published by Digital Manga
Digital Manga, at their book site emanga.com, recently gave reviewers the chance to check out a variety of their titles online. I thought I’d take the opportunity to see what their Harlequin offerings (manga adaptations of romance novels) looked like.
My Background With Romance
First, the caveats: like most women, I have read romance novels in the past (although most recently, I’ve been dabbling in the smutty imprints, like Blaze), and while many of them are incredibly formulaic, that’s not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to giving readers a satisfactory version of what they’re expecting. I am impressed by just how many different variations and subgenres there are within the romance genre. I’ve also tried the Harlequin manga previously briefly published here by Dark Horse.
Out of the 14 titles available to me to sample, I immediately ruled out the historicals and any related to nurses, doctors, or hospitals. (“Nurse novels” are a large branch of Harlequin publications, but I don’t care for them because of their reliance on the caring and caretaking female archetype.) I also don’t care for any of the forced marriage books — if I want to see characters fooling around, I don’t need some weird “we must marry to keep the title/restore the kingdom/produce an heir/keep a family bargain/make the baby legitimate/get the money I need to save a beloved relative” legal justification to make their sex morally acceptable. There are a lot more of these than you might imagine, usually with a title like “The Sheikh’s Reluctant Bride” or something else that mentions a title or a faraway land or lots of money.
(Along those lines, although not emanga, these were all Harlequin books published this month: The Desert King’s Housekeeper Bride; Ruthless Magnate, Convenient Wife; The Infamous Italian’s Secret Baby; Pure Princess, Bartered Bride; The Rich Man’s Blackmailed Mistress; The Multi-Millionaire’s Virgin Mistress; and The Greek Tycoon’s Reluctant Bride. I swear they have a computer program that generates this stuff.)
So what was left?
A young musician with an over-protective mother lives on her own for the first time. However, there’s a problem with the house she’s rented — due to an oversight, it was also rented to a young man! Since the landlords have gone on vacation for six weeks, they’ll have to find a way to cohabitate.
The first thing I noticed was the awful lettering. It’s typeset, with standard fonts that don’t work at all with the art. It looks like someone’s stripped in the dialogue with a label-maker. I’m sure it’s cheap and effective to do such computer lettering, but I found it ugly and off-putting. (And there’s no excuse for the typos, like the wrong “Who’s” or the wrong punctuation.) Plus, the English takes up more space than the Japanese, resulting in dialogue spilling out of the balloons.
More significantly, the order of captions and dialogue was sometimes wrong. I tried to read all of the text in a panel, only to find out that the intended flow jumped back and forth, not the natural way to read.
The artistic choices also confused me. I kept feeling that the panels were too small, that the action I was supposed to be noticing was cramped. The result was hard to read (in a different way than the above) and felt as though the original material had been cut too much in adapting it to manga, that the artist was trying to shove too much into the space she had available. The best part about the art was how attractive the couple was.
The biggest problem with manga adaptations of romance novels, I think, is that there’s little room for the internal monologue. With the book, the reader can wallow in the protagonist’s emotions, so her change from fear to confusion to growing attraction to love makes sense, as the reader follows along her path. With the manga, we mostly see actions, so they can seem abrupt in changing how the two relate to each other.
Once I told you the premise, I bet you knew what was going to happen, and so it did, predictably, with the requisite stubborn determination to keep them apart (temporarily) and the odd coincidence to bring them together. Aside from the technical caveats of the presentation, this is a slight story, a pleasant way to while away an hour or two, faithful to the genre with its message of “love conquers different tastes and class distinctions”.
This one falls into another classic pattern of the genre: rich, successful man missing someone to care for needs to learn the importance of love above all. It’s also part of a series, but the other books weren’t adapted, apparently. That means two of the main characters are referenced but not in detail — their stories are elsewhere, which I found vaguely annoying.
Justin was neglected as a child but is now a self-made millionaire. When checking out a preschool for possible charity donation, he collapses, and the pretty teacher gets him to a hospital. His near-death experience makes him reconsider the way he’s put money first in his life. He thinks it’s his mission from God to find something more meaningful to do, but he may not like the family option he’s given.
I didn’t care much for the figure work in this one, early on — the girl looks like she’s out of an 80s shojo, all curls and eye sparkles, while he’s drawn much more roughly, almost as though he belongs in a Korean manhwa. But then the children appeared — the girl takes care of three orphans, her niece and nephews — and they’re absolutely adorable.
I also didn’t realize it was one of the “marriage, then love” stories I was ragging on earlier, based on the description. Even with that plot device, it was kind of cute in the way it drew the couple together gradually.
That’s enough for now — too many at once and they all blur together. Oh, I should also say that I found the reader easy to resize and navigate, which made it easy to read these books even on my laptop.