Friday, August 31, 2012

Flower of Life: Volume 1

by Fumi Yoshinaga, 174 pages

Sixteen-year-old Harutaro Hanazono is a year older than, and a year behind, his classmates when he joins them a month after school starts.  He's a little nervous, but a smile from another boy in the front row encourages him to introduce himself and get the inevitable explanations for his late start out of the way by cheerfully announcing that he was in the hospital being treated for leukemia, but that he "got better!" following a bone marrow transplant and is looking forward to becoming friends with everyone.  As the other students--some of whom had moments before been snickering and cracking harmless jokes--sit in stunned silence, their homeroom teacher lazily intones that they'd all better be really nice to the new boy or they're going to look really evil.  As a group, they swear they will be nice!  Hanazono quickly makes friends with kind Shota Mikuni, who smiled so nicely earlier, and, by proxy, makes the acquaintance of Mikuni's friend, the uber-serious, adult-looking, talk-your-head-off otaku, Kai Majima.  Despite a rocky start with awkward, prickly Majima, Hanazono soon feels at home and does his best to learn from and enjoy the high school experience.

This is so good!  It's hilarious and warm-fuzzy-generating and thoughtful.  Hanazono's exuberance and honesty are part of his nature, but they're also clearly influenced by his illness, which has left him unable to have children.  His goofy family (consisting of his older, bone-marrow-donating sister and his professional chicken-sexer [seriously! it's a real job!] parents) holds him a little closer, too, having nearly lost him.  Watching their dynamic, and sitting in on their talks with Mikuni when he comes over, you can see the love and feel your eyes start to tear up even as you're encouraged to giggle at them.  It's lovely.  Adorable Mikuni, with his insecurities regarding his weight and his past failings as a friend, is treated with as much care and affection.  Even Majima, annoying as he can be, isn't entirely unsympathetic, thanks to his amusing idiosyncrasies and Mikuni's support.  This is as much a picture of the class and their teachers as it is of Hanazono, so we get insight into the hearts and minds and lives of many others.  Much of it is excellently played for laughs, but there's enough true-to-life complexity mixed in with the silly extremes to make you think some deep thoughts as you read and grow to care about the lot of them, imperfect and human as they are.  This is one of those series that makes you look around and appreciate the little things and the caring people in your life.

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