Sometimes, I don’t read alone. I’ll find myself accompanied by those opinionated shoulder-dwellers, angelic and diabolical, vigorously arguing the merits of whatever I happen to have in my hands at the time. “And you pretend to care about issues of equality and social justice,” Shoulder Angel will tut at me. “What does liking this book say about you that you like this?“ “Dude, lighten up. It’s awesome,” Shoulder Devil will retort.
In my defense, I often side with Shoulder Angel. I feel like I owe him after shutting him down during the whole Hot Gimmick thing. And I vividly remember Shoulder Angel and me staring at Shoulder Devil, waiting for him to launch some defense of Gakuen Prince, but he just shrugged: “I got nothing. That’s just nasty.” Even Shoulder Devil knows when to keep mum.
The three-way discourse didn’t get particularly heated as we were considering Yuki Yoshihara’s Butterflies, Flowers (Viz), but it did get somewhat spirited. I mean, there’s some desperately inappropriate workplace behavior, and the relationship dynamic between the two protagonists is an absolute minefield, but it’s really pretty funny. Even Shoulder Angel chuckled a little bit.
It’s about a former rich girl who must enter the office grind after her family loses their fortune. The economy being what it is, she can’t be picky about which job she takes, even if she is asked if she’s a virgin during her job interview. (Tip: if that happens to you in real life, document the exchange, then sue.) The inappropriate interviewer ends up being her direct supervisor and, coincidentally, the son of one her family’s domestics. He doted on her when she was a kid, but now he’s the boss from hell.
Domoto, the ex-servant, now-boss, whiplashes between domineering and capricious and subservient and solicitous, and office newbie Kuze doesn’t know what to make of it. (Who would?) Her sudden promotion has alienated her from her co-workers, and while she’s mostly hopeless as an office lady, there’s enough of the aristocrat left in her that she can muster unexpected authority in a pinch. Her work life is complicated by the fact that, against all good sense, she’s afraid she actually might be in love with her bipolar boss.
Okay, so the overall premise is kind of gross, what with the power disparity and the hostile work environment. But moment by moment, Butterflies, Flowers is very, very funny. The supporting characters are particularly delightful. I love Kuze’s younger brother, who never got over his brief taste of the good life and talks like he’s a refugee from a costume drama. Suou, a senior member of Domoto’s department, is one of those deliciously snarky frienemies that improve just about any story. Their absurdity heightens the atmosphere and helps the reader ignore the stuff that’s creepy when stripped of Yoshihara’s context.
So it’s a guilty pleasure, but it’s undeniably pleasurable. Viz is positioning it as a bridge title for shôjo readers into the more mature realm of josei, and its rapid-fire humor, stylish look and twisted romance make it a good choice for that. It’s not the most sophisticated josei in the world, but it’s a sensible starting point for a tricky demographic, and it’s funny much more often than it’s squirmy.
(This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)