enough?
Obviously this manga is not for everyone but I love the drama of it (especially with how crazy it gets in later books). Domyoji has influenced a lot of my own male characters in my published works and there's something about the strong, underdog female character pitched against the rich, overprivileged male tyrant character that I just find so compelling in a romance. Anyone who is also willing to (temporarily) put their feminist principles on ice to bask in some glorious drama will love this.
Also, incredibly dated 90s hair, makeup, and fashions! (Feathered bangs EVERYWHERE!) YAAAAAASS
5 out of 5 stars
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