The Wallflower, Tomoko Hayakawa, Del Ray
I’ve been following this series for a long time – I started with the first volume in 2004. I have all 21 volumes out so far (the run is 24), although I stalled out somewhere in there and I’ve only read 1-16. This has caused me mild anxiety. “But why, Kinukitty?” I hear you asking. “Please, tell us all about it, no matter how boring!” Well, how nice of you. I think I will.
When I fall in love, I become irrational. As I finish each volume of a manga, the specter of having to wait several months for the next one makes me twitch and yell out random obscenities and become despondent and stuff. Cue the irrational hoarding behavior. I try to wait until I’ve accumulated three or four volumes before I’ll start reading again, trying to, I don’t know, concentrate the anxiety. Or minimize the bouts of insanity. This strategy plays out in various ways. Sometimes I forget the series exists for six months at a time, which is perfect. Then I buy the last three volumes, read them in one big, happy wallow, and the cycle repeats. Sometimes I fall out of love with the series and decide I’d rather eat pocket lint than finish it. This usually happens only when I’ve actually bought several volumes in advance. But sometimes, when I really, really, really love a series, I just won’t let myself read it for, like, a year, hoping to completely forget about it for so long that eons will have passed by the time I think of it again, and all the volumes will be available, and I can sit down and read them in one long, orgasmic orgy of happiness and completion.
And that, gentle reader, is my situation with The Wallflower. I keep buying each new volume as it comes out because I’m deeply afraid they will disappear from the face of the earth in the interim and I won’t even be able to buy them used and then I’ll die. But, at the same time, I pretend I don’t know the series exists, because I’m not ready to break down and start reading it again. This is where a genuine case of multiple personality disorder would be helpful. Every time I buy a new volume and add it to the stack, I’m in danger of upsetting the delicate “balance” I’ve established.
Which is what happened with volume 21. I’d been holding out on actually reading Wallflower since volume 12 – released in, holy shit, June 2007! That’s a lot of holding out. I am amazing! (Ahem.) But it’s all over. I fell off the wagon. I just read volumes 13-16, and I will be mowing through 17, 18, etc. until I finish them all. Don’t get in my way; you might lose a finger.
After finishing volume 16, I decided I must write about The Wallflower. No, I really must. But I also felt strongly that I should wait until I’ve caught up. And it will take me a little while to read the next five, since I’m really quite busy working in soup kitchens and advocating for world peace and getting my health-care plan passed and such. Oh, wait. That’s not my life at all. What the hell am I spending all my time doing? My house is a mess, I haven’t cooked since 1997, and all my clothes are stained or rumpled. Sometimes both. (I do have some very cool shoes, though.) Well, it’s a mystery, although I suppose the damned job might factor into it. At any rate, it’ll take me a while to finish five more volumes of this manga, and Gluey Tart the column waits for no man or woman, not even Gluey Tart the person. Content! The Internet demands content!
I worried, at first, that it would be wrong to just write about it without reading all the volumes. But then I thought about the 16 I’ve read, and I decided – as I so often do – oh, fuck it. In fact, that’s sort of my personal motto. The truth is, it just doesn’t matter where I am in the series. Volume 16, volume 21 – it doesn’t matter. This is an episodic comedy, not a linear narrative. And there are not, shall we say, huge deviations in plot along the way. There is a certain sameness. We’re good. It’s fine.
Let’s talk about the plot, then, such as it is. The main character is Sunako, who is described as Goth. It would be tremendously geeky and pedantic of me to point out the reasons why she isn’t really Goth, so I’ll try to restrain myself. She’s something like Goth. She likes to stay in her dark room, which is decorated with skulls and anatomical figures and skeletons and stuff, and her favorite thing to do – besides cooking – is shut herself in her room – in the dark – and watch horror and slasher films – with the anatomical figures and skeletons. Which all have names. Sunako’s appearance is terrifying to others, and when she isn’t drawn as a sort of hyper-deformed dumpling, she looks like the girl from Ringu. She lives with four hot young men, whom she refers to as “creatures of light.” She is, obviously, magnificent.
