Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
There are two things everyone should know about Viz’s new series Butterflies, Flowers — it is one of those rare examples of true josei to be found in the U.S. marketplace and it is also an extremely funny comic.
Don’t be deceived by the book’s cover, which shows the “heroine,” Choko, looking like a lifeless doll being controlled by a handsome man. Things — including traditional gender roles — get extremely messy thanks to certain class dynamics operating throughout the story. In fact, roles of power are traded between Choko and her former childhood “servant,” Domoto — now her current boss — like a ball in a particularly intense rally between two evenly matched tennis players.
The book opens with a rather shocking moment in a job interview when Choko is asked point blank by a rather devilishly attractive man if she is a virgin. In shock, Choko answers in the affirmative and I and every other character in the scene blanches in horror wondering what the hell is going on. Choko gets the job and takes it — it was her only offer — only to find that this handsome weirdo is her new public overlord, since she is a mere trainee at a prestigious real estate firm and he is an elite director who tasks himself with “training” her (i.e. bullying her to no end). This would be troublesome if it weren’t revealed by the end of the first chapter that Domoto was the son of one of Choko’s family’s servants as a child and that they were separated when her father pretty much ran the business into the ground, turning her a mere “commoner.”
Domoto has two speeds — harassing (not necessarily sexually, either) tyrant of a boss and Choko’s devoted servant known as “Cha-chan.” However, so does Choko — she swerves between being a fumbling new employee overburdened by a perfectionist boss and being her beloved Cha-Chan’s “Milady,” who is an aristocratic dynamo of a woman. Watching these two cycle through these attitudes and positions is surprisingly hilarious since at every turn you never are completely sure which personality is going to turn up and what they might do next. While Choko is pretty aware of her own identity and her motivations, Domoto is struggling to approach the grown up woman that he tenderly helped raise as one would “butterflies and flowers.” He’s stuck in both of his roles, neither of which will allow him true intimacy with Choko. That means it is up to her, apparently, to save both him and their relationship from him and his hang-ups about loving his “social better.”
Creator Yuki Yoshihara offers a kind of sexy silliness to the proceedings, allowing for the characters to stretch — sometimes ridiculously so — outside the role of male boss and female underling. Her art, like her characters’ personalities, can also turn on a dime, going from a straight representation of office culture to pure farce. My favorite example of this is not when her characters go “super deformed” (although it should be noted Yoshihara has the absolute UGLIEST super deformed faces in the business) but when their rising temper turns the background completely black and their faces evil and shadowed. This is particularly effective, usually when their attitude is clearly completely at odds with a normal public (i.e. workplace) demeanor. And that is part of the fun and pleasure of the book, since it is incredibly entertaining watching everyone’s two faces — public and private, boss and lover, aristocrat and commoner — smash into each other at 100 miles per hour and muck everything up. Because only once Choko and Domoto make a mess of everything can they look at each other as actual people and not just as inhabiting certain roles they must fulfill. This process is just getting started and I look forward to seeing how these two make an even greater (generative) mess of the whole situation the next time around.
Review copy provided by Viz Media.
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