Alongside Sana and Akito from Kodocha, Tsukushi Makino and Tsukasa Domyoji from Boys Over Flowers a.k.a Hana Yori Dango are my favorite couple in anime and manga. When I watched the Boys Over Flowers anime in 2009, I felt like it was one of the last classic shojo anime I had left to look forward to. Even though I got interested in the series because it was a romance, whenever I heard people praise the series, it was because of how strong Tsukushi is for standing up to her bullies, so I wasn’t actually expecting much from the romance. And then I was blown away. I loved seeing Tsukushi and Tsukasa on-screen together, and couldn’t wait for another romantic moment to happen between them. Even though I generally will only watch the anime or read the manga of a particular series, I had to read the manga to see what happens between them beyond the end of the anime, which adapted about half of the manga’s run.The series also has one of the few love triangles in anime and manga that I consider to be unpredictable (even though I’d been spoiled about the outcome). There are many reasons why I love Tsukushi and Tsukasa and feel they stand above most manga couples, and here’s why:
They make each other better people: One of the greatest pleasures in reading Boys Over Flowers is seeing Tsukasa become a better person. In the beginning, he’s violent, pompous and cruel, but by the end he’s capable of kindness and willing to give up his extravagant lifestyle for Tsukushi. We see that he was drawn to her strength when she stood up to him, and becomes a better person in order to be worthy of her. The change in Tsukasa’s character feels natural, not only because it’s gradual, but also because he still has so many of his defining personality traits – like his childish stubbornness – even at the end of the series. But a lot of readers overlook the fact that Tsukasa makes Tsukushi a better person as well – because before standing up to him, Tsukushi turned a blind eye to the bullying at her school and repressed how she really felt. In volume 35, Tsukushi even says herself that she likes who she is from meeting Tsukasa because he “broke her out of her shell.” And during the Teen of Japan competition, when everybody discouraged Tsukushi from entering the contest because she had no chance of winning, Tsukasa believed in her unwaveringly. But my favorite moment between them is from volume 31 of the manga, when Tsukasa and Tsukushi are trapped on Shigeru’s island. Tsukasa and Tsukushi had decided to break their relationship off for good due to his mother’s interference, but being on the island together made them forget about all of the obstacles in their way and face their own true feelings. Tsukushi realized that she didn’t care if they never got off the island, because she never wanted to separated from him again, and the two rekindle their relationship. This was the scene that for me elevated Tsukushi and Tsukasa above most of the ‘puppy love’ couples that dominate manga, and is one of the only times I felt like I was reading what true love feels like. What’s confirmed in this scene is not just how much Tsukushi and Tsukasa love each other, but how much they need each other.
They’re realistic: I know it’s funny that I think of anything related to Boys Over Flowers as ‘realistic.’ At one point, Tsukasa gets amnesia. The main couple gets trapped on an island. He saves her from a kidnapping and being dragged by a car. And the entire premise of a poor girl being chased by a hot rich guy who loves her so much he’d give up everything for her is the ultimate female fantasy. Yet I still think the feelings portrayed in the series are realistic because of how multifaceted the characters and their relationships are. I love that Tsukushi was in love with someone else in the beginning of the series, but slowly (and against her wishes) falls for Tsukasa. Tsukushi at first dislikes Tsukasa, and even after she sees his good side, she is reluctant to get into a relationship him because of they come from such different worlds, and because she would never be able to have the ‘simple’ life she always wanted if she were to be with him. Nevertheless, over the course of the series she can’t repress her attraction to him. Even after they’ve gotten together, they don’t just jump into being a perfect happy couple because they each need to still need to work on their faults and get used to their changed relationship – they have to ‘shift gears,’ so to speak. By the end of the series, Tsukushi realizes that it doesn’t matter that she doesn’t have the quiet life she always thought she wanted because she’s happy. And that’s the true meaning of ‘Hana Yori Dango’ – what we think we need may be different from what we actually do need. And what I love about the “Tsu’s” is that they never lose their bantering dynamic. Even though they have such different backgrounds, a lot of their disagreements actually come from their similar personalities – they’re both stubborn, argumentative, and have a lot of pride. But these are also the qualities that they use to fight to protect their relationship, and why they win against all of the obstacles in their way.
