Harlequin Manga – The Venetian’s Midnight Mistress and the Italian Prince’s Proposal

I do enjoy a Harlequin manga now and then! Here are a couple random titles I bought for my kindle recently.

The Venetian’s Midnight Mistress by Carole Mortimer and Yuko Ichiju

This was an enjoyable Harlequin manga, but I expected something a tiny bit more dramatic and angst-ridden from a story called “The Venetian’s Midnight Mistress.” Dani is a driven interior designer with the type of complicated family situation that seems to drive Harlequin heroines into the arms of a tall, dark, and handsome man. Dani’s grandfather is a jerk. He’s unhappy that his only heir is a woman, and he treats Dani’s father horribly for only producing a female grandchild. He’s arranged his will with a penalty – if Dani doesn’t produce a son the family will get nothing. Dani’s worried about her reproductive choices robbing her parents of the fortune that they’re entitled to, but she’s already had a disastrous first marriage and doesn’t want to enter into a relationship again. Dani’s best friend Eleni has a tall, dark, handsome, and arrogant older brother named Niccolo, who says seductive things to Dani like “When I think about kissing you, it makes me kinda sick.”

Sure enough, Eleni throws a masquerade ball and Dani and Niccolo are overwhelmingly attracted to each other when they are both wearing masks. They hook up, and Dani is horrified to realize that she’s slept with Niccolo. She escapes, but Niccolo soon figures out who his mystery woman was and heads after her. Dani soon finds out that she’s pregnant and Niccolo promptly proposes, but her psychological issues with commitment are going to prevent her from being happy with her new fiance.

The art for this title was fine – a bit middle of the road and generic, but that’s what I tend to expect from most Harlequin manga. I wish there had been some slightly more exciting plot elements like amnesia, a terminal illness, or a kidnapping, but for a nice predictable read featuring a masked ball, this volume delivers.


The Italian Prince’s Proposal by Susan Stephens and Kaishi Sakuya

This volume focuses on a marriage of convenience. Emily is substitute singing for her ill sister in a club where she’s spotted by Prince Alessandro. He decides that she’s the perfect fake bride for him. He arranges a meeting and feeds her chocolate from his home country. She slaps him. Clearly they are perfect for each other! Alessandro needs a bride so his father can abdicate the throne and officially retire. Emily needs money to help out her ailing sister. As in most Harlequin volumes focusing on a marriage of convenience, the couple soon develop feelings for each other, but a terrible misunderstanding threatens to tear them apart!!

The character designs for this volume were attractive, and the art was clear and easy to follow, if not very detailed. I appreciated that Emily enjoyed the chocolate festivals and wine making rituals of Alessandro’s home country. Really, with abundant chocolate and wine, I feel like most women wouldn’t mind the whole marriage of convenience thing. This wasn’t a standout title for me, but it was still fun for me to read. I think I need to be a bit more careful to pick titles that are a bit goofier, because I tend to enjoy Harlequins when there are more outlandish plot points than I found in these two volumes.

Spell of Desire, Vol. 1

Spell of Desire Volume 1 by Tomu Ohmi

I am unapologetically enthusiastic about Shojo Beat’s new habit of releasing slightly smutty josei manga under the Shojo Beat imprint. More josei is a good thing! I was happy to see that after a few volumes of Tohmu Ohmi’s Midnight Secretary, another series of hers was licensed by Viz. Spell of Desire is that series, and I might even like it more than I like Midnight Secretary, as impossible as that might seem.

As you might guess from the title, with Spell of Desire, Ohmi has turned her attention to witches! Kaoruko Mochizuki is a herbalist in a small village, but one day a mysterious man named Kaname Hibiki shows up at her store and announces that she’s a witch, descended from a long line of women with mystical power. It turns out that Kaoruko’s long lost mother is a Witch Queen, and she’s sealed her power within Kaoruko. As the power begins to activate, Kaoruko will need help controlling it, and Kaname just happens to be the Knight dedicated to her protection.

I loved the contrast between Kaoruko and Kaname. She’s drawn as an earthy, hippie type, with flowing layers of clothing with botanical prints that reflect her connection to her profession. Kaoruko is a bit naive, but committed to the customers at her shop and the simple way of life that she enjoys. Kaname’s severe, with an all-black wardrobe and glasses that make him look stern. He also has a bit of a snarky and cynical personality. Kaname comes with two animal companions named Dragon and Unicorn, that appear to be a fluffy white cat and dog, but actually possess mystical powers themselves. When Kaoruko accidentally activates her mystical powers, they manifest as black vine tendrils winding across the panels in the manga, becoming more tangled as her powers become more out of control. Of course, there is a fail-safe mechanism to calm Kaoruko down – kisses from Kaname.

