Harlequin Manga: His Virgin Mistress and Night of Love

I recently read several Harlequin manga, and there was not a single kidnapping, secret baby, or case of amnesia in any of the titles! Despite my disappointment, there were a few manga in this batch that were entertaining. I’ll have another Harlequin manga post soon!

His Virgin Mistress by Anne Mather and Kazuko Fujita

This title seems very logistically complicated, or perhaps not very useful, because it seems like having a virgin mistress would be counter to the purpose of having a mistress in the first place. In this case, Joanna has agreed to pretend to be the mistress of a Greek tycoon who is struggling with a horrible illness. He’s returning home for his daughter’s wedding and doesn’t want his family distracted with the knowledge that he’s suffering from an incurable disease, so he decides to distract them with a beautiful young fake English mistress instead. Does he have a handsome son? If you have to ask you have never read a Harlequin romance! Demitri is incredibly perplexed when he meets Joanna, because she seems far too serious and intelligent to be a mistress. He’s instantly attracted to her, and horribly conflicted because he doesn’t approve of his father having a mistress.

The art in this title was a few steps above what I come to expect from a Harlequin manga. The character designs are attractive and distinctive, and Fujita illustrates the interactions between the characters with great fluidity. Demitri stomps around in the throws of angst, and Johanna is much more disposed to dealing with her turmoil inwardly. I’d recommend this title if you enjoy romances with a Mediterranean setting or virgin mistresses.

Night of Love by Diana Palmer and Harumo Sanazaki

I bought this title because the cover made me think that it would be a good example of the 80s manga style Harlequin manga adaption that I find particularly delightful. However, when I started reading I was a bit distracted because all the male characters were strongly afflicted with a case of triangle face. Most of the illustrations of men in this book basically gave them the facial structure of a guitar pick, with insect-like eyebrows. I did find this title entertaining because the heroine Meg was a prima ballerina with an injury who is forced to return home to recuperate. She’s spunky and still carries a torch for Steven, a businessman who she used to be engaged to. Their families conspired to break off the engagement for both of them. There is much emotional trauma when Meg and Steven meet again and their attraction to each other is immediately rekindled. There are many panels of sad people with flowing hair with roses in the background, which always adds that special touch to any Harlequin manga adaptation. There’s a lot of “I hate you but I love you!” in the relationship between Meg and Steven, and they gradually realize that they’ve both been making incorrect assumptions about each other’s feelings. There’s a random prince from the Middle East and a spy-related subplot to add additional suspense to the story. I have to say that I found the ending of this book a bit disappointing, because Meg demonstrates plenty of spunkiness throughout the book, yet towards the end of the book she just decides to give up so many of the things she’s been invested of for so long. This isn’t uncommon in Harlequin titles, but it is a little too old fashioned for my taste.

Kiss of the Rose Princess Vol. 4

Kiss of the Rose Princess Volume 4 by Aya Shouto

This series continues to be a ridiculous fantasy reverse harem manga, and I enjoyed this volume mostly because it features evil idol singers.

The first half of this story delved more into the very Cardcaptor Sakura-like plot where Anise and her Rose Knights have to capture Arcana cards in order to reinforce the seal to the underworld and defeat the demon lord, as you do. Of course, the only way to do this is to enter an all boys idol competition at school, where Anise ends up cross-dressing as a boy, because the arcana card is second prize and their group is in danger of winning it all if the cutest Rose Knight Seiran enters the contest. In keeping with the long-cherished shoujo tradition of male models or idols being secretly evil, the duo Rhodecia are revealed to be artificial Rose Knights created by Anise’s evil (but HOW evil?) father. The battle for school supremacy involves magic tricks, even more cross dressing, and a horribly awkward comedy act.

While all of this is going on, the Black Rose Mutsuki is struggling with some dark emotions stirred up by a mysterious outside influence. Anise makes a new acquaintance at school named Mikage who asks Anise to set up a date between her and Kaede, which Anise does because she is an idiot who is absolutely unaware that Kaede is in love with her. The date ends up taking place at a Gothic carnival, where Anise and the other Rose Knights tag along in order to sleuth out the location of another arcana card.

Kiss of the Rose Princess is a super silly shoujo manga, but it is really just the thing if you happen to be in the mood for light entertainment. The art continues to be attractive, with all the cool poses one would expect from a reverse harem manga. I’m intrigued by the hints of psychological struggle that Mutsuki is starting to exhibit, which does create a bit more interest than the more typical “gotta catch them all” arcana card collecting plot that is currently developing.

Magi by Shinobu Ohtaka Vols 1-3

I know that Magi is a favorite shonen manga among the MangaBookshelf crew, so I’ve been meaning to read it for a long time. I finally set aside some time to read the first three volumes, and I’m glad I did!

