Boys Over Flowers

In 1992, because the Washington Consensus grew to dominate and the West trumpeted the Finish of Historical past, a comic book e book took Japan by storm. Written by the feminine illustrator and writer Kamio Yoko, Hana Yori Dango was a shojo manga that aimed its disenchantment with capitalism within the East at an viewers of teenage women. Its title translated to “Boys Over Flowers.” (What follows contains spoilers, so in the event you plan to learn or watch this collection and would favor to be stunned, I like to recommend studying the remainder of this essay later.) 

Hana Yori Dango is about at Eitoku Academy, a super-elite prep faculty in Tokyo below the thumb of the Flower 4 aka F4, a quartet of good-looking, wealthy, and boastful boys who’re additionally scions of Japan’s strongest conglomerates. Led by petty tyrant Domyouji, the F4 take pleasure in full impunity, particularly in the case of persecuting anybody who dares cross them—a destiny that befalls protagonist Makino Tsukushi after she criticizes Domyouji’s reign of terror. Enraged, Domyouji points one of many F4’s signature “purple slip” orders in opposition to Tsukushi. This order rallies the feudally keen Eitoku pupil physique to topic Tsukushi to rabid cruelty, from rumor campaigns and property harm to cruel beatings and even an tried sexual assault.

An excessive scenario for an adolescent comedian e book, to make sure. However what, if not the brutal extent of capitalism, is an acceptable topic for the exaggerated tenor of manga? Lower than a 12 months earlier than Hana Yori Dango started serialization, the burst of the late ‘80s asset value bubble introduced the once-invincible Japanese financial system to its knees. Previously rock-solid salaryman jobs at Japanese corporations disappeared in a single day; unemployment soared, whereas common annual salaries began on a protracted and sluggish decline. Seemingly the one enterprises that thrived had been the Yakuza organized crime syndicates that made a fortune in mortgage sharking, profiting from determined households. In her preface to the manga, Kamio explicitly characterizes the work as a response to the collapse of her nation’s financial system; every quantity begins with a reference to up to date occasions like “the ice storm of employment.”  

Kamio’s observations in regards to the devastation of Japanese society wrought by financial collapse discover expression in Hana Yori Dango’s central love triangle between Tsukushi, Domyouji, and his finest buddy, F4 member Rui. Tsukushi is a daughter of the proletariat: Her father is a low-level workplace employee and her mom a vulgar opportunist who hopes that Tsukushi will climb the social ladder by her schooling or, ideally, by marrying a wealthy classmate. Pressured by her mother and father to attend stuck-up Eitoku Academy, which she hates, Tsukushi boils with resentment on the F4. Within the collection’ memorable opening act, Tsukushi stands as much as Domyouji by telling him, in an implied rejection of trickle-down economics (earlier than punching him within the face): “You contribute nothing to society.” This units off their lengthy and turbulent relationship.  

Challenged by somebody for the primary time, Domyouji is smitten, though a chilly patrician upbringing has made it onerous for him to precise his emotions in a socially acceptable method. As romantic heroes go, Domyouji just isn’t a straightforward promote. “If apologies had been any use, what would we want the police for?” he likes to say, as if it had been significantly intelligent or significant. Not solely is Domyouji a malicious bully with critical anger administration points, his fixed malapropisms and literal-mindedness recommend that he’s not very brilliant both. This characterization selection is a noticeable distinction from the genius CEO sorts which have gone on to dominate Asian dramas over the following twenty years and thereby additional the mythos of the deserving wealthy.

Domyouji’s clumsy courtship of Tsukushi is sophisticated by Rui. Within the depths of her persecution by the coed physique, Rui seems simply in time to rescue Tsukushi from one other vicious assault.  Pathetically grateful for this scrap of kindness, Tsukushi falls for the quiet and soft-spoken Rui, who she decides just isn’t like the opposite F4. However he comes along with his personal baggage. Oftentimes, Rui may be chilly and distant. The reader realizes finally that Rui has simply been stringing Tsukushi alongside in hopes of forgetting one other woman, his real love. Tsukushi’s two-suitor dilemma suggests a fairly darkish conclusion: There’s no excellent selection below capitalism. You’ll be able to have your capitalism abrasive however trustworthy, or mild however disingenuous. Both method, it should damage you.

