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Favorite Episode
Episode 49 is my favorite because it's one of the few episodes where you get to see Doumyoji shirtless and with wet hair. Just kidding. Episode 49 is where Tsukushi finds out she passed the exam to study in Boston for a year after Doumyoji taunted that there's no way in hell she'll pass it. Tsukushi figured that she's got nothing to lose since Rui's going back to Paris to be with Shizuka, which is not in the manga, I must point out. Actually, this whole sequence of events is not in the manga at all. Anyway, Doumyoji's really upset about Tsukushi leaving, but he figured there's nothing he could do. Then he overheard his mother's conversation with her assistant and realized that the whole study abroad thing was her idea to keep Tsukushi away from him. He charged over to Tsukushi's apartment and told her not to go (okay, he sort of implored). This is also when the whole confusion with Shigure got cleared up, finally putting an end to all those terrible flashbacks Tsukushi had when she "walked in" on them. This is just a great episode in general because Doumyoji and Tsukushi's love-hate relationship finally ended and she admitted her own feelings and fears. After being railroaded through 48 episodes of angst, it's a huge relief to finally see the two of them at peace ^_~ Episode 49 is followed by the Doumyoji matriarch's schemes to drive them apart, but really, I think the anime essentially gave closure with this one ^_~

Hana Yori Dango
Synopsis | Review

It took me a while to continue watching Hana Yori Dango after seeing its first episode. Its graphics weirded me out. Its music weirded me out. And its flair for drama weirded me out. I didn't realize how much cutesy artwork, adorable music, and genki pace meant until they were all taken away in this anime @_@ Nevertheless, after watching the first episode, something struck me about Hana Yori Dango. Maybe it was the characters' attitudes. Tsukushi's incredibly gutsy, Rui's really mysterious, and Doumyoji's a colossal asshole. When I finally got around to resuming Hana Yori Dango, I was hooked. It proved that cutesy artwork, adorable music, and genki pace isn't everything (it also proved how shallow I was before....^_~). Sure, it took a while to get used to how it looks, but ultimately, the story will haul you right in.

Fans have declared that Hana Yori Dango isn't your typical shoujo anime. If typical shoujo anime involves fluffy schoolgirls who worry about mundane stuff and chase after bishounen, then yeah, Hana Yori Dango isn't your typical shoujo anime ^_~ The anime has 51 episodes while the manga has 36 volumes @_@ As most manga-turned-anime series go, the anime started after the manga and ended before the manga. So while both the anime and manga started out the same, they soon went off into different directions.

Hana Yori Dango is by mangaka Yuoko Kamio. It translates to "Boys Over Flowers" and is already licensed by Viz Communications. It has a short movie that takes place in an alternate universe, where everybody's in dance school. It also spawned a live action series in Taiwan called Meteor Garden, which in turn spawned the boy band F4 @_@ The first installment of Meteor Garden ended even before the Hana Yori Dango manga ended, so now subsequent installments are launched @_@ The anime purist in me is relucatant to see Meteor Garden (I was howling "Make it stop!" when I watched Marmalade Boy live action), but considering how much I like Hana Yori Dango, I might end up checking it out ^_~

Synopsis
Makino Tsukushi's family doesn't have a lot of money, but her parents wanted her to go to the criminally expensive Eitoku High, a prestigious school that will increase Tsukushi's chances of succeeding in life (she and her family just have different definitions of success, tho'...). Tsukushi's not really thrilled over having classmates that whine over how small their allowances are when she had to work for her own allowance.

Tsukushi planned on living out the rest of her high school life in comfortable anonymity, but things don't go the way they're supposed to. Eitoku is run by four rich, spoiled bishounen who call themselves F4 (for Flowery Foursome, which is a terrible name in my opinion. Good thing they always stuck to the abbreviated F4). They're so powerful that they don't have to wear uniforms nor go to class; they donate so much money to the school that they can do whatever they want. Everybody's afraid of the F4. Well, specifically, everybody's afraid of F4's leader, Doumyoji. He's the richest (which translates to most powerful) in the group, and he has a terrible temper. A student who pisses the F4 enough would get a red tag in his or her locker, a sign that he or she should be bullied by everybody in school. Inevitably, that person drops out of school.

Tsukushi had no plans of getting involved with the F4, but one day, her only friend in school, Makiko, fell down the stairs and landed on top of Doumyoji. Naturally, this pissed Doumyoji off. Just as he was advancing towards Makiko, Tsukushi snapped and told him off. She got a red tag in her locker the following day. Rather than accept her fate, she decided to fight, even if it meant being tormented by the entire school.

