Hana Yori Dango is a rather old anime (1996/97), so for starters I guess it's only honest to say that the visuals and animation are quite bad. I didn't much like the voice acting either. It's a typical shoujo anime, a romantic comedy with lots of melodrama, angst and an over-abundance of clichèd scenes and dialogues. What did I think of it? Well, the first couple of episodes are terrible; so much so I was just about to drop it. But I kept going and in the end I watched all of the 51 episodes in two days. So it does get engaging.
The plot is basically a love triangle - one girl and two boys; and I have to admit I'm a sucker for those. Our heroine enrolls in a posh high school that caters to the richest and most powerful of the country because her modest lower-class parents dream of marrying her off to a wealthy guy thus securing the entire family's future. So in the initial episodes you see Tsukushi being mercilessly bullied by her schoolmates because she's the poor girl with no background or social standing - and I was quite put off by this. Most of the bullying in the school originates from the F4, a group of 4 extemely spoilt, arrogant and violent kids who belong to some of the wealthiest families in Japan and who think that their families' money entitles them to trample over and crush anyone who gets in their bad books. Tsukushi - our spirited heroine who isn't about to give in to the bullying without fighting back - clashes with the F4 and declares war on them. As she gets to know them better, the love triangle starts to develop, with Tsukushi falling for one of the guys and another one of them falling for her. And it takes 51 episodes to sort through all of the mess of the characters' feelings and misunderstandings. While there are many annoyingly stupid and repetitive moments and scenes, all in all I don't think the romance is bad. What I did find awful and ridiculous is the ending. It felt rushed - which for an anime 51 episodes long is absurd. But yes, it nearly ruined all of it for me. It's a complete let-down. Apart from the romance and the bullying, a third theme that is dealt with is the social one regarding the discrimination between the upper and lower classes, the rich and the poor. I was surprised by the fact that Tsukushi, who apparently seems so willful and strong and impervious to prejudice, is actually profoundly affected by class differences.
The characters are decent. The main ones have all got their own distinct personality. Most of the anime is about Tsukushi sorting out and admitting her own feelings, so comprehensibly at times she does get a little irritating because the anime often drags and gets repetitive. The boys aren't bad either. Tsukasa starts off as the villain, but when we get a little of the character's backstory he suddenly becomes a lot more likeable. During the unfolding of the story he also does undergo development and change. Hanazawa Rui is also a cool character, but that becomes apparent only towards the end. For most of the anime he is this aloof and mysterious guy you don't exactly know what to make of. The side characters are stereotypes for the most part, some are portrayed better while others make little sense. The comedy is usually entrusted to Tsukushi's parents - who made me laugh out loud more than a couple of times.
In conclusion, I'd recommend this anime to hardcore romance fans. With the caveat though that the ending is really terrible.