Kamio’s subversive message would quickly discover an excellent wider viewers within the aftermath of one other financial collapse. In 1997, the Asian Monetary Disaster hit, leaving in its wake a path of devastation marked by mass layoffs and growing labor precarity. This darkish section primed the remainder of Asia for the sharp satire of Hana Yori Dango. In 2001, Taiwan broadcast a dwell motion adaptation of Hana Yori Dango renamed Meteor Backyard, which rapidly grew to become a transnational pop cultural juggernaut of unprecedented proportions. Powered by career-defining performances from actress and singer Barbie Hsu, and hunk-of-a-generation Jerry Yan, Meteor Backyard resonated deeply with a continent nonetheless reeling from “restructuring” after the disaster. Over the following 17 years, the collection has been broadcast in 10 Asian nations, and dubbed or subtitled into greater than a dozen languages, even igniting a short craze for studying Mandarin in Thailand. Meteor Backyard has since grow to be one of the remade dramas of all time with reboots in Japan, South Korea, India, Indonesia—all smash hits of their respective nations; the Korean model grew to become much more insanely internationally widespread than the unique—and two remakes in mainland China, the most up-to-date of which aired final summer season.

As a Gardenhead and journalist protecting tradition in China, the place I dwell, I lately determined to look at the most recent Chinese language rendition. I used to be significantly curious to see how it could maintain up in opposition to its predecessors in mild of how a lot the Folks’s Republic is in denial about its capitalist metamorphosis, which it calls “socialism with Chinese language traits,” all whereas the Chinese language Communist Celebration, below the route of President Xi Jinping, makes an attempt to suppress reviews of more and more brutal social inequality and disappears Marxist pupil protestors. I used to be not stunned to search out that the critique on the coronary heart of Hana Yori Dango has been surgically faraway from the Chinese language reboot, abandoning solely floor components of the unique collection—albeit repackaged in a shinier shell with a manufacturing price range reportedly 30 occasions bigger.  

Maybe most crucially, the remake strips the Domyouji-Tsukushi-Rui triangle of its allegorical significance by turning the F4 into conscientious younger capitalists and mannequin college students who’re appreciated and admired for his or her virtuous qualities fairly than feared. Whereas earlier variations of the F4 by no means noticed the within of a classroom, preferring to drink, chase women and get into bar fights, the brand new docile F4 sip tea of their minimalist examine lounge whereas discussing the significance of innovation in entrepreneurship. At their worst, we see them problem these they discover offensive to a recreation of bridge, a decidedly extra muted type of sadism in contrast with the violent and humiliating punishments meted out within the unique.

Most disappointing of all is the transformation of Domyouji from a bumbling autocrat to a finance prodigy with solely a mildly disagreeable persona. As a substitute of suckling on his household’s wealth, he’s paid for school himself by savvy investments (this Domyouji offers along with his romantic frustrations by day-trading fairly than day-drinking). Removed from embodying the darkish excesses of infinite capital accumulation, the brand new Domyouji is the very image of the deserving wealthy. He additionally comes with a reinvented backstory. Within the new Chinese language Meteor Backyard, we be taught he’s a former wayward youth who was pulled again from the sting of being cool by his fellow F4s, and aced the faculty entrance examination to achieve admission to Yingde, a college equal of Eitoku … as if a son of the Chinese language elite would ever attend a home college and or need to ace a university entrance examination to take action. (It’s routine for China’s wealthiest to ship their progeny overseas, but when for some purpose their baby had been to review domestically, it could be so simple as making a telephone name to get out of the make-or-break faculty entrance examination which atypical younger Chinese language spend their total adolescent lives learning for). By portraying a basically truthful society the place onerous work is rewarded, China’s Meteor Backyard is extra neoliberal optimism-porn than scathing satire.

