Name of the Flower

July 14, 2010 dreamkaleidoscope
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TITLE: Name of the Flower
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Ken Saito
PUBLISHER: CMX
RATING: Older Teen (16+)
CATEGORY: Shoujo
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 4
SCORE: 8 (Very Good)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Ken Saito (mangaka of Oh! My Brother), drama, romance, comedy

I had heard a lot of good things about this series, so I’m glad I finally got the chance to check it out.

Name of the Flower is about young woman named Chouko Mizushima. When she is in high school, both her parents are killed in an accident, leaving her in such a state of shock, she stops talking and completely withdraws from the world. She is passed among various family members and friends until her father’s cousin Kei permanently takes Chouko in.

Twelve years older than Chouko, Kei is a famous, but reclusive, novelist, known for writing incredibly dark, depressing stories. He suggests to Chouko that she take over his long-abandoned garden as a way to keep her mind off things. Gradually, Chouko comes out of her shell, and the two develop feelings for each other. Kei even writes a novel based on their relationship, titled “Hana” that is (slightly) more hopeful than his previous works.

However, Kei is even more damaged than Chouko. He feels like he doesn’t deserve to be happy and thinks it would be better for Chouko to find someone else to love. Their relationship comes to a standstill as Chouko enters college and joins a literature club at school, where she meets the painfully shy and sweet Sousuke Karasawa. Karasawa falls in love with Chouko, but her heart remains with Kei, despite the darkness inside him.

In several reviews I’ve read for this series, reviewers have compared Name of the Flower to Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel Jane Eyre. That’s a fairly apt comparison, I think. Kei and Chouko are like a modern-day Rochester and Jane, though I believe Kei has more in common with the Byronic hero Rochester than Chouko with passionate, independent Jane. Their romance is just as tortured, however, as the two spend many years drawing closer, then pulling away from each other while Kei insists on punishing himself for what happened in his past.

A story like this could be prone to melodrama, but Saito does a great job of gradually building up emotions. There’s a restraint to the story that makes the scenes where Kei and Chouko do let go that much more dramatic and effective. Their emotions never feel silly or overwrought, just painfully real.

It’s not all drama and tragedy, though. Name of the Flower is surprisingly funny, thanks in equal parts to Chouko’s hilarious, Kei-idolizing friends in the Taisho Authors’ Association and Shinichi Akiyama, Kei’s goofy editor and self-named best friend. Any bibliophile is bound to identify with this wacky group of book-lovers, of which Akiyama is the undisputed king. The club admires Akiyama just as much as they do Kei for his unrivaled knowledge of Japanese literature, and he becomes somewhat of an unofficial member of the club.

Actually, I’d have to say that the “friendship” between Kei and Akiyama is probably my favorite relationship in the series. The two of them are total opposites — Kei is a misanthropic loner, while fun-loving Akiyama is about as extroverted as they come — yet they play off each other so well, you can see how close they really are, despite Kei’s grumblings to the contrary. And Akiyama’s character gets some unexpected depth later in the story as we learn about his past with Kei.

What of the main couple, though? Well, in my opinion, Chouko is a pretty bland heroine. She’s very sweet and pretty, but she’s totally overshadowed by a cast of far more interesting characters. Don’t get me wrong, I can certainly sympathize with the pain she must have felt losing her parents and understand why she feels such a strong connection with Kei. It’s just that I wish she had a more vibrant personality. She’s not really passionate about anything besides Kei and possibly her garden. She’s not even that much of a reader, joining the Taisho Authors’ association largely out of pity for Karasawa, who was ordered by his seniors to find at least one new recruit for the club.

As for Kei, I did rather enjoy his tortured and snarky character, but I actually agree with him that he’s not a good romantic prospect for Chouko. He doesn’t need the love of a good woman to show him the joy of living again. What he really needs is the number of a good psychiatrist. His issues run very deep, and no matter how much these two damaged people might love each other, it’s just not a healthy relationship, no matter how you look at it. In real life, if I were Chouko’s friend, I would try to convince her to give up on a romantic relationship with Kei and pursue one with adorable Karasawa, who is a much more appropriate love interest.

But this isn’t real life, and sometimes it is nice change of pace to read a romance that isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, so I don’t consider that a major drawback, especially since their romance is not meant to be seen as healthy and ideal. Saito readily acknowledges that the two of them are messed up. Besides, how often in shoujo does the heroine actually pick the guy who is the best for her from a practical point of view? Logic and love aren’t always compatible, and that’s where good drama begins.

I believe Name of the Flower is Saito’s debut series, so the artwork is rough in spots. It gets better in later volumes, but still not a style I personally care for. It’s not bad, though, and feels kind of retro.

Name of the Flower is not a typical fluffy romance. The central couple consists of two very damaged people, and the road to love is not an easy one. Still, there’s something very appealing about it, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to those looking for a love story in the vein of the old Gothic romances.

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