Hana wa Saku ka or Does the Flower Bloom is definitely one of the more mature and reflective yaoi mangas out there, and one I was very happy to encounter. Spanning for over five volumes, the story tackles not only a relationship between two men but also that of two people with differences in experience because of a twenty-year age gap. It opens with a man named Sakurai who is a thirty-seven year old senior manager at an advertisement agency who seemed burned out by a career he used to have so much passion for in his younger years. He has also gone through the motions of a few uninteresting relationships with women, and had for a time believed he could never find fulfillment in his personal life. One night he crossed paths with a college student named Youichi Minagawa whom he had what seemed to be a humdrum interaction with at first while both on their way home. Two more encounters later and Sakurai was intrigued though initially uncomfortable with Youichi especially since Sakurai perceived him as rather dismissive and rude, typical of a privileged nineteen-year-old student.
The realization that they are attracted to each other was not nearly as momentous as one might hope; it didn't take a while at all for Sakurai to acknowledge that he might be interested in Youichi romantically which had shocked him since he had only been with women before meeting the younger man. Youichi, meanwhile, is a closed-off, tortured artist who could not flourish under the shadow of his late father who was a renowned painter. He lived with cousins in an old yet elegant house which was located in the outskirts of town, and has never had friends let alone romantic relationships before, given that he was only nineteen, and a very peculiar person who doesn't express himself outside of his art.
It was only by hanging around with Sakurai that he realized that he was actually interested in getting to know someone, and since he was naive in a lot of ways, he couldn't understand why he was drawn to the older man, other than he thought Sakurai was not like most adults that surrounded him, who all cling to the ghost of his late father and therefore expect so much from Youichi. The moments leading for both men to recognize that there is a strong attraction shared between them was nerve-wracking yet ultimately sweet and hot especially whenever they can't help themselves and just start making out!
For all you fujoshis out there, here is a sample of such a scene:
Ovary-melting make-out sessions between two cute men aside, Does the Flower Bloom does have a wonderful plot in itself, and the characterizations for both Sakurai and Youichi were layered and meaningful. After all, the more serious conflict about their relationship has less to do with the fact that they are of the same sex but more about the fact that Sakurai is twenty years older than Youichi. That age gap is definitely something much more worth discussing and exploring especially in the context of a romantic relationship. Mangaka Hidaka does a terrific job examining the repercussions and obstacles to overcome.
The most notable of which had to be their reticent personalities. Sakurai is withdrawn due to his passivity on things but after meeting Youichi, he started showing more interest and dedication to his work again, much to the joy of his co-workers who had so much respect for him. Meanwhile, Youichi learned that people do genuinely want to get to know him and not just because he was his father's son, and it's up to him to open up and communicate his feelings to other people especially those who already care about him.
This is a highly recommended yaoi manga because it has depth and real character development but not at the expense of some really sensual moments that do happen with the couple, or vice-versa. It has the perfect balance of substance and showmanship if you're both into great storytelling and really sexy-hot moments. The simplicity of Hidaka's writing is a good foundation for genuinely poignant moments in between, where Sakurai does care about how their age gap could be detrimental to Youichi's future, and where Youichi does grow up and acknowledge that his cold ambivalence has to change if he ever hoped to become more than just friends with his first love. There are other important events that transpired in this manga, particularly Youichi dealing with his parents' death, and his friendship with a certain classmate from the university whose intentions are not as innocent after the first glance.
And don't worry, hardcore fujoshi fans! The build-up and drama would definitely reward you with hot action at the last volume when Sakurai and Youichi finally do consummate their love affair. It was made all the more intense by the fact that you see them truly falling in love and finding a way to make it work in spite of the initial struggles. There is a lot of grueling conversations about the difficulty in their communication styles, but with Sakurai's patience and Youichi's openness, they both do decide together that they are willing to endure a lot for each other if it meant staying together. It's not going to be easy, however, because Youichi still had decades of his life ahead of him while Sakurai doesn't and that experience gap is a challenge they're going to have to keep weathering together as their relationship hopefully continues thriving. Unfortunately, Hidaka only kept the story to a minimum of five volumes and I would definitely like to see this get picked up again.
Does the Flower Bloom by Shoko Hidaka is a true gem and one that you must read if you ever claimed to be a fujoshi. And if you are a hardcore one, chances are you have already encountered this and loved it to pieces. I can say that there is a slow burn aspect to this manga series that proves to ignite very hot once you get the engines running! Sakurai and Youichi's chemistry is undeniable, and it shows whenever Hidaka gets them in a scene or in a secluded room together. Her depictions of their amorous scenes are just so wickedly sexy! But the selling point for me, really, is that these scenes are not just there for fanservice. These love scenes were always pivotal for the progress in their relationship, and as a reader I really did feel like I was falling in love alongside them!