Flowers & Bees Vol. 1

By Moyoco Anno
216 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

One of the trendiest things to do these days is to fix something or someone up. No, not fixing up as in dates, but in trying to make something better. Shows about sprucing up one’s home and garden are so numerous there are entire cable channels devoted to the genre, and the success of shows like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy proves that people can be just as interested in getting themselves fixed up. The protagonist of Flowers & Bees could certainly benefit from the cast of Queer Eye, though, because the people helping him certainly aren’t as interested in his well-being…

Masao Komatsu wants to be good-looking. No, make that gorgeous. Once he’s gorgeous, you see, all the women at his high school will be flocking to his side. So that’s when Komatsu’s downwards spiral began, as he got pulled into a horrible addiction which destroys him and his finances even as he temporarily feels better. That’s right: Komatsu is going to salons.

Moyoco Anno’s is a deeply sarcastic and dark comedy about one of the more hapless protagonists to show up in comics. Saying that Komatsu can almost never do anything right is a pretty accurate description of his fumbling presence in Flowers & Bees; from the second chapter on, this is book which could really be summed up as, “Watching Komatsu get physically, mentally, and financially abused by the people at the salon from hell.” And like a faithful pet, Komatsu keeps trotting back for more. At first, you feel sorry for Komatsu and want him to do well, which makes Flowers & Bees tough reading since it becomes pretty clear that he’s never going to do so. After a while, though, it’s hard to feel sorry for this nitwit that doesn’t know when to call it quits. Then you start wanting to see just how much punishment he can take. (It’s sort of like the cycle that many people fell into when The Sims computer game was first released. Initially you want your Sims to do well. Then, sooner or later, you start killing them over and over again, giggling insanely.) I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the shift in wanting to see bad things happen to Komatsu is around the time of the book where the salon employees shift from two slimy men to two bored women. With the original owners of the salon, you can’t help but want to boo and hiss every time they appear, because they’re such nastily written and drawn characters. Their replacements are still pretty vindictive towards Komatsu, but with them it’s almost like they just have nothing better to do. Substituting themselves for the reader, they make Komatsu more and more ludicrous simply because they’ve recognized an important truth: Komatsu is too stupid to say no.

The art in Flowers & Bees is remarkably ugly for a book about the pursuit of beauty. Everything is horribly over-emphasized here, and the result is pretty cringeworthy. People always talk about “big eyed” characters in Japanese comics, but Anno takes that to an all new level with female characters whose eyes are a third of the size of their faces. It’s unnerving to look at them (and makes you really wonder why Komatsu even wants to get near these women in the first place), but then again, they’re not that different from everyone else. The male salon employees, with their greased mustaches and pointed van dyke goatees, are the ultimate example of a negative stereotype about gay men. Komatsu’s friends have spots all over their faces to help dirty them up for the reader. Even Komatsu’s fashion attempts look more terrifying than attractive, from stubbly eyebrows to a hair cut that looks like it was fashioned with the help of hedge clippers. And yet, at the same time, one gets the impression that it’s all deliberate. Anno is drawing ugly people in an ugly world, and her depictions of creepy men and women alike help you shudder your way through Flowers & Bees.

Flowers & Bees Vol. 1 is definitely an acquired taste. It’s very mean-spirited, never settling for a kick to the shins when a gut punch is available. It’s also pretty one note, as Komatsu keeps running back for more abuse from the world’s worst beauticians, never learning from his mistakes. Those who like upbeat or even remotely happy books should look in the other direction, because they’re going to be cringing with each new installment. However, if you like to watch videos on your computer of so-bad-its-funny things happening to people over and over again while shrieking hysterically, then trust me, this book is for you. Embrace your inner sadist.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

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