Boys Over Flowers, also referred to as Hana yori Dango, is widely regarded to be the epitome of the classic shojo series, with the manga originally being released in the early 90s and finishing only recently, 16 years later, in 2008. I fondly remember buying the volumes in my nearby bookstore in Uji, across from my school, and relishing from the soap opera that ensued. The manga gained significant popularity in 1996, when its author and artist, Yoko Kamio, received the Shogakukan Manga Award for shojo.
The series’ undertone is principally concerned with social class, focusing on how both the lower and upper class students of the prestigious escalator school, Eitoku Academy, respond to their perceived differences. This premise has been used more recently in such romance series as Ouran High School Host Club and Itazura na Kiss, granted less successfully. The main character of Makino is particularly noteworthy, serving as the beacon for the shojo protagonist archetype of later series. She is acutely aware of her social class at the academy, while actively endeavouring to ensure that her peers judge her worth by her actions and achievements, as opposed to her background. Naturally, the students seldom succeed in adapting, resorting to bullying that is comedic and arguably forced at best. Akin to many romance orientated series, proceeding from the premise, we later encounter the inevitable ‘love triangle’, with Makino having to decide between two disparate candidates. This segment of the series is very much like a soap opera, with all of the cliched delights that could have very been adapted into a live-action. Rivalry, friendship and “backstabbing” play pivotal roles throughout the angst and heartbreak. However, the series surprisingly takes a detour later on with the soap opera undertone vanishing almost entirely. This is when the primary theme of social class is really introduced, underlying the various prejudices and eventual realisations that many of the characters undergo throughout. This is, in my opinion, the stronger part of the series, which is handled exceptionally well, with the appropriate amount of time to allow the events to unfold. During this part (both in the manga and the anime), I genuinely felt emotional, with the scenes feeling very distinct and real at times.
The characters are undoubtably the strongest part of this series. The personalities and interactions are beautifully and carefully considered. Makino, our main protagonist, is portrayed excellently. As I followed her life, I really started to feel for her. How she underwent a problem, whether it be at home with her family (her mother is working part time while her father is unsure about his employment) or the hellish torment she endures during school. The people she encounters, the friendships and love interests. All of this is very tactile and relatable to its target audience. The characters act accordingly with the situation, given their background and upbringing.
The animation is easily classed as ‘old school’ despite its supposed production date of 96. This is probably because the studio responsible, Toei Animation, wanted to maintain the original styling of the manga, which is understandable. The background sequences have this water colour ambience that is rather pleasing to the eye, rather than the cell shaded approach of newer series. The characters pay homage to the original manga, and are expectantly drawn well. The facial features and expressions are accentuated, notably the lips and the nose, something that is less apparent in recent series. On the whole, the animation is very soft. The music is similar to the animation, it feels particularly mid 80s. The audio is decidedly clouded. The voice acting is moderately successful, nothing of note, though. The OP by boy band Arashi is very 60s, although I liked the sequence with all of the characters dancing along to it. The soundtrack comprises mostly of classical pieces, with the exception of a saxophone solo that is used for the more poignant scenes. It’s commendable to note that the soundtrack was performed live, unlike the standard synthesized mush that’s ever so apparent with most other series. In essence, the soundtrack set the tone for the series well.
In conclusion, Boys Over Flowers is, without a doubt, one of my favourite shojo series, not only for my obsessiveness with its manga, but for its realistic delivery. The soap opera segment did seem forced and overly dramatic at times, but the realization that followed more than made up for it. This is a classic and deservedly so.