Hana Yori Dango (translated: Boys Over Flowers), a Japanese manga created by Yoko Kamio. It is the best selling shojo manga of all time in Japan.
Depending where you are in the world, that title may mean nothing or may mean one of the biggest pop culture texts the last decade.
Japanese manga, hugely popular around the world, tells stories over a wide range of themes and genres. From romance to comedy to action to adventure to gory violent action to fantasy to very gory violent action, manga has transcended cultural barriers. Japanese manga along with anime may look very stylized and of “another,” but regardless, when done well, appeals to a wide audience.
Hana Yori Dango manages to do that. A common theme, a high school girl from a simple, middle-class family gets swept up in the world of the rich and powerful. She crosses paths with (and falls in love with) two of the four richest heirs in the country, together known as the F4 (short for Flower Four). She manages to get into their elitist high school and the drama and comedy and romance ensues.
A simple premise, and definitely not something we haven’t seen before, but why has not only the manga become hugely popular, but has spawned four live-action adaptations, a spin-off, two films, and an anime.
First adapted into an animated series in the 90s, the first live-action adaptation was in 2001 with Taiwan’s Meteor Garden. It blew up. F4 fever engulfed Asia. The actors playing the F4 formed their own “idol” singing group, now known as JVKV. Meteor Garden became top rating series in other countries and it is still the highest rated Asian series to air in the Philippines ever. Japan followed with their own version Hana Yori Dango in 2005 and Korea recently completed their own fever-inducing adaptation, Boys Over Flowers, earlier this year. China has just begun airing a series “based” on the manga Meteor Shower and the Philippines’ ABS-CBN is waiting in the wings for the chance at a Filipino version.
So why so popular? Even in spite of all the various adaptations, seeing the same story over and over, the manga easily at anyone’s fingertips, the story still captures people’s hearts, imaginations, and tickle boxes and new fans continue to catch on.
The story is simple enough and relatable while still having that fairy tale/fantasy quality. It appeals to females as well as males, for different reasons sure, but it appeals just the same.
The Cinderella-esque, fighter heroine, the bully on the outside, sweet on the inside leading man, the broody, quiet charmer… characters you can root for, empathize with, and even love to hate.
Each adaptation has their own specific qualities. I’ve seen bits and pieces of the Japanese version and two-thirds of the Tagalog-dubbed Taiwanese version, but I’ve watched the Korean version all the way through. AND watched the Tagalog dubbed version a few months later!
Even though I knew the story, I never saw it play out all the way on screen. And while watching Korea’s BOF, I was able to see how each adaptation, even each rewatch can open up a world of potential storywise. There is a great story to tell and I feel like so far, the three live-action versions have been able to stay true to Yoko Kamio’s vision (and she personally had a hand in each production) as well as inject a fresh take on what could easily be a tired premise.
It can be brushed off as light fluff, but it is enjoyable. It is an escape, but it also presents a great opportunity to get at some real stuff.
It could also be that there are some beautiful people on screen, which doesn’t hurt.
Hana Yori Dango and Co. have captured the hearts and imaginations of millions of people worldwide. If it hasn’t captured yours yet, give it a try =]