Head on over to Manga Bookshelf for a post on the drama City Hunter! This drama has everything! Evil spies, daddy issues, romance, and covert pants.
Harlequin Manga Quick Takes from Jmanga: Avoiding Mr Right, The Celebrity Doctor’s Proposal, and Princess of Convenience
All of these Harlequin manga titles are on Jmanga.com! I’m reviewing them in order from least to most favorite.
The heroine of this story is Christina Howard, a girl who serves as a crew member on various ships and has a tendency to yell loudly in banks in Athens when they won’t give her any money. As she’s freaking out over her lack of funds, she runs into a rich bank customer named Luc who treats her to coffee and offers to lend her money to pay for a hotel room. Christina throws his money back into his face proclaiming that she doesn’t need it because she’s “an independent woman.” A independent woman who happens to be able to crash with a local friend. Luc is intrigued by the way Christina yells at bankers and messily eats croissants, thinking “she’s a type of girl I haven’t come across before.” Christina gets a job working on a ship belonging to minor royalty and keeps randomly running into Luc, who keeps plying her with coffee. Perhaps he likes his women jittery. She doesn’t want to be tied down to anyone, but feels attracted to Luc despite her general suspicion of him. It turns out that Christina has been serving as crew on his ship, getting to know his sister and his niece and nephew.
The adaptation for this series sprinkles a few good background images of the exotic setting of the story, and the art is generally clear but the characters sometimes look a little stiff and there are often panels with almost no backgrounds or details at all. Avoiding Mr Right is pretty typical of most Harlequin manga adaptations, which I’m betting are rush jobs. The story and characters are a bit on the bland side, without some of the crazy plot twists that I tend to enjoy in most Harlequin stories. Overall, this manga was so-so. Not terrible but not reaching the heights of craziness that I tend to enjoy in my Harlequin manga adaptations.
I find that Harlequin books are more enjoyable if they employ at least one or more adjectives in the title, so I was hoping for good things from The Celebrity Doctor’s Proposal. This book was more lively just due to the bickering relationship between the main characters. Anna is a doctor at a small village in a small family practice. Her boss is going on a vacation, and he brings back his son and Anna’s old frenemy Sam, who has gone onto fame as a reality TV doctor. Anna thinks Sam is a dilettante who doesn’t take medicine seriously. When she finds out that Sam is her new partner for the summer she’s extremely unhappy. Sam thinks that Anna’s overwhelmed by the volume of work and doesn’t have the time to notice that her office manager is dealing with a family crisis. As Anna spends more time with Sam she begins to realize that he might actually be a good doctor after all, celebrity status aside. The townspeople think that the pair are destined to end up with each other, and Sam’s parents arranged their vacation from the clinic in order to play matchmaker. Anna finds herself having to live at Sam’s house when the cottage she was attempting to buy exhibits structural defects. Apparently wonky windows can be a sign of structural instability instead of rustic charm. Sam and Anna have several slice of life scenes when they trade dinner chores and enjoy the beach. The character designs in The Celebrity Doctor’s Proposal have a bit of individual flair that is always nice to see in this type of manga, and overall the art is fluid and self-assured. There was plenty of time spent on the motivations and changing feelings of the bickering doctors as their relationship evolved, so overall this Harlequin manga is much better than average.
So there’s something about slightly old school shoujo art combined with the crazy plots of Harlequin books that works a strange alchemy upon me. If there’s a heroine who has improbably curly hair, a steely-eyed hero, and some sort of insanely convoluted plot involving dead ex-wives, marriages of convenience, and imaginary European countries in a Harlequin manga there’s a high probability I am going to enjoy reading it. I will enjoy reading it even more if alpacas play an important role in the plot. So this title delivers on all fronts!
