by Shigeyoshi Takagi
published by Viz; $9.99 US
Because of the need to wrap up the series quickly in this second and final volume of the series, the flow here is choppy, but there’s still plenty of entertainment in its escapist, action-movie take on romance.
In the first chapter, we meet Ran’s arranged fiancee Rinko, who was picked by his parents because it’s so important to the family business that he have the right wife. My first thought was, why can’t anyone have distinguishable names? I was already getting confused between Ran and Riko, and now Riko’s rival’s name differs from hers by only one letter.
Rinko is sexier, more outgoing (and open with her emotions and wants), and higher class (although she sure doesn’t act like it). She has it all and wants Ran for his money, since she’s also highly materialistic — at one point, they get rid of her by throwing her Birkin bag out a window so she’ll chase it. The clash is quite amusing, continuing in that exaggerated fashion. For example, when Riko takes Ran off privately to escape Rinko’s clutches, Rinko comes through the door with a chainsaw. The excess is funny, but trying to combine it with the message that RIko prefers a gift worth nothing if it has Ran’s love behind it — that’s a tough balance and not ultimately successful.
Riko’s acting like a split personality, wanting Ran, then pushing him away because she’s unsure of her own feelings. (I was reminded, at times, of the dippy heroine of Cactus’s Secret.) That kind of uncertainty can be realistic, if shown over time, but the way she swings back and forth in this chapter, so obviously that other characters comment on it, just seems rushed. Still, there are pieces of adrenaline-fueled fun, once the bombs start exploding and Rinko steals a motorcycle.
Then comes a Christmas story. Ran’s throwing a business party at his snowy country house in Northern Europe, and Riko comes along to decorate the tree. After various emotion-packed moments, there’s an important revelation — only to be followed by amnesia, so it’s like pushing the erase button. That allows the author to give the readers the moment they want without affecting the flow of the story. I suspect at this point, the end of the series wasn’t known, since given how few chapters remain, it would have made sense not to hit reset and more realistically grow their relationship.
In both this chapter and the next, Riko’s class differences and feelings of not fitting in (since she’s not “elite”) are played up, whether at the holiday or on a cruise ship where Ran’s old friend and rival Chiaki shows up to try once again to steal Riko away. In the first book, he was chasing her. Now it’s slightly reversed, with her figuring out she wants him even in the face of his business and family responsibilities that aim to keep them apart.
Strangely, she begins to she what she offers him (he’s obviously a good catch; she, less so), although we’ve moved from the appeal of her special abilities (superstrength, exaggerated athleticism) to her virtue being her everyday normalness. Which contradicts the first book, which emphasizes how she’s not normal even though she wants to be, but oh, well, gotta get the romance going quick as we move towards the end.
The exaggerated bits, as when Ran jumps a jetski onto a luxury liner, are still enjoyable, and that’s what we get in the last two chapters. Ran gets kidnapped by various assassins, and after his father refuses to rescue him, Riko leads the charge. This gets back to the action movie feel of the first, with lots of shootouts and dramatic proclamations about who’s going to kill whom. I didn’t exactly get the ending, because I think it had some cultural implications I didn’t understand. It was certainly unexpected, if a bit unexplained. Wrapping up this book, there’s also a bonus story, Takagi’s debut manga, “Warm to the Touch”, about a boy who can’t stand to be touched except by his biology teacher.