by Rinko Ueda; adapted by Tetsuichiro Miyaki
published by Viz; $9.99 US
I haven’t read the previous two books in this series, but the premise is easy enough to pick up, and quite reminiscent of a typical romance novel.
Soichiro is a rich businessman who marries Sumi in order to solve her financial problems. (I’m sure there’s some explanation earlier about what he gets out of it or why he picked her, but I’m equally sure it’s rather artificial in its plotting.) That’s Harlequin 101 — force the two protagonists together into a relationship so they’re forced to keep each other company until they realize they love each other and their pretense becomes real. These stories have the underlying assumption that marriage is sacred and so long as the end winds up correctly, the falsehoods (wedding under false pretenses) at the beginning don’t matter.
Sumi, as expected, is pretty and a great cook, making amazing homemade lunches that win over her husband’s business partners. She also has an unexpected talent at shogi (similar to chess) that comes out of nowhere, so she doesn’t seem totally dumb. But to see that part, we have to get through a long sequence of Sumi as victim and prize, kidnapped by a man she thought she’d escape her marriage with, only to find out he was obsessed and willing to let her die if it meant she couldn’t leave him. She was misled based on her naive assumptions about love, thinking that when he said he loved her, that was all she needed. Then she blames herself for the situation (and the convenient natural disaster to ramp up the danger), thinking it’s her fault the guy’s a freak. After all, girls are responsible for all aspects of romance, as stories like this remind us we’re supposed to believe.
All this means hubby gets to rush dramatically to her rescue (while having flashbacks to highly emotional moments