This muted model of Domyouji dampens the stress between our two protagonists, which in earlier variations was powered by real class resentment. One of many key arcs within the unique collection is the immiseration of the Makino household, triggered after Tsukushi’s father is laid off from his job. The explanation given: “a nasty financial system.” With no social security internet to assist them and costly rents in Tokyo, the Makinos pack themselves off to their ancestral fishing village, however not earlier than reminding their daughter to attraction and marry Domyouji as quickly as doable. This class inequality provides stress on the already shaky relationship between the primary characters. In a form of an anti-Nice Gatsby second, the Taiwanese adaptation exhibits Domyouji attempting on shirts at a designer retailer and asking Tsukushi for her opinion. The choices all look nice, however Tsukushi is angered by how calmly he can take into account shopping for clothes price a number of occasions her household’s lease. Bitterly, she rejects the shirts one after the opposite. 

The brand new Chinese language Meteor Backyard additionally rewrites the supply of Tsukushi’s poverty. This time it’s now not the product of the vagaries of a capitalist financial system, however fairly an unlucky stroke of unhealthy luck and a single unhealthy apple; her father’s boss has embezzled the corporate funds and left the staff jobless. Erased are any express connections between the Makinos’ depressing scenario and the luxurious loved by individuals just like the Domyoujis, together with any criticism of how unfair it’s for a number of households to own the facility to make or break the lives of tens of millions of individuals. Within the new model, the stress between Tsukushi and Domyouji is usually a matter of overcoming way of life and persona variations. The political is completely lowered to the private.

However the hole between Hana Yori Dango and the brand new Chinese language Meteor Backyard is uncovered most clearly within the pivotal scene wherein Domyouji’s mom, determined to place a cease to her son’s class transgression, exhibits as much as darken the common-or-garden door of our working-class heroine’s dwelling. Decided and icily coiffed, the rich widow produces a suitcase full of money, hoping to bribe Tsukushi into staying away from her son. At this sight, Tsukushi’s mom responds to the insulting provide by grabbing a jar of flour and pouring it huffily upon the opposite mom’s bouffant. After Domyouji’s mom storms out, Tsukushi tells her mom how stunned and grateful she is, and the 2 of them embrace.  

Within the new Meteor Backyard, the scene ends there, on the form of saccharine be aware we’d anticipate from some other atypical Asian drama. However within the unique Hana Yori Dango, the scene goes on to ship a few of the most chopping commentary within the collection. Tsukushi’s mom responds to her daughter’s impassioned thanks with a snort. It’s not that she has satisfaction, Mrs. Makino explains. No, she’s enjoying the lengthy recreation. Someday, Domyouji’s mom will die. And when Tsukushi lastly marries Domyouji, the Makinos will then be entitled to the entire fortune—not only a measly suitcase of money. “How can satisfaction be extra necessary than cash?” Tsukushi’s mom says. “On the earth of capitalism, cash is crucial in no matter you’ve.”

Going ahead, this materialist understanding of the world—uncommon for a bit of mass media and even rarer for a teen romantic drama—will most likely be misplaced to Asian widespread tradition perpetually. China, with its financial and navy would possibly, aspires to undertaking comfortable energy as effectively, and is already making inroads as a serious pop cultural pressure in Southeast Asia, the place the brand new Meteor Backyard has been effectively obtained. Whereas it should take a while for China to supplant South Korea because the area’s most influential cultural participant, China is in it for the lengthy haul, and will definitely maintain attempting. Hamstrung by the ideological calls for of the state, Chinese language movie and TV producers will seemingly find yourself counting on ever-higher manufacturing budgets to distract from the shortage of humor or originality necessitated by the regime. The consequence shall be a shallow pop cultural panorama, fully faraway from any critique of the world the way in which it’s.

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