Workaholic ad-man Kazuaki Sakurai (37) is returning late – and weary – to his empty flat (his latest girlfriend has left him) after yet another long day at the office. But a chance encounter (a collision in which his art-house gardening magazine is ruined) at the station finds him invited back to a big, old house surrounded by a tree-filled garden by art student Youichi Minagawa (19). Youichi is something of a loner but his house (inherited from his artist father) was once a lively pension for other students. Now only his cousins, level-headed Takeo and lively Shouta, board there too. The overgrown garden soon becomes a restful escape for world-weary Sakurai, although its prickly young artist owner at first irritates – and then intrigues him. So when it turns out that the shoot for a TV ad Sakurai’s firm is involved in is to take place at the Minagawa residence, Sakurai finds himself drawn more deeply into the mysteries surrounding Youichi’s background… and his interest in the aloof young man only intensifies. But where can this relationship go? Is the gap of almost twenty years separating them too great to breach? And what is Youichi trying to convey in the oil painting he keeps working at?
Given up on Boys’ Love manga because you’ve been put off by titles featuring abusive relationships? Then why not give Does the Flower Blossom? a try? As we’ve said here before, BL encompasses many subgenres (slice-of-life, salaryman, historical, sports, science fiction etc.) and if you’re looking for a multi-layered and involving story, Shoko Hidaka (Blue Morning) is the mangaka to go to. There are plenty of other BL mangaka who’ll provide you with a quick, easily forgettable PWP fix but not so many who know how to deliver an engaging read. Readers impatient for some hot action will be disappointed with this first volume and might well walk away. But they’ll have missed so much! Hidaka-sensei is a skilled and subtle mangaka (currently rivalled in the subtlety stakes only by Rihito Takarai (Seven Days, Only the Flower Knows and 10 Count ) and following the nascent relationship that may be developing between Sakurai and the much younger man is both painful and touching at the same time. And it’s not all dark and intense; Hidaka-sensei knows how to balance the drama with a light, playful touch.
This series is eloquently drawn, with much attention paid to the central characters’ reactions. The setting is evocatively portrayed too and the fading elegance of the Minagawa residence with its wild garden makes a striking contrast with Sakurai’s pressurized work environment, the overcrowded commuter trains, and his soulless modern flat. Flowers are an underlying theme as well; Shoko Hidaka also makes use of ‘hidden’ flower imagery in the names of the main characters as well as showing their significance to the protagonists. It’s a dropped gardening magazine, after all, that sparks off Sakurai’s first encounter with Youichi – and the opening images of Sakurai’s neglected houseplants tell us much about the state of a man who has neglected his personal life too often for the sake of his work. And then there are the seeds that Sakurai, Takeo and Shouta plant in the garden, wondering what kind of flowers will bloom…
A word or two about June’s translation and edition. After a very long wait (this was first promised in 2013) it’s a very welcome addition to their BL collection. I can’t wait for them to bring out the next three volumes (the series has just finished in Japan, so there’s still a fifth tankoubon to come). Taifu Comics in France produced the first two volumes in a fluent translation with Hidaka-sensei’s beautiful colour plates included, but then stopped for reasons unknown. (Sniff!) The Germans have fared better, bringing out all four volumes to date under the title Hidden Flower from Carlsen. So how well has Lea Hisatake, June’s translator, done with this nuanced text where so very much depends on what the characters say to each other and how they interact? If I hadn’t already read the excellent French translation by Nesrine Mazouane, I probably would have been satisfied, (although mystified in some places by phrases like ‘It’s been so long my nose is going to curve’) . But I suspect that Lea Hisatake may have erred on the side of being too faithful to the original, resulting in these awkward and stilted moments and, in one case, a really significant plot point is lost. Kudos for translating the sound effects, though.
Every once in a while a manga series comes along that stands out from all the rest. Does the Flower Blossom? is one of those rare and cherishable works: an exquisitely drawn, character-driven graphic novel.