Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Boys Before Flowers

I'm watching the Korean TV adaptation of Boys Before Flowers, the grossly popular Japanese shojo manga* about a poor high school girl who gets entangled with four rich bullies, and I'm finding myself really having a fun time. There isn't much to the story—it's the typical Cinderella fairy tale, with one of the bullies being forced by the plot into becoming a prince charming—of course, only after the girl proves her worth by withstanding all his punishments. Sure it's total escape into lollipop land, but hey, after a month of total stress worrying about work and money, why not? More fun than an Ambien cocktail, almost as powerful as an endless prescription to Demerol.

And I really like the way the show's directors have totally embraced the shojo manga genre, cutely translating the facial expressions, the body positions, sound effects of the cartoons. I often wonder why Hollywood hasn't discovered and used shojo mangas the way the rest of Asia has. BBF would translate into any culture. But then, I suppose it begs the bigger question of why shojo mangas themselves haven't made it big in the US. My feeling is that it's simply a question of exposure. In the US, most people think comics are the territory of geeky boys who like fantasy adventures. There are, of course, very sophisticated adult cartoons like the Optic Nerve series by Adrian Tomine, but these comics are almost like secret societies and you usually have to hang around in comic stores to stumble across them. Things are very different in Asia. For instance, the Sweet Valley High series would never have been published there as a book—they'd be shojo mangas. If you've never been inside a Japanese book store, go inside the next time you see one, and head straight for the shojo manga section. Your head will spin at the miles and miles of colorful spines. And don't be afraid to peek inside the covers. Even if you don't speak Japanese, they're very amusing.

*Shojo mangas are Japanese comics aimed at teenage girls.

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