The first volume introduces Aladdin, a young boy with mysterious powers. Aladdin seems to be obsessed with food, boobs, and making new friends. He has a magical flute through which he can summon the body of a djinn whenever trouble comes. The catch is that only the body, and not the head of the djinn manifests, so since Aladdin wears the flute around his neck, often it looks like his head is perched on a giant muscly body that then proceeds to take care of whatever danger threatens Aladdin. Aladdin says that the djinn Ugo helps him out because instead of using his wish to ask for gold or any other typical wish, he simply asked the djinn to be his friend. Aladdin is a bit of a cipher at first, but he quickly decides to help out a local caravan, meeting a caravan girl and her best friend who turns out to be an undercover bandit. Ohtaka plays with proportion a great deal as she shows the djinn appearing to help out Aladdin. There’s plenty of slapstick humor, but as one might expect Aladdin’s seemingly simple personality is a bit of a distraction from his true mystical power.

Even though there are plenty of references to Arabian Knights, Magi isn’t a straightforward adaptation. Soon, a teenage Alibaba shows up and when he gets a glimpse of Aladdin’s power, he promptly decides to use his new friend to raid dungeons! The dungeons are a bit of a more typical shonen manga monster of the week type plot convenience, as they mysteriously pop up in various places in the desert landscape, filled with treasure, monsters, and traps. Only a great hero can expect to venture into a dungeon and come out alive with plenty of riches. Aladdin tends to get exhausted after any sort of battle involving the djinn, and he passes out after he and Alibaba have entered the dungeon. Alibaba realizes that he’s gone into danger with a boy he knows little about, and is determined to find out more about his new friend when he wakes up. The adventures are interrupted by the despotic ruler of the local town, Jamil who kidnaps the sleeping Aladdin and forces Alibaba to walk in front of him as a dungeon trap detector. Jamil is accompanied by a slave girl named Morgiana with super strong legs and a bodyguard called Goltas. Alibaba uses his trademark cleverness to ditch Jamil and reunite himself with Aladdin again, and as they explore the dungeon they discover an entire underground kingdom.

Aladdin isn’t an ordinary boy, and it becomes clear that he has magical abilities way beyond someone who can only summon a djinn. He’s a fabled sorcerer or Magi who has the power to crown a king, and Jamil is disappointed when Aladdin doesn’t find him worthy. Aladdin, Morgiana, and Alibaba get sent out of the cleared dungeon by the resident djinn, and while Alibaba and Morgiana end up back in their town Aladdin is far away. Alibaba uses his newfound fortune to free the slaves of the town and sets off to find his friend.

The first couple volumes set up a possible team of adventurers in Aladdin, Morgiana, and Alibaba, and the third volume delves more into some background aspects of Aladdin’s power. He wakes up in a faraway land with a horse tribe who promptly adopts him as one of their own. The shaman of the village is a wise woman named Baba who tells Aladdin that she can also see Rukh, the force that binds souls together. Ohtaka does a good job at establishing new characters in a quick way that still carries a great deal of depth. The horse tribe is represented mostly by a brash young warrior named Doruji who conspicuously deflates whenever he’s around Baba’s serene granddaughter Toya. The horse tribe is about to encounter an invading force, but the Princess Hakuei Ren who is the acting general is determined to pull a country together by winning hearts and minds and not by force. Her views are not shared by her underlings, which leads to complications.

It turns out that Hakuei Ren is another dungeon conqueror, with her own djinn. One mysterious part of Magi is the way the djinns seem to get together to gossip a bit whenever they see each other, and Aladdin isn’t able to make out what they are saying. There are flashbacks now and then to Aladdin’s time trapped with his djinn in a room, and while Baba tells Aladdin some of the legends of the Magi that she knows, he still has a lot of gaps about his own background that he wants to fill in.

The first three volumes set up this series well, there are plenty of concrete plot details and humor to enjoy and at the same time there’s a general sense of Ohtaka’s world building gradually unfolding as more information about the Magi are slowly revealed. Aladdin’s bluntness and naivete combined with his power makes him an interesting leading character, and his overwhelming desire for friendship and need to understand his own history when he already possesses plenty of mystical power makes him very sympathetic. Ohtaka has plenty of humorous moments, even if many of them rely on the sight gag of a djinn running around the countryside with a flute for a head. I enjoyed the first three volumes of this series very much, and I’ll be reading onward to see if the adventurers end up together again.

Master Keaton, Vol 2

Master Keaton Volume 2 by Naoki Urasawa

I enjoyed the first volume of this series a lot, but I was hoping that the second volume would be a bit more consistent, without some of the pacing issues that I noted in the first volume. My expectations were met, as the stories in the second volume had a good balance of mystery of the week, background on Keaton, and just enough crazy wilderness badassery.