Jessica, a divorced bereaved mother and fashion designer, is driving around a teeny tiny European country when she gets in a car accident with another woman dies in the crash. Sarah’s fiance Raoul visits Jessica in the hospital and is oddly philosophical about the death of his fiancee, inviting Sarah to convalesce in his castle. As one does when someone gets into a horrible car accident with the woman you were going to marry. As Jessica is sitting down to dinner with Raoul and his mother, a boorish relative bursts in and announces that they’ll have to be out of the castle in a few days. Due to the complicated inheritance laws of his country, Raoul has to be married to serve as regent, and his wedding with Sarah was going to be a marriage of convenience. Jessica hears a child crying in the castle, the heir to the throne Edouard. She decides to swoop in and comfort him. Poor Edouard has been locked in a strange room with a carnival of horrors decorating theme along with a mini-army of horrible nannies. Raoul comments “It’s diseased. This room. This country.” Not only is Raoul royalty, he’s also a Doctor who wants to go back to serving in Doctors Without Borders once his country is on the right track. Jessica decides that she’s going to help Raoul out and proposes marriage to him!
They get married but their issues aren’t over yet, as there is supposed to be a witness stationed outside their bedroom to witness the consummation of their marriage. Jessica isn’t happy about this, and she argues with Raoul on her way back to the castle, but she’s distracted by alpacas! Twin Suri alpacas that aren’t being cared for properly! She takes the alpacas back to the castle! There is a pretty hilarious scene when the witnesses to the royal consummation are startled by the sounds and conversation coming out of the bedroom, not knowing that Jessica and Raoul have set up a track and are engaged in competitive toy car racing. Hashimoto’s art has a stylized old fashioned quality that suits the charmingly erratic plot elements of this story which combines personal tragedy, evil European royalty, and cute baby alpacas. Hashimoto also illustrated one of my other favorite Harlequin manga titles, To Marry a Stranger, which features a hero with an eyepatch, and who doesn’t love heros with eyepatches? Overall, Princess of Convenience provided the exact combination of humor, slightly deranged plot, and pretty art that I enjoy most in Harlequin manga adaptations.
Electronic Access provided by the publisher
Well, seven volumes in and I think that now I’m finally willing to forgive Stepping on Roses for not being quite as effortlessly cuddly and charming as Rinko Ueda’s series Tail of the Moon. Stepping on Roses still manages to be entertaining due to its historical setting and the romantic foibles of its characters. One of the reasons why I never warmed up to the series before is because the hero Soichiro is so much of a jerk to Sumi. While there was a similar relationship dynamic at play in Tail of the Moon, overall I found the ninja protagonists much more sympathetic than the Meiji era couple in this series. But circumstances change in this volume, showing Soichiro to be much more supportive of Sumi and flexible in his way of thinking than before. Shoichiro’s enemies have executed a series of successful maneuvers that end up ousting from the presidency of his family’s company. Faced with the choice of giving up his bride of convenience to maintain his lifestyle or sticking with Sumi and living in poverty, he chooses Sumi. They move back into the shack with Sumi’s brother and her adopted siblings, and Soichiro has to adjust to living in an entirely different way. He tries to find work and fails while Sumi is holding things together at home. Eventually he realizes that one thing he can do is teach all the children in the neighborhood who can’t afford school fees.
There are plenty of funny scenes with Sumi’s family as everybody tries to adjust to their changed circumstances. Unfortunately there is absolutely no way for Soichiro and Sumi to come to terms with their feelings for each other when they’re surrounded by all of her relatives. As a villain, Nozumu has turned absolutely psychotic, maneuvering himself to take over Soichiro’s company, adopting a slicked-back hairstyle of evil, and showing up to give Sumi money, flowers, and random proposals of marriage. I’m sure Soichiro and Sumi will find a way to get out of their impoverished circumstances, even with Nozumu acting like he’s gone off his meds. Overall, this was a pleasant and diverting volume to read, mostly because Soichiro was so much more interesting when taken out of his familiar surroundings that I found myself rooting for this couple for the first time.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
When I saw the description of Tenka Ichi!! on Jmanga.com I knew I would have to read it because it contains so many plot elements that I enjoy. High school girl mysteriously transported to the past? Check! Unwittingly finding herself surrounded by handsome men? Check! Crossdressing? Check!
