When Tanpopo Yamazaki transfers into the prestigious Meio High School in Tokyo from her small home town in Hokkaido, there is a lot of adjusting to do. The day before the entrance ceremony, she goes to check out the school and encounters a boy planting a dandelion. She doesn’t catch his name but is struck by his kindness to plants. The next day she meets him again, but he acts like a completely different person and doesn’t seem to recognize her at all, even ripping up the dandelion that he lovingly planted. Tanpopo takes it upon herself to become friends with him and make a place for herself in this cold school by starting a gardening club, and slowly through sheer force of will she begins to gather friends and romance around her.
Imadoki was one of my favorite mangas to read back when I was in high school, which was also back in the day when manga wasn’t as accessible as it is now. I thought it would be fun to revisit this classic 2000’s era series and see if I still like it as much as I did back then, and I have to say that while I don’t find it as good of a series as I used to, it is still pretty enjoyable. Imadoki combines some classic manga tropes with some great comedic moments to make a short and enjoyable read that’s not too heavy. It’s also written by the very famous mangaka Yuu Watase who is also the author of Ceres and Fushigi Yugi, two very popular series both back in the day and today. Though I will say that she admits that high school romances are not really her thing, and in some ways it shows, but I think this is an overall fun read if you are looking for something short.
While being light-hearted in nature, Imadoki does manage to focus on a lot of overarching issues and go to some surprising places as well. When Tanpopo starts attending her new school, some of the first things she notices are how Koki’s private persona is different than his public one and also how different her life in the rural countryside of Hokkaido is from the environment of a Tokyo school. I think these two big contrasts play a major role throughout the story, setting a great base for the rest of the events to build off of. To Koki, who was raised in this environment that prides social status over all else, his understanding of friendship is warped to the point that he prefers spending his time with plants rather than people. To him, the only human friends he knows are the people at school who only want the connections his family affords. When Tanpopo shows up with her energetic, can-do attitude and actively tries to be his friend, he is understandably confused at how to act. But as “force of nature” (as I like to call them) types are want to do, they slowly begin to change the other person’s opinions through pure dedication and drive. By being raised outside this high-class sphere, she is able to help Koki understand that true friends are there to support each other and have fun together.
This series also uses a strong flower-based theme to talk about the idea of how you should choose your own path and how to accept the differences in other people. For a short, five volume series I think this works really well. The whole flower motif ties things together and allows for a profusion of metaphors as the gardening club grows in members. It also allows Watase to talk about issues of social responsibility among upper class families. Koki, for instance, is being forced to be the heir to his father’s company and into accepting an arranged marriage. For kids like them, their whole life is already decided, and they’re never really given the chance to decide for themselves what they want to be. Especially for Koki’s fiancee, Erika, she has spent her whole life thinking she would marry someone and that was it. She was practically trained to believe that was all she should want and never really questioned whether she should want more. When all of that is taken away from her, she is understandably devastated, but again we see this theme of “everything blooms according to its own nature.”
Watase manages to give us an enjoyable series, but I also don’t think there was anything really new or surprising that is presented in the series. The setting is interesting to an extent, the school is pretty futuristic for the time in that all the students get laptops and everything is operated by key-cards. This might have been a way to up the feeling that Tanpopo is stepping into a very high-class environment, but I don’t think it really impressed me that much. There were also moments that were pretty typical of a shojo romance such as being locked in an elevator together and the very common trend of “enemies becoming friends” which was done in a fairly quick way. In her asides throughout the manga, Watase paints this story as something you shouldn’t look too much into and is just a fun read, but I almost have to disagree. There are definitely moments that are pretty tragic, with dramatic twists that give Tanpopo a deeper sense of character. However, there are also events, especially in the beginning, where moments of jealousy and danger are played off with comedic effect. Overall, I definitely think that she moves the series in a more serious direction as the story moves forward.
If you’re a fan of Yuu Watase’s previous works, I think this is a pretty easy and fun read. It’s pretty short and has some crazy characters that are sure to spark a laugh. And while I don’t think my memory of this series has lived up to the second read-through, I do still think this is a solid series with some great touching moments if you’re looking for a less serious romance to read. Also there’s a fox, and I’m a huge fan.
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