Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Breath of Flowers volume 2 tries to tackle a big LGBTQ fear but falls flat in the execution (Manga-inspired Comic Review)

Two high-school girls sit on a couch smiling at each other
Breath of Flowers vol. 2 - 4/10

After a promising first volume, Breath of Flowers vol. 2 (Tokyopop) goes off the rails. It tries to tackle a really important fear within some members of the LGBTQ community (two fears in fact) but does so in a clunky, in-delicate way. But even before that, this volume was already weaker than the first. Sad because I sort of liked the first one, but I really can't recommend volume 2, which is the conclusion to the series.

In volume 1 we meet Azami who has a crush on Gwyn, the star player on her school's boy's basketball team. Quickly though, Azami finds out that Gwyn is actually a girl. What's great about that volume is that Azami says that Gwyn's gender has nothing to do with her feelings, and it turns out Gwyn's been crushing on Azami. They get together, and we have the makings of a cute lesbian romance.

In volume 2, Gwyn is away at an overseas training camp before she transfers into a highschool that has a girl's basketball team (that way, she won't be outed as a girl in her old school). During the trip, Gwyn isn't great about checking for messages from Azami who is also jealous of the girl, Judith, who is with Gwyn.

One of the most confusing parts of this early story in volume 2, is that somehow Judith is at the away camp with Gwyn, but is also with Azami at the airport when Gwyn gets back from the trip. I may have missed something (were there two camps? different flights?), but I really couldn't follow this. That writing sloppiness pervades this volume.

Once Gwyn gets back, she goes to the new school where she is immediately named co-captain of the girl's basketball team with another girl, also named Gwyn (who we'll call Thunder - it's her last name). Naturally, Thunder is jealous of Gwyn and tries to undermine her in a variety of ways. This sets up the big meat and drama of this volume. It's also where big ideas go to die in their execution.

SPOILERS AHEAD, so stop reading if you don't want any.

Eventually, Thunder catches Gwyn and Azami kissing while on a date and develops a plan to force her off the team. Thunder sends Gwyn a text message telling her she wants to talk in private. When Gwyn shows up, Thunder pretends to make nice, and offers to put her info into Gwyn's phone. What she really does is delete the text message she had sent. Then, just as Thunder hears other students coming, she kisses Gwyn, then pushes Gwyn away crying, and pleadingly asks Gwyn why she'd assault her like that (basically framing Gwyn).

Naturally, the other girls all listen to Thunder and don't let Gwyn explain her side. They all believe that Gwyn has been staring at them while changing in the locker room and assaulted Thunder. Thunder also tells them that Gwyn had been lying about being a boy to play on her past team, thus "proving" that she's a liar all around and her side of the story can't be trusted here. The basic thrust is this: lesbians are out to get people, they are sexual perverts who can't control their urges, and are dangerous to be around.

Not only is that awful, but in the era of #metoo, where we are trying to encourage survivors of actual assault to come forward, we see men accusing women of making false claims. Despite the strong evidence that there are almost no false claims ever made, a story like this, whose plot is based around a false claim of assault, further undermines true survivors. Shame on this writer, this is a plot that needs to die.

Coincidentally, I just listened to a podcast on the lavender scare, and the fears of gays and lesbians being sexual perverts who will stop at nothing to satisfy their urges is basically the same fear as in this comic, but 50 years earlier. As a trans girl, this is the very fear I carry about bathrooms: that I will be accused of doing something I didn't do and get beaten up or killed for it. I'm sad that this is still the world we live in, where many still view the LGBTQ community with this suspicion. So there is space for a comic to thoughtfully tackle the topic. But unfortunately, I'm pretty unhappy with how it was handled here.

The way this plot point was used in Breath of Flowers ends up reinforcing these stereotypes about gay and lesbian folks (and trans people as well) because everyone just assumes it's true, and even when it is finally proven otherwise, there isn't any real learning or growth by Thunder or the other girls. There is no wrestling with the greater consequences of living in such a hateful society, no unpacking of stereotypes, just a "whoops Thunder was wrong, and she'll have to earn our trust back". There was also no space for healing by Gwyn nor time spent on the trauma Gwyn must have just endured. She gets lost in the ending to her own story.

Further, Azami has just outed Gwyn to the whole team and there is no repercussions for Thunder or growth for her, or even any real discussion about not outing people. The threat of being outed is still weaponized against LGBTQ people and it's used here but there isn't any narrative push-back on that. So just like the lack of depth given to Gwyn's feelings about being falsely accused, we get nothing about her being forcefully outed.

Then to make this part of the plot worse, it takes the captain of her old boy's team coming to the rescue and telling Gwyn (and everyone else) that he found out she was a girl when she was leaving his team and convinced the coach of her new team to take her on as a player and captain. Basically,  Thunder's use of Gwyn's history of "lying" to her old team was disproven by the only guy in the series and it was THAT point, not anything Azami or Gwyn said convinced the other girls to believe Gwyn (thanks white straight cis dude for saving the day!). Again, Gwyn has no agency and gets buried in the ending to her own story. Even Azami doesn't actually get to save the day.

It's a high-drama plot about vengeful hateful girls (which do exist) that tries to tackle a real fear of LGBTQ people (being falsely accused of being a predator and forcibly outed), but handles it so poorly that it fails to make its social point while essentially sensationalizing it for the purpose of cheap emotional reactions in the readers. I just feel like this book did more harm than good at destigmatizing lesbians and discussing the very real threats they face every day.


The art is okay, sometimes interesting, sometimes unclear, very loose and nothing special. Also, for the final volume of a 2 volume yuri manga-inspired comic, Azami and Gwyn are almost never in the same scene. This volume (and thus the conclusion to the series) really isn't much about their relationship at all. That's disappointing. Add to that a problematic volume all around that is sloppy in writing and overall clarity of purpose and you get an appropriately crappy 4/10 rating.

I'm sad that Tokyopop ultimately wasted its publishing might on a manga-inspired comic that isn't very good rather than translating and releasing one of the many excellent authentic manga series that have yet to be released in English (here's looking at you Faster than a Kiss and Love So Life!). Further disappointing, because the first volume of Breath of Flowers wasn't actually that bad.

Please legitimately purchase or borrow manga and anime. Never read scanlations or watch fansubs. Those rob the creators of the income they need to survive and reduce the chance of manga and anime being legitimately released in English.

All comments are moderated by a real person who only checks them once a day. Therefore, comments may take a while before they show up. Thanks for understanding. It's how we keep this a community of lovingkindness.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Remember: please talk about the work, and offer counter points to others' analyses but DO NOT ATTACK THE PERSON whose analysis you are countering. (no ad hominem comments) Thanks! <3