The pacing of the chapters in this volume was more episodic, and I enjoyed the faster pace as Keaton moved from case to case. He investigates a stolen Olympic medal only to uncover a complicated friendship between two champion runners, then moves on to investigating an insurance case that manages to touch on the legend of William Tell. “Red Moon” features more of a medical mystery, and the male equivalent of a Black Widow. Keaton’s personal life is touched on as well. The second volume feels more settled, without needing to frantically introduce both his academic and military background. The fallout of Keaton’s tendency to travel instead of teach is followed up on, with him losing his previous position. He’s now serving as a guest lecturer in another university that is about to close its doors, but he manages to convey his passion for education and reconnect with a long-lost mentor.

Keaton’s military background is showcased in a couple stories. In “Black Forest” he helps the object of a manhunt by building improvised weapons drawing upon his knowledge of archaeology and in “Little Big Man” he crosses paths with a group of bounty hunters, only to singlehandedly deal with his job and expose them as amateurs. There are a couple scenes showing more of Keaton’s family, as his daughter shows up to visit for one story, and an entire chapter is devoted to Keaton’s father solving a case of a missing rare dog.

Overall, this volume just felt more self-assured in the storytelling throughout the manga, with the pacing and variety of the stories just right in terms of exploring the variety of situations Keaton can find himself in. With chapters exploring murder, survival, the value of higher education, and the strained relationships among the folks who end up as the subject of an insurance investigation, the second volume of Master Keaton made me more interested in picking up the rest of the series.

Gangsta Vols 4 and 5

As I embarked on getting caught up on Gangsta, I found myself very grateful for the character bios and plot summaries in front of the volumes. The first couple volumes focused on the slightly more intimate lives of Alex as she meets and is taken in by the Handymen Worick and Nic inter cut with various scenes of violence, but the series is now headed into a full on gang war, and it is useful to be reminded of just who is who in the ever expanding cast of characters.

Gangsta Volume 4 by Kohske

The fourth volume deals with the personal problems of the characters as well as introducing more members of the sprawling underworld in the city of Ergastulum. The handymen are cleaning up after an attack, and Alex is distracted with memories of her younger brother. After shaking the dependency on the drugs she was previously addicted to, more of her normal memories are starting to come back, but she’s not yet able to recall the details of her past life. One of the things I like about this series is the artful way Kohske portrays her action scenes. Alex goes on an errand for the Handymen, and when she happens on a scene where another woman is being attacked, she grabs a stray piece of lumber and rushes in to defend a stranger without thinking of her own safety. Alex is about to get attacked herself, when on the next page a single panel of Nic in motion, mid-leap behind her attacker shows that the problem is being taken care of with almost frightening efficiency.

Alex and the Handymen go to a party thrown by the Cristiano Family, one of the weakest mafia families who is also the most charitable when it comes to taking care of Twilights who would otherwise not have a place to claim sanctuary. The head of the family is a tiny young girl named Loretta, who pragmatically surrounds herself with skilled bodyguards. An equally young twilight hunter shows up at the party and sets off a bloodbath. Another hunter names Erica appears, and while the Handymen and their allies manage to fight off the attack, they sustain huge losses in the process.

Gangsta Volume 5 by Kohske

In this volume it seems clear that the mafia factions in Ergastulum are going to be headed into war. The team of Destroyers becomes more defined, and the situation for regular Twilights not affiliated with an organization is looking worse and worse. Alex has gained even more of her memories, remarking to Nic that she knew him before, only to not get a response. Worick is forced to use his sense for objects to identify corpses, and he and Nic are separated throughout most of this volume, with dangerous consequences. The Destroyers begin to tear through the city, and identify themselves as agents of the Corsica family. Still, even in the middle of a tidal wave of violence, there are quick scenes of normal daily life, when Nic hands Alex a mug as soon as she wakes up from some disturbing dreams of her past. Nic heads off to help out Loretta, and Worick is left to help fend off an attack at the Monroe family house. Things are looking fairly grim for the found family the Handymen have built for themselves. We’re starting to get more caught up with the Japanese release of Gangsta, and I know I’m going to start getting impatient as the wait between volumes grows longer.

While Gangsta does feature plenty of action and grim themes centered around drugs, class issues, and the mafia, the core story circling around Alex and her relationship with the Handymen ensures that the violence in the manga always seems to have a narrative purpose. Koshke’s narrative start small and builds up to a intercut scenes of a sprawling cast headed into some serious confrontations is building more and more suspense and tension as the series progresses. I’m also always impressed with the variety of character designs and defined looks as the manga includes more and more characters. I’m glad that Viz is continuing to give quality seinen some serious attention in the Signature Line with this title.