Hana Yori Dango
Also known as: Boys Before Flowers
Tsukishi was an ordinary girl from an ordinary (although somewhat poor) family. She was gifted enough however to attend Eitoku high school where only obscenely rich kids attend. Fair enough for her, she would simply drift in the background and get through 2 years unnoticed. It might have worked too if she hadn't crossed paths with the F4 - the clique of four handsome popular ungodly rich guys who practically run the school. It was the F4 who started the game to "red tag" a person and make their life a living hell until they leave, and sure enough Tsukushi managed to land herself a red tag. While many a rich kid had fallen victim to the game, Tsukushi decides that there is no way she will go down without a fight. In a garden of flowers; Tsukushi prides herself in being a weed that cannot be killed. Things get more "complicated" as she finds herself drawn towards the listless Hanazawa Rui (who despite being considered a great violin player, apparently only knows two songs). Stranger still when the leader of the F4, Domyouji Tsukasa; falls in love with her. From there things carry on with Tsukushi being indecisive between the two, a couple of girls declaring their undying love for Domyouji thrown in, and of course - Domyouji's mother from hell.
Hana Yori Dango is certainly a shoujo (teenage girl oriented) anime. Even so, this series excels in that it tends to be rather understated and not brash and WAAAY overly dramatic as shoujo series tend to be. Personally I rather liked the series. It was pretty much thoroughly entertaining for a good 40+ episodes, then sort of tended to drag for another 10, and ended with a sort of cheesy last episode. Still there's lots of good drama to be had here. For instance, imagine the scenario where a psycho ex-girlfriend comes out of nowhere and drop kicks a guy in the head during his wedding day. Who wouldn't want to see that?!? Anyway, lets get into this by dividing up the good and the bad.
As said before the series tends to be understated more then the overly brash styles that many shoujo anime take. While there is no way you could ever NOT mistake this for a shoujo anime, it really does take a much more honest and realistic approach. The heroine of the story Tsukushi is definitely a very convincing character who spends much of her time thinking about her situation. Which brings up the sort of overall theme of Hana Yori Dango: social status. There is a sort of undertone of how we (that is, us regular folk) are given a look vicariously through Tsukushi, at a world that is rather hard to understand: a world of extreme wealth and high social standing. Layered in with this there is the sort of on and off relationship between Tsukushi and Domyouji. This series actually makes an interesting point that it isn't just about the rich guy accepting the poor girl for a relationship to work, it has to go the other way as well - or simply put, there has to be an understanding BOTH ways. Another good characteristic of this anime is that there are characters you find yourself sympathizing with, which is of course essential for any shoujo anime. The story itself is rather solid, engaging, and generally never boring. While being a long series, it never really drags (until the last episodes, but we'll get into that later). Another good point is how characters change. Tsukushi over time develops into a character who is a bit less selfish, and more honest with herself. Sakurako makes a bizarre transformation from uberbitch/gogo-dancer into sweet supporting underclassmen. Hanazawa Rui transforms from 100% spaced out guy, into 90% spaced out guy + girlfriend. etc.. Aside from all this, humor is definitely a strong point of this anime.
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