They’re sweet together: It’s strange to label a romance with a guy as violent as Tsukasa and a girl as stubborn as Tsukushi as ‘sweet,’ but I genuinely believe it’s an appropriate way to describe them. In volume six, after Tsukasa tells him he loves her and they kiss, he comments that she’s blushing and she proceeds to tease him. Their bantering keeps them from being sappy, yet they’re still very charming and romantic. And when Tsukushi finally tells Tsukasa she loves him in volume 27, he teases her by saying that he didn’t hear her and asks her to say it again (with a very sneaky expression on his face), to which she gets mad and he hugs her. Another sweet moment between them is in volume 16, when Tsukushi gives Tsukasa some home-baked cookies in the shape of his head. Even though they’re burnt and smell like fish, he’s elated with her gift and refuses to eat them, and Tsukushi realizes how goofy he is – but she likes that side of him. What’s great is that the series explores Tsukushi and Tsukasa both before they’ve gotten together and after they develop a romantic relationship, so we get to see what they are like as a couple. When they go to a restaurant in volume 29, Tsukasa mentions he’s never had a hotpot (or most traditional Japanese food), and Tsukushi offers to make him some. He turns her down, and then says he was kidding and thanks her for the invite, to which she promptly blushes. There’s a lot of give-and-take between them, and it’s all very fun to read.
They’re sexy: Tsukushi and Tsukasa are probably the sexiest shojo manga couple who never actually have sex. I remember when I initially read the manga how much sexual tension I felt between them. From early on in the manga, Tsukasa made it clear that he was physically attracted to her because he loved her so much. Even before they had gotten together their chemistry was apparent, such as in volume 13 when he saved her life in Canada and the two spent the night together huddled for warmth. But my favorite example is a scene from volume 26, when Tsukushi and Tsukasa start going back out with each other after breaking up and discuss the fact that they need to hide their relationship in order to prevent his mother from finding out. After they work things out, Tsukasa tries to kiss Tsukushi but she tells him not to because her heart’s pounding from being with him and “she’s at her limit.” Tsukasa blushes, and yells at her not to say things like that because “it makes him want to throw her on the floor.” Tsukushi freaks out, and her narration “I can’t believe this thing called love” made me laugh at how overtly sexual it was, and also go ‘awww’ at the same time. In volume 28, things are heating up between Tsukushi and Tsukasa, and it seems as though they are about to consummate their relationship. However, Tsukushi panics and wonders “Does everyone do this?!” When tears roll down her face, Tsukasa expresses shock and asks her why she’s crying, and I love the moment between them later on when she realizes that Tsukasa is sometimes a brat, sometimes a child, and sometimes a man – and that she’ll do her best to love each and every side of him. For me, Tsukushi’s reaction was extremely realistic and was one of the few times I felt like I could relate to a manga character on this level. Scenes like these are also great because Tsukushi and Tsukasa feel like authentic teenagers. I’ve never liked that some shojo manga couples don’t ever address whether to have sex or not, and don’t even seem to have such desires because I’ve always felt that to be an unrealistic depiction of teenagers. Another great moment is when they are stranded on Shigeru’s island – Tsukushi and Tsukasa are struggling against their feelings for one another, and Tsukushi wonders why now that she’s lost him he looks so good to her. She expresses desires to touch his skin, and she asks to take his hand, which she places on her face. The scene is very sensual, and you can feel how much they care for one another. And I have to admit, I was disappointed that they didn’t consummate their relationship when they went to a resort in volume 36, although I love the panel of the two of them in bed, holding one another. I guess that’s what fan-fiction is for.