O’er yonder where that light kiss the sky. Spoilers be there!
Oh, how things never change. It’s 2016 already, and that only further proves the phrase ‘the more things change, the more things stay the same.’ And nothing proves that more than yuri coming as a package deal with heartbreak and tragedy. Truly a delicious combo.
Since it’s February, the month of love, and I have a penchant for doing things in a strange and twisted way, how about we go back and trace the roots of yuri once again, and see just how far we’ve come? Like I just described, heartbreak comes hand in hand with the genre, but so do other tropes. Secrets. Hidden feelings. Flowers. Gardens.That set of words alone already gives you a distinct imagery that only old school yuri can provide. Himitsu no Hanazono, otherwise known as The Secret Garden.
Himitsu no Hanazono is old. I mean old. Written by Fuji Mihona in 1999, its age only makes this manga stand as an old guard of the genre, much like the classic Shiroi Heya no Futari. As such, it features many aspects of old manga that you’d expect to see. Flowery art? Check. Overdramatic dialogue, plot, and characters? Absolutely. Eyes so large, so detailed, so sparkly, to the point you’d think they came from their own big bang? Take a wild guess. Because of this, Himitsu no Hanazono is a unique manga to read, if only just to take a look back in time and see just how far we’ve come.
Himitsu no Hanazono is a story about longing and heartache, but also the will to overcome that struggle. A story of secrets, not only physical things, but also matter of the heart. Cheesy, I know.
Just like the many manga I’ve reviewed previously – in which I apologize – this one is also pretty short, at just six chapters. But it does manage to keep the story satisfyingly contained within those chapters, for the most part, which I’ll get into later.
As always, as always, as always, let’s start with the art. I actually really like it. If I had to compare it back to Shiroi Heya no Futari, despite the only similarities is being how old they are, and their penchant for tragedy, I much prefer the art here. It a bit more modern in style than Shiroi Heya, and that appeals to me more. The lines are soft and flow nicely, which help set the tone to the type of manga you know you’re going to get into.
Regarding the characters, they’re what you expect for the times. Maybe it’s the translation, but they talk like they came straight out of a Shakespeare play. Fitting, considering theater elements play a heavy role in the manga. As such, Kadou Sakuya and Hiyama Misono respectively fill Romeo & Juliet’s shoes rather well, despite being both girls. Misono is not exactly your stereotypical shoujo girl, redundancy notwithstanding. She has her weaknesses, she seems frail, but she shows a certain strength and tenacity that’s actually really impressive. Unlike other heroines, who might fall by the wayside should anything bad happen in their relationships, Misono only strengthens her resolves, and sticks by Sakuya no matter what. Honestly, it’s kind of admirable. On the other hand, Sakuya is your typical cool guy, except being a girl. But she does have a lot of charm to her, which makes her pretty likeable.
At the same time though, you forget that these kids are pretty much in middle school, and while they do have interesting personalities and such, kids don’t act or think like this at all. But that’s the world of yuri shoujo for you. Don’t worry, I totally get it.
Now, the meat of this manga for sure, the story. And honestly, this setup has the makings of a classic Disney film. It has everything. A comically cruel stepmother, a handsome prince, a starry-eyed girl whose aspirations extend far beyond her trapped surroundings. It’s so Romantic (in both senses of the word), you’d swear that bunnies could sing, should they lay eyes on just a page.
Fairytales as such these must come with their own unique dilemma, or problem for our main couple to solve. And in Himitsu no Hanazono’s case, it’s the fact that our main couple isn’t the traditional makeup of a couple, despite – otherwise, very convincing – appearance. Like I explained before, cool-guy Kadou Sakuya, is a girl.
Considering the era this manga was written in, it makes sense that Sakuya is like this. Generally speaking, yuri couples back then didn’t consist of two equally cutesy girls, there usually was a balance of one of them playing the ‘boy’ part, physically and emotionally. The only difference being what was in their pants.
And really, we’re only given the author’s word that Sakuya is a girl, we never see her more feminine features; she’s gotta stay the cool guy.
Even looking back at Shiroi Heya no Futari, while Simone wasn’t disguising herself as the opposite gender, she certainly was much more boyish than her partner, Resine. Why this trend back then? I’m not too sure, maybe the general public was not too keen on obvious homosexual relations back then, fictional or otherwise, and this was the mangakas’ way of compromise? Even in some manga in recent years still feature this trope, to the point it’s pretty much a staple of the genre in its own right.
But I digress.
The story stems from this conflict, as Misono struggles between her own desires and her stepmother’s, while Sakuya continues to hide her secret from the public. What I do like about this manga, is how they use each other to break away from the chains that bind them, growing into better people together than they ever did on their own. I like stories, yuri or not, that feature relationships that drastically change the people who are involved, beneficial or poisonous. Either way, it leads to interesting character development, and that leads to good stories. Luckily for Misono and Sakuya, this relationship is the former.
But alas, this is an old yuri drama manga, after all, that means these two aren’t spared from a healthy dose of tragedy.
To be fair though, these girls are given a much fairer fighting chance against these odds, and they seem to take advantage of that. Misono has friends to help her, so good in helping they might as well be honorary saints of yuri, and Sakuya has such a strong mental fortitude armies will have a tough time getting through.
And it’s because of that, the ending doesn’t end up being as tragic as it could have been, especially the hand our couple was dealt. It would have been so easy to make their relationship crumble with just a breath, but somehow, they make it out of everything okay.
The only really tragic thing about this ending is the way it ends. The classic ‘it just kinda stops’ ending. It was an arduous path for them to find happiness again, but it would have been nice to see the fallout. Sakuya and Misono share a kiss, their secret garden as backdrop, while the consequences of their actions set ablaze in the background. I mean, Sakuya interrupted a play that Misono was a lead in, and they straight up left in the middle of it. They’re gonna have some serious explaining to do by the time they get back.
All in all though, I really did like Himitsu no Hanazono, or The Secret Garden. It just hits all the right spots for me in terms of classic yuri tropes, imagery and all. Sometimes, simple is good, refreshing even, and this manga definitely keeps it that way. The main couple is nice and memorable, the setup is classic but well done, and the nostalgic atmosphere is lathered on thick. There are some gripes, like the stepmother, but even I could find some – some – heart in her by the very end. What am I trying to say? It’s a solid 8.
And with that, I say ‘Happy Valentine’s Day!’ Yuri or no, I hope you have a good one. And going off that note, this is also a day before the OG-Man plugged my novel, introducing me to all of you guys. You’ve put up with my disorganized ramblings for so long, thank you everyone! You’re awesome!