I sometimes wonder what percentage of shojo manga would have their plots entirely destroyed if the two main characters simply told each other how they felt in the first couple of pages. 99%? More?
“Haru Hana” (which would translate as “Spring Flower” in English, but is left in Japanese) definitely would. The story is about as typical shojo as you can get, with the “this girl likes this boy, but doesn’t want to admit it so pretends to hate him” coupled with “sensitive guy with a dark past who can see through her brusque exterior” and that ever-necessary plot device of “cute girl who openly likes sensitive guy creating a rival for the main character.”
The gimmick (as all proper shojo must have a gimmick) is that a girl named Hana (Flower) breaks out into hives whenever she is touched by an attractive guy. Her body is instantly covered with itchy red spots, which can only be cured by drinking green tea. Hana’s family life is somewhat mysterious, with her parents and grandparents being in Britain, and Hana and her sister staying in Japan. Hana’s sister incurs some debt at a local shop, and basically sells Haru as an indentured servant to pay off the debt. The shop in question appears to be a massage parlor, where the handsome Haru (Spring) uses both his empathy as well as his skills in massage to heal customers souls along with their bodies. The shop is owned by Shinnosuke, a flamboyant gay man, who bakes delicious cakes and tea, and sets the mood with aromatherapy for the clients.
Hana is a skilled violinist, and soon her music is added to the shop’s services, the shop being renamed “Haru Hana” in honor of the two main attractions. Together, Haru, Hana and Shinnosuke bring elegant relaxation to their weary customers. Of course, there are complications such as Haru being unable to touch Hana due to her hives outbreak, and the beautiful ballerina Nakajima who is in love with Haru, and Haru’s great secret past that possibly involves watching his father murder his mother. Oh, and Haru is secretly fabulously wealthy of course.
The story plays out exactly as you would imagine. From the instant the characters are introduced you know what the final pages will be. You also know that in the meantime all doors will be opened at exactly the wrong moment, leading to misunderstandings about who-likes-who. And that these misunderstandings could easily be cleared up if the characters would just communicate with each other but instead carry out for a hundred pages of pretending they don’t care until the final admission on the last pages, when all becomes clear and true love conquers. There is no mystery whatsoever how this story is going to end.
The thing is, I don’t mind the typical shojo plot, as long as it is handled well. Manga like Happy Cafe do the same plotline but do it well enough that I get totally hooked. When you are dealing with variations on a theme, it is the style that matters more than the substance. And I liked “Haru Hana’s” style.
The main character, Hana, is a non-typical shojo heroine in that she is a spunky and funny-looking girl with a touch of boyishness. Inside the comic the men compare Hana with the ballerina Nakajima, saying that Nakajima is the perfect shojo heroine while Hana is better suited to a gag comedy manga. Artist Yuana Kazumi seems to have fun with the character, sometimes drawing her as a bit trollish looking and sometimes making her absolutely beautiful. I appreciated this variation as it made her a more realistic character. Not everyone is beautiful all the time.
The boys in the comic are much less fully realized, being somewhat projected stereotypes of “perfect” bishonen men. Haru, he of the magic fingers and sensitive nature, rejects the beautiful and willing ballerina Nakajima in favor of the unpleasant little girl who breaks out in red spots at his touch. Not very realistic, but that’s why we create fantasy romances in the first place, right?
There were times when “Haru Hana” got to be a bit too much for me, with all of these sensitive, flouncy artist types bursting at the seems with flowers and smiles and tears. A few scenes were too forced, and just made me think “Come on! There is no way it would go down like that!” but eventually I got over it and got back into the groove.
This Complete Collection has all three volumes of “Haru Hana,” which is an affordable way to pick up the series. I found it was interesting that the tone seemed to change between volumes, with the first being more comedic, the second more romantic, and the third more dramatic.