There's no disguising the odor: Hanasakeru Seishonen (Flowering Youth) smells a lot like chauvinism. A naive young girl must find a rich, older man to marry in order to discover her life's meaning's dictated by her father? More than being just a faux pas, it's an extremely insulting idea. Well, it is in theory. In practice, the tender flower Kajika seems to be the only one in control, and that's what makes it work. Her tenacity and spunk attracts and heals others and makes her the center of the reverse harem at hand.
Kajika was raised by an old Creole priestess in the Caribbean with only a large white leopard (must be imported?) and her stoic bodyguard for companionship. As such, she's developed some odd ideas about life and social norms and doesn't hesitate to confront brutish men regardless of their size or power or throw herself into uncomfortable situations to make a new friend. If it weren't for the aforementioned stoic bodyguard, Kajika would not fare well in the big city, but her joie de vivre is hopelessly contagious even under the shield of her imperious escort, Lee-leng. The balance between their personalities and dependence on each other makes the show work, and most times, they're the only people in the world who understand one another. At the same time, they argue frequently, as Lee-leng is overly protective and Kajika overly impetuous. Really, reverse harem aside, this bodyguard appears to be the prime love interest for Kajika...Â¦except that Lee-leng can never be one of the three choices. It's something that pains him to acknowledge, but he keeps his feelings to himself.
On that note, the series is pleasantly unusual in its presentation of the suitors. Rather than throwing the sparkling idols right in our faces in the first episode, the series spends a solid three episodes on the first of these, Eugene, and has only begun to introduce the second, Rumaty, by the sixth episode. Like Lee-leng, Eugene is far from being the perfect man, having driven several previous girlfriends to suicide without remorse. Kajika is instantly drawn to him, however, because of his uncanny resemblance to her deceased leopard friend Mustafa, who she is sure has reincarnated to dwell inside Eugene. Rather than leading to an angst-filled romance, this leads to more dangerous conflicts as Eugene has his own dark plans to see to and doesn't mind playing up the ruse that he could be Mustafa to humor a rich young beauty. Needless to say, Lee-leng will do anything to tear her away from this disturbed suitor and within two episodes, the story has taken a darker and tenser turn than some shojo reach in their final arcs.
Foreign prince Rumaty is still fairly mysterious, but clearly a wild child quite different from Eugene, and equally disdained by Lee-leng and adored by Kajika. With such a well-balanced cast of characters and a remarkably steady tone that never lances into super-deformed mania or strained melodrama, there's a lot of potential for a great romance here.
Tragically, all that potential could be boiled down nicely on paper, but drifts by devoid of enthusiasm onscreen. From its passable character models to its tired, plinking music, the series does not seek to impress on any aesthetic level. Good direction could have compensated for the production setbacks, but this too is uninspired, as nearly every shot is composed of talking heads backed by unimpressive seiyuu performances. It's hard to even comment on the animation because unless we're talking mouth flaps, it's barely present until a mild action scene in episode 6. Despite visiting at least four famous cities over the course of six episodes, there's never an attempt to drink in any atmosphere. Despite possessing unique, complex characters, every scene of the series is taken up with them explaining their every thought aloud rather than letting the audience discover the characters through their actions. Hanasakeru Seishonen might as well have been a radio drama for the complete lack of attention paid to its visuals, and this is especially shocking in light of the fact that director Chiaki Kon's previous works, the Higurashi franchise, thrived on snappy editing and disconcerting camera angles. As previously mentioned, it does not help that the dialogue is dreadfully rife with exposition and blunt internal monologues fill the spaces when no one is speaking aloud.
The heart of the anime is strong and full of promise, particularly for shojo, a genre always gasping for good material in a dearth of saccharine and immature garbage. There is an engaging story with great characters hiding here, so it's unfortunate that the flower the creators have planted has no fragrance or panache whatsoever despite these good elements. The theme songs are the lone exception to this, with passionate Kelly Clarkson-style guitar ballads that support the series well, but they aren't enough to make anyone stick around for the blah-fest to follow. One can only hope it hasn't fully bloomed yet, but if the production quality and writing of the series remain as constant as its tone, there's no sense in holding your breath waiting. Good ideas are a dime a dozen, and Hanasakeru's various novelties are so far left floundering in a sea of horribly bland presentation.