The first volume deals with the conflict between Kaoruko and Kaname as he insinuates himself into her life in order to protect her from her runaway witch powers. It is terrible, but Kaname and Kaoruko have to kiss very often because her powers are starting to really get out of control. While at first Kaoruko is resistant to the idea that she’s a witch, she decides to accept her situation calmly and deal with it even if there are things that she doesn’t understand. Kaname comments in response, “You’re such a decent person it’s almost ludicrous.” Kaoruko is left wondering about Kaname’s real relationship with her mother the Witch Queen, and I can see how there will be plenty to explore in future volumes as Kaoruko has to deal with her new reality as a witch and Kaname’s place in her life. Fans of Midnight Secretary or paranormal romance manga in general should snap this up!

My Love Story! Vol. 1

My Love Story! Vol 1 by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko

It is fairly rare for a shoujo manga to manage being both hilarious and heartwarming, but My Love Story! delivers. I was looking forward to this title because I absolutely adore Kazune Kawahara’s previously translated series High School Debut, and this new manga more than lived up to my expectations.

My Love Story! is extremely refreshing because in a dramatic shift from most shoujo series, it focuses on a boy as the main character. And the boy that it focuses on is Takeo, a hulking giant who is drawn exactly like the manga stereotype of a local gang leader, with a hulking body, thick eyebrows, and overabundant sideburns. Takeo is looked up to by everyone who plays sports with him, but his true friend is Suna, conventionally attractive in exactly the way a shoujo reader would expect, with windswept hair and a habit of rejecting all the girls who have crushes on him. Takeo has a habit of falling for girls who are crushing on Shun, who are then promptly turned down when they confess their feelings. On a fateful day Takeo saves a girl from being groped on a train, and she shows up the next day at his house with a cake to thank him. Rinko is an incredibly sweet and cute girl who enjoys baking and shyly blushing whenever she comes up with an excuse to be around Takeo. Unfortunately Takeo is so used to being passed over for Shun, he tries to set up Shun and Rinko, while being utterly unaware the the cute girl that he loves actually loves him back.

There’s plenty of caricature and humorous reactions as Takeo goes through extreme emotions. While it would be easy for Takeo to be the target of jokes, Shun genuinely cares for his best friend. While much is made of Takeo being an unlikely shoujo hero, he’s actually surrounded by supporters. It turns out that Shun is rejecting any girl who speaks badly about Takeo, because he has no interest in dating anyone who shows themselves as a mean person. Shun manages to get Rinko and Takeo together, and it is nice to see a manga series centered around people who just simply care about each other. My Love Story doesn’t suffer from second volume syndrome at all, by the end of the first two chapters I was utterly won over by the combination of characters, humor, and random feats of strength exhibited by Takeo as he goes about his day. The art maybe relies a bit too much on the contrast between Takeo being a blundering thug in a sparkly shoujo world, but there’s plenty of plot driven and situational humor to balance out this aspect of the manga.

As Rinko and Takeo start going out, Shun learns that his older sister has also been nursing a crush on Takeo that she has never expressed, because she was waiting to tell him her feelings when she was older. She immediately concludes that Rinko must be no good, and heads off to intervene, but Rinko and Ai quickly bond over their shared feelings. The end of the first volume of My Love Story! is too funny to spoil, but I’ll be looking forward to the second volume for this winning combination of laugh out loud moments and quirky romance.

Say I Love You, Vols 1 and 2

Say I Love You Volume 1 by Kanae Hazuki

Say I Love You
has a premise that is shared among plenty of shoujo series, as it details an improbable romance between a misfit girl and the most popular boy in school, but it has interesting combination of humor and some grittier than usual plot points, resulting an a series that is more entertaining for being slightly quirky.

Mei Tachibana goes throughout life without having any friends. She doesn’t say much to her classmates, and it is easy to understand why, since she’s been singled out as a target for bullies from an early age. Yamato Kurosawa is extremely handsome, and is one of the most popular boys at school. He’s pleasant, but not very interested in girls who are overly interested in him. Mei captures his attention when one of his friends trips her. Later on, his friend grabs the hem of her skirt and she responds with a silent but deadly roundhouse kick, nailing Kurosawa in the face. Yamato laughs as he’s recovering from the blow and proclaims that Mei is interesting. Yamato asks Mei to be friends and while she doesn’t respond, she calls Yamato later when she is in trouble with no one else to turn to.

Mei decides that even though Yamato is a “nonsensical guy” she’s beginning to trust him a little bit. Her classmates begin to treat her differently when they notice Yamato saying “Hi” to her at school. Gradually they start to get to know each other better, through a series of slight misadventures where Yamato proves himself as steadfast and emotionally intelligent. Mei continues to be feisty and a bit withdrawn, but her lack of caring what other people think comes into play when she defends a girl named Asami after hearing the other girls gossip about her. One of the things I like about this series is that it doesn’t focus only on the slowly developing romance between Mei and Yamato. The first volume shifts over to showing how Asami and Nakanishi get together, with some surprisingly insightful advice from Mei prompting Nakanishi to actually express his feelings.