Tora is having a hard time fitting in at school due to her upbringing by her very traditional martial arts oriented family. Her pleas for a cell phone go unanswered, and her mannerisms make her a target of ridicule by her classmates. One day when she’s visiting a historical castle she meets a giant talking rabbit who warns her to be careful, Tora promptly freaks out, runs down a staircase, and finds herself transported back to the time period of Nobunaga. Tora is captured and sold to a mysterious one-eyed man named Muni. When Muni discovers that Tora’s a woman he remarks that he bought her because he planned to use her as a spy due to her resemblance to a dead page of Nobunaga’s. Now it is up to Tora to decide if she’s going to spy as a page or as a potential concubine for Nobunaga. Tora decides to be a boy, thinking “in this place women are defenseless.” Muni starts training Tora in marksmanship. Tora also spends time with Muni’s wife Kira, who helps her with her disguise. Some of Tora’s habits from her old life start to come in handy when it becomes clear that she might be able to set herself up as a fortune teller with her extensive knowledge of personality tests. Tora’s fortunetelling starts attracting attention and she’s summoned before Nobunaga. She manages to charm him with her inadvertently brash personality and knowledge of history. Tora is installed as a page with the capable Ranmaru, who is more than a little bit suspicious of Tora’s sudden elevation to page status.
The art in Tenka Ichi!! falls into the serviceable but not very distinct category. Everything is rendered clearly, but without that little bit of extra flair that would make me want to continue reading the manga for the art alone. Fortunately there were enough story elements in place that I was entertained. Tenka Ichi!! falls into the josei category, I think, which is why rape is treated as a real threat that Tora is constantly aware of. Her masquerade is largely due to her not wanting to be a defenseless woman trapped in the past, and the reality of this threat makes Tenka Ichi!! seem a bit grittier than similar shoujo stories that I’ve read. On the other hand, the giant rabbit in historical costume complete with ruff keeps popping up and giving Tora random bits of advice, which certainly provides a random surreal element to Tora’s adventures. A cast of handsome pages is introduced so quickly that I couldn’t really keep track of them, but I still found this volume entertaining. There’s a certain element of humor in Tenka Ichi!! that carried me through any rough patches with the story or art. It was pretty hilarious to see Tora psychoanalyzing Nobunaga with personality tests she probably first encountered in a magazine for teen girls. When Ranmaru takes Tora home because he has to teach her how to behave as a page his mother immediately starts banging gongs, sobbing and chanting to ward off the misfortune that has clearly befallen her family. This series would probably appeal to fans of Kaze Hikaru, Tail of the Moon, or From Far Away. I’m happy to see more josei that I’m interested in reading pop up on Jmanga.com.
Access to electronic copy provided by the publisher.
Skip Beat Volume 27 by Yoshiki Nakamura
I feel that the latest volume of Skip Beat can usually be summed up as “Skip Beat – still great!” In many shoujo series around the 27th volume we’ve seen some plot recycling, the introduction of a sudden fiance or evil male model, or random fights that break romantic couples apart only to bring them closer yet again. The current Heel siblings arc in Skip Beat is enormously entertaining just because it places Kyoko and Ren in close physical proximity all the time, and seeing how they each deal with their unexpressed feelings for each other while maintaining their steadfast commitment to their roles as freaky goth siblings makes the whole series seem new and fresh.
Every experience Kyoko and Ren undertake is a method acting exercise. The relatively simple act of shopping for clothes becomes a tangled transaction involving sibling manipulation and far too many pairs of pants. When Kyoko gets hit on by some random guys, is Ren’s violent reaction due to his character’s feelings for his sister or his own feelings for Kyoko? Ren seems to be approaching an emotional breaking point, but his attempts to send Kyoko away are futile. While Nakamura might draw her characters with freakishly long limbs even by manga standards, her mastery of facial expressions really helps her add more nuance and layers of meaning into the story of Skip Beat. In the more emotionally intense scenes, the reader sees not only the reaction of the character the protagonists are portraying but also the internal feelings and struggles of the actors behind the characters. Ren shifts from shock to fury almost instantaneously when he thinks that Kyoko is threatened, and his posture and aura shift so completely when he’s in character that it is easy to see how his dedication to his craft brings out the best in Kyoko’s acting as well. I’m looking forward to more emotional torture with the Heel siblings in the next volume!