Love at First Kick: The Saga of Poor Girl Makino and Rich Boy Domyoji

In honor of Buy-Me-Roses-Or-We’re-Through Day, otherwise known as Valentine’s Day, I bring you an oldie but goodie shoujo series called “Hana Yori Dango” or “Boys Over Flowers.” The anime came out in the early ’90s so the animation can be crude-looking in some spots. The animators also used a palette of soft colors so the background looks like it was rendered in watercolors. And the switch from violin and piano background music to a jazzy soundtrack midway through the series seemed jarring to me.

But it’s the storyline and characters that draw one to Hanadan as it’s called by fans. Some fans even go so far as to say that the story has elements of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” because of the clash between the hero and heroine who come from two very different social backgrounds. I love Austen and have read “Pride and Prejudice” a dozen times but I don’t agree with these fans’ assessment.

The storyline in “Hana Yori Dango” is commonly found in any soap opera, romantic fiction or love song. But the series makes it work because the characters are likeable and not one-dimensional. The heroine is Tsukushi Makino, aka the weed, a poor girl attending Etoiku which is a school for the rich and privileged. She tries to keep a low profile until she and her friend have a run-in with the F4, the four boys who run the school. Anyone who crosses the F4 gets a red tag in their lockers which is a signal for the rest of the students to bully the victims.

But Tsukushi is different. She fights back and even kicks the F4’s violent leader, Tsukasa Domyoji, in the head. She has a crush on Rui Hanazawa, the quiet introverted member of the F4 and Tsukasa’s best friend. Tsukasa later becomes smitten with her and the resulting love triangle leads to a tissue break or two for the viewers.

The series shows how Tsukasa’s character evolves to make himself worthy of Tsukushi. Our tough gal doesn’t want to be protected like some simpering fool and she resists falling for this arrogant rich boy. But she realizes he isn’t so bad after all especially when he keeps saving her.

Then there is the matter of his mother, Kaede Domyoji, who does everything in her power to split Tsukushi and Tsukasa apart.

Bear in mind that the anime ended long before the manga so the ending is different from the comics. Actually I prefer the manga now since the artwork vastly improves as the series goes on and there are more twists to the story in this version.

“Hana Yori Dango” by Yoko Kamio also spawned a movie, a Taiwanese drama called “Meteor Garden” and a Japanese drama which is currently in its second season.

When my inner girly girl surfaces, I placate her by reading the manga or watching the anime again with plenty of tissues on hand. This is classic shoujo anime that is worth viewing even if the animation looks dated now. Both DVDs of the show and the manga have been released in the U.S. by Viz Media.

So get swept along by the drama and romance of “Hana Yori Dango”/”Boys Over Flowers”. I promise the effects will last longer than any flowers or chocolates you’ll get today.

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