The art in the first volume is a bit rough. The poses of the characters are stiff, the proportions are sometimes a bit wonky even by manga standards, and the paneling and backgrounds aren’t that interesting or detailed. But I found myself charmed anyway, just because Hazuki draws such cute faces! The art is something I’d expect to improve a bit as the series continued, and I thought that towards the end of the first volume and start of the second it was starting to look a bit smoother.

Say I Love You Volume 2 by Kanae Hazuki

One of the things that makes Say I Love You a little different from many of the other shoujo series that are translated into English, is that it is a bit more forthright when dealing with issues centering around sex. Asami is bullied because she has a well-developed figure. Aiko has a jealous crush on Yamato, and tries to drive off Mei by pointing out that she’s already slept with him. In some shoujo series this revelation would result in Mei and Yamato being kept apart for a couple chapters at least, but Mei asks him if it is true shortly after she finds out. Yamato explains the circumstances behind his encounter with Aiko as something that he regrets, and they are able to move on.

I enjoyed the bit of backstory Hazuki introduces to explain Mei and Yamato’s personalities. He has direct experience with bullying, when one of his friends was harassed so much that he transferred schools. Mei’s withdrawn nature is a bit more understandable when we see her relationship with her overprotective father, who tragically died young.

Mei slowly begins to transform a bit, growing her hair longer and meeting Yamato’s friend Kakeru, who unlike Yamato uses his popularity to sleep around with as many girls as possible. Aiko convinces him to make a pass at Mei, with predictably disastrous results. Mei abruptly leaves the restaurant, leaving food behind and Yamato immediately knows that Kakeru made a pass at her because her habit is to clean her plate every time she eats at a restaurant. Instead of Kakeru immediately becoming a sleazy villain, the next chapter explores more of his world, and the unending and undemanding devotion of his childhood friend Chiharu who actually appreciates him for reasons that go beyond his superficial popularity.

Overall, I really enjoyed the structure of the plot in Say I Love You, since the extended cast seems to be just as interesting as the main couple. With Kimi Ni Todoke wrapping up, I think Say I Love You would appeal to readers wanting something a little bit similar, but different enough to still be interesting. I bought these volumes on my kindle, and I can see myself investing in more e-book versions of this title as it comes out, for sure.

Black Rose Alice, Vol 1

Black Rose Alice Volume 1 by Setona Mizushiro

I am always happy to read silly paranormal shoujo series, as evidenced by my affection for series like Midnight Secretary and Demon Love Spell. But it is also nice to read some supernatural shoujo that is genuinely creepy, so I’m excited to see the addition of Black Rose Alice to the Shojo Beat lineup. North American readers may already be familiar with Setona Mizushiro through the series After School Nightmare, which was a very surreal series I’ve always regretted not finishing. The first volume of Black Rose Alice shows a unique and visually arresting take on the vampire genre.

The manga starts off by telling the story of Dimitri, an up and coming tenor in 1900s Vienna. He’s been taken in by a wealthy family and given the benefits of education and training that allows him to live in upperclass circles, but he’s still held apart from his adopted family in many ways. Dimitri is in love with Agnieska, the fiancee of his Theodor. Seething with unexpressed emotions, Dimitri gets trampled by a horse and almost dies. A butterfly alights on his prone body. Shortly after he wakes up he sings in a rehearsal, and shortly thereafter all the other musicians start dying in a series of improbable incidents. Dimitri notices a strange rose mark appear on the back of his neck, and a strange man names Maximillian greets Dimitri, telling him “You don’t appear to have noticed…but you are a vampire.”

Vampires in the world of Black Rose Alice are a bit like plants, as the seed of a vampire master implants itself on the fresh corpse of a handsome young man. Maximillian warns Dimitri that he may start exhibiting the personality traits and attitudes of the previous vampire that is now using Dimiri as a vessel. Dimitri scoffs at Maximilian’s advice and later sings a few bars to one of his lovers, who promptly throws herself off a balcony. As Black Rose Alice progresses, the effects of vampirism become more visually arresting. Mizushiro has a great talent for portraying horrific scenes in a surreal and yet oddly delicate way. Dimitri’s transition soon starts to have a terrible impact on the people who surround him. The concluding half of the volume flashes forward to Japan in the year 2008, where a fully vampiric Dimitri entangled himself in the lives of a high school student and his teacher for his own evil vampire reasons.

Black Rose Alice does a great job setting up an intriguing mystery through the contrast between 1900s and 2000s Dimitri, he’s innocent and tormented at first and the cold and dispassionate personalty he exhibits later in the volume represents a stark change. Mizushiro’s art does a great job portraying Dimitri’s personality shift, as well as the elements of visual horror that make the feeding habits of vampires in the world of Black Rose Alice extremely disturbing. Vampires as plants is an unusual twist on the genre, and I would recommend this manga to anyone looking for a unique supernatural shoujo series.