In the middle of Tsukushi's war against the F4, she realized that not all of them are terrible people. Hanazawa Rui, the quiet member of the group, always came to her rescue. Pretty soon, Tsukushi realized she has a huge crush on him. The infatuation would not go anywhere, though, because Rui's hung up on the F4's childhood friend and current Miss Teen France, Shizuka. Around the same time, Doumyoji realizes Tsukushi's not that bad. Actually, he fell in love with her when she kicked him in the face @_@ Having the mentality of a kindergartener, he bullied her even more. Moreover, a bunch of signals got mixed and he started thinking she's in love with him (which made him bully her even more).

Sparks fly when Doumyoji finds out that Tsukushi's actually in love with Rui. Actually, sparks fly whenever he catches her looking at another guy, period. All the attention Tsukushi's getting from the F4 garners her the admiration and hostility of her classmates, who either wanted F4 for themselves or hated F4. Tsukushi's annoyed and confused when Doumyoji won't leave her alone. Things get weird whenever he steps into her poor world or whenever she steps into his rich world. It disconcerted her how she thought more about Doumyoji and less about Rui. And even though she's not yet sure about her feelings for him, she gets more embroiled in the world of the rich and famous as her family continues to struggle in poverty.

Even though Hana Yori Dango deals with poverty (Tsukushi's family is so poor they had to live in cramped, rundown apartments) and considerable bullying, it does have some funny moments. Doumyoji himself is enough to make the whole thing funny ^_~ The Other Guys in F4 (besides Doumyoji and Rui. For some reason, I feel the term should be capitalized), Sojiro and Akira, are also hilarious. They're the ones who are most experienced with women, and they could do nothing but shake their heads and bemoan how clueless their best friends are. Tsukushi also has her nouveaux riche friend, Kazuya, who became the first target of Doumyoji's jealousy. He's adorable and bumbling and funny. He's also in love with Tsukushi, but she never really realizes it (she can be incredibly dense, like a lot of other shoujo anime heroines).

The manga has a whole slew of characters and side stories that wasn't included in the anime. Sojiro and Akira have side stories. There's also more to Tsukushi's best friend, Yuuki, than meets the eye. There are more people who are in love with Doumyoji or Tsukushi ^_^ And there are more antics among the characters ^_~

Review
Any anime or manga that yanks me right into the story is highly recommended ^_~ Hana Yori Dango's great because the characters drive the story. They're so multi-faceted that your perceptions of them will change as the story progresses. Tsukushi's gutsy and sensible, but she also has her pride and can be really naive at times. Doumyoji can be a total jerk and is prone to violent tantrums (there's really no other term for it), but he can be so simple, direct, and intense that it's hard not to find him attractive...even though he does have weird hair. And Rui's so adorable and childlike, but he's also very shrewd.
It's not hard to see how Hana Yori Dango is soap opera material because of the whole rich guy/poor girl thing. Yuoko Kamio definitely placed Doumyoji and Tsukushi at extreme ends of the socio-economic spectrum. To some extent, their personalities are really different from each other also.

Like I said before, the graphics in this anime might take you aback, but just grit your teeth and focus on the storyline. Pretty soon you'll be so engrossed with the events that you won't even notice the visuals ^_~ The music is also nothing to crow about either. The opening and closing sequences have an old anime feel to them, while the background music is very melodramatic. So yeah, just bear with it because the story makes it all worthwhile.

The anime is a hell lot more dramatic than the manga. I find myself irreverently laughing at certain crucial moments in the anime just because they're so...dramatic. I think the culprit is in how the graphics are arranged. If you don't have a sense of humor while watching Hana Yori Dango, you might get depressed. So go ahead and laugh :D Despite the drama, though, for some reason I like the anime better. The pacing was better and I think the somber atmosphere suited the characters better. The manga has much more comic relief, which was disconcerting after watching the anime. In addition, it seemed like the manga was dragged on. This is probably true, because it outlasted both the anime and the first installment of the live action series. Lastly, the ending in the anime is so unexpected and so cute while the ending in the manga was just "eh." Nevertheless, it's worth checking both of them out ^_~ I'm pretty disappointed that Kin-san wasn't included in the anime. He's a total bishounen ^_~

They really don't make 'em like these no more. If you're a shoujo anime fan and love romantic stories, this is a must-see. Then you'll be able to hold your own in conversations such as "Who's your favorite F4?" ^_~

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