The following review was originally posted on Baka-Updates Manga in response to the overwhelmingly positive reviews of Hana Yori Dango, a manga that has been firmly established as a shoujo classic. As a member of the astoundingly small group of people who weren't completely enchanted by its wiles, I felt compelled to write the following review.
I have been puzzled by the overwhelmingly positive response to this manga. As I am a fan of shoujo manga, Hana Yori Dango did not slip under my radar when it hit the US market a few years back. I started reading it then, when it was first licensed, and I got through a few books. After about 6 or 7 volumes, though, with no hint of an impending resolution, and a rather lukewarm response to the story, I dropped it, and didn't come back to it for a few years. A couple summers ago, however, I noticed all the raving reviews about this particular manga, and I decided to give it another go. However, time has only served to reaffirm my original assessment: I find this manga to be a story of cruelty, violence, and emotional manipulation. Shoujo manga in general has rather ridiculous plot lines, and bullying, physical and emotional, has become a staple in the genre. Nevertheless, I thought that the bullying in Hana Yori Dango was especially harsh, and I can't really get over the way in which things that would have been incredibly scarring were glossed over and forgotten, as if they never happened.
I don't think there was a single character that I even remotely identified with in this manga. I don't think any of the members of F4 knows what it means to be truly human, to treat someone with respect and be mature enough for normal emotional relationships. The leader of the F4 in particular had a ridiculous proclivity for violence, and all of them inflicted countless emotional traumas for their own personal entertainment, as I recall, in the form of those red tags. All of the supporting cast as well were completely removed from the normal range of human experience; all of the biting remarks, the cattiness, the socio-economic prejudices...I just don't understand the draw of these manipulating, overbearing characters who aren't mature enough to see past the outer shell.
I actually didn't mind the drawing style in this manga; it was the one thing that I didn't have too many complaints about. It was clean, though a little simple, and it wasn't unbearably stiff.
Everytime I think of this manga, I can't help feeling slightly depressed or disgusted due to horrible events that some of the characters are subjected to. I know that this is a work of fiction, and it is meant to be read for enjoyment, but I can't draw enjoyment out of a scene where someone is about to be raped, or someone is dragged behind a car, or beaten with bats. It's not even thought provoking to me; it's senseless violence and disregard.
I have many problems with other series and manga, series in which certain situations aren't treated the way they should be, and where established societal codes of behavior and moral standards seem to dissolve and disappear. However, Hana Yori Dango is one series that takes this to a new level, in which morals are shifted and created as the characters see fit.