Takahashi Makoto's The Rows of Cherry Trees is quite old—it's from 1957. It centers around three members of the table tennis club at an all-girl school. The story begins with the school tournament, where Yukiko faces off against first her rival, then her crush.
The Rows of Cherry Trees is best described as "delicate". It's a small volume, one filled with an emotional yet elegant love story. In the ping-pong team of one all-girls' school, sweet Yukiko nurse admiration for her "onee-sama" Chikage even when their relationship is threatened. Like many early girls love (and boys love) titles, this isn't a story of romance as we tend to think of it -- full of confessions and dating and sex -- but rather the tale of a passionate love, one that may never bloom into an official relationship but stays strong just the same. Unfortunately, it doesn't have much in
the way of characters to get attached to, and the story is quite simple, but that doesn't stop it from being a lovable little tale all the same.
Seeing as it's from the 1950s, the art style of this manga is quite different from what the modern reader is used to. The influential shoujo artist Makoto Takahashi's style is in full bloom here: character designs are all soft curves and wide eyes. Every detail of page of this series oozes a unique beauty, one full of flowers and careful poses and perfect backgrounds; I could stare at it forever. Perhaps thanks to the fact that artists such as Osamu Tezuka had not yet fully made their mark on manga when The Rows of Cherry Trees was written, page layouts don't have the flow that I expect from manga. The best way to describe it would be calling every individual panel a little masterpiece all on its own -- lovely, but sometimes alienating each image from the next. I would not want every manga series to look like this one, but considering it's the only English-translated manga of its time, it's an excellent look into the trends of the past and warrants a read just for that.
The typical manga reader is probably more interested in excitement and suspense, in new and unique ideas and characters. That manga reader probably won't have much to gain from The Rows of Cherry Trees; rather, it will seem quaint and silly, an old-fashioned story that later manga series told in a much better fashion. However, I am not that sort of reader, and if you aren't, either, this is a wonderful read. It's a rare look into very early shoujo (besides Princess Knight, it's the earliest shoujo title that has been translated into English) and the unique elegance that it had. Gorgeous and touching in its own way, The Rows of Cherry Trees is a different sort of masterpiece.