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Ontology on the gone!

The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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02/07/2005 Archived Entry: "Anime review: Boys Over Flowers, vol. 9"

Boys Over Flowers, Vol. 9
by Yoko Kamio
Toei Animation 1996
US and Canada distribution by VIZ

Review by Kelly S. Taylor

Boys Over Flowers belongs to a genre of animation that does not exist in the U.S. -- the teen romance. We have books, magazines, and television series galore devoted to this topic but, thus far, no cartoons. The series is not a particularly difficult to identify specimen of the genre, either. As the title may lead you to expect, there are boys and flowers everywhere. Male characters out-numbered female character two to one in the four episodes on this DVD. And they are pretty -- the boys, that is. (The flowers aren't bad either.) Despite the fact they're supposed to be high-school boys, the male characters are very tall and square-shouldered. They have big, expressive, black-lashed eyes. Each is given a distinctive and beautifully drawn hairstyle. Their costumes are as carefully rendered as the females'. In fact, I think boys changed clothes more often than the girls did in the segments I watched.

Not only are these young men very concerned with good grooming, they are also in touch with their emotions in a way that seems absolutely alien to me as I sit writing this review on Super Bowl Sunday, our annual celebration of all that is testosterone-laden. At one point in the story, Tsukasa, the current love interest, tells Tsukushi, our heroine, that he's glad they are forced by circumstances to spend some time alone together because he feels they need to "open up to each other." She assumes he really means that he wants time to convince her to have sex with him. But no. He really, really means that he wants the two of them to talk about their feelings for each other and the problems each is having with his or her family.

Feelings are of utmost importance in this series. For example, the artwork employs four different visual techniques just to convey the emotion of embarrassment. First, there's the standard red streaks on the cheeks. Second is the more exotic blue forehead of discomfiture. This is used when characters are humiliated, somewhat outraged, and made so uncomfortable they're a little sick. If things go further, it might make a character's eyes go from huge to tiny black specks indicating that the situation has become cartoonishly ridiculous. Finally, and worst of all, a character's eyes can turn into spirals while they have little bubbles floating around their head. This means that the individual is about to pass out from sheer mortification. That's a lot of embarrassment, isn't it? In a typical half-hour segment, the cast of Boys Over Flowers goes through more instances and degrees of shame than Paris Hilton can generate in a week.

We see events through the eyes of Tsukushi, a girl from a poor family who is for some reason attending high school with some very wealthy and snobbish young people. The wealthiest and snobby-est of these, Tsukasa, has fallen in love with her. The viewer hears what Tsukushi is thinking much more often than we hear what she is saying. She actually speaks very little. Usually she's too embarrassed to say anything. The bulk of the show consists of shots of little Tsukushi's enormous, Elijah Woods eyes sparkling with emotion as she endures the slings and arrows of her outrageous fortune. As frequently happens in teen romances, nothing goes right for this poor girl. Her mother gives her a bad haircut. The cookies she bakes burn. She goes to a party she thinks is going to be casual and it turns out to be formal. Tsukasa's mother hates her and tries to bribe her into saying she won't see him again. At the beginning of the DVD, she's in the hospital because a gang of thugs assaulted her.

After two hours of watching these characters getting slapped, abused, ostracized, and embarrassed, I began to wonder about the inherent violence that is a standard part of the romance genre. Outsiders assume that romance stories focus on lovers spending time enjoying each other's company. Insiders know the opposite is true. Romances spend most of their time and energy setting up impossible barriers to love and happiness. I know the course of true love is never smooth, but really... It's almost masochistic, isn't it? Why do so many unpleasant things happen to heroines of romances? Why is the life expectancy of the typical female character on the Lifetime channel so short?

You can ponder these and other pleasant Valentine's Day thoughts as you enjoy this attractively packaged anime series from VIZ.

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