The foundation joke is that Sunako’s aunt, a fabulously gorgeous and wealthy jet-setter, has promised the four beautiful boys free rent in her opulent mansion, where they live with Sunako, if they can turn Sunako into a lady. Which is, as they say, not bloody likely. Hi-jinks ensue, and after ten volumes or so, Hayakawa reveals herself to be an irrepressible cock tease. We are all but promised that Sunako will get together with Kyohei, and maybe it will actually happen by the end of the series, but I’m not holding my breath. Their weird little romance plays out sweetly, though, so I’m happy enough. More on that in a bit, though. (Their romance, not my happiness, which might, possibly, not be your primary concern or interest. Strange as that sounds.)
Throughout the series, the boys cook up stupid plans to lady-ify Sunako, and through the unbeatable forces of her indomitable will, kick-ass martial arts skills, and breath-taking craziness, everything goes wrong and one or more parties often needs to be rescued. Sunako does about as much rescuing of the boys as vice versa, so I’m fine with that. This is all complicated by the epic attractiveness of the boys, who are basically being chased through life by crazed, rabid fan girls from all over the country. They are very pretty prettyboys, drawn to look like Hayakawa’s favorite musicians. (Most of her filler notes are about the bands she loves fanatically, and these are really charming.) (The rest are about her cat.) The boys spend a lot of time posing provocatively, getting their clothes torn off, and/or suddenly indulging in inexplicable bouts of cosplay. Which is kind of awesome. If I were drawing volume after volume of beautiful boys over and over, I’d throw them into weird, sexy costumes for no reason, too. I mean, why wouldn’t you?
OK, back to that romance. It is a very low-key romance, but it pleases me immeasurably. Every once in a while something goes amazingly wrong and ends up with Sunako and Kyohei holding hands and staring into each others’ eyes. And then her nose spurts blood and she runs away and he stares at her in horror. Occasionally Kyohei’s actions betray him and it is momentarily apparent that he has feelings for Sunako, but mostly not so much. He’s a tough-guy (a tough-guy prettyboy), and mostly he’s blunt and disinterested and kind of selfish. Sort of like Sunako. They get along in unexpected ways.
Here’s an example, from volume 16. Sunako’s aunt sequesters Sunako and the four boys in a secluded cabin to protect them (the boys) from crazed girls on Valentine’s Day. The plan backfires that night, though, when they find themselves all alone in a deserted cabin, and there’s something in the woods. It’s one of the horror movie set-ups Hayakawa loves to play with. Well, the something in the woods is a terrifying horde of girls intent on giving chocolate to the boys – and tearing their clothes off. Sunako uses the frenzy to gather up all the chocolate for herself, and at the beginning of the next episode, she’s gained twenty pounds.
Something must be done because Sunako’s aunt has invited her to a party to meet a prince, so the boys enlist help to remove Sunako from the dark room with the candy boxes and get her to run off the extra weight. She gets really, really into it, and the boys think they’ve finally gotten her interested in her appearance. The truth, of course, is that after a few workouts she begins to see muscle development, and that makes her yearn to further develop her muscles – so she can look like the anatomical chart of the human musculature system and finally fit in better with her anatomical dolls and skeleton.
She becomes completely obsessed with this project. At one point, she’s gazing longingly at a lobster and thinking, “This lobster’s legs are so thin and hard… Crustaceans are so lucky…” Then, thinking about how poorly defined she looks in comparison, she gets upset and cracks two lobsters open with her bare hands. Koyhei finds this very impressive and starts helping her train more intensely. She explains to him (after crawling over him and running her hands longingly over his wiry chest and shoulders) that she wants to look just like him. At the end of the episode, Sunako shows up at the party with a body so buff it’s terrifying to behold, and she arm-wrestles with the prince, throwing him to the ground. (To get her to go to the party, Koyhei told Sunako the prince was an arm-wrestling champion who wanted to challenge her. What else would he say?) It all ends well – Sunako loses interest in fitness and goes back to eating chips while watching horror movies with her plastic friends, and it turns out that the prince had liked being wrestled to the floor. A lot.
And that is a pretty typical Wallflower plot. There are those who are driven mad by the glacial pace at which Sunako and Koyhei are getting together, but a conventional courtship isn’t right for these unconventional characters. Hayakawa obviously loves them, and the rest of her cast, and she celebrates their eccentricities and their individuality. It’s a sweet story that heals some of my high school trauma every time I read it. And even though I’ve invested more than $200 in the series so far, that’s still a lot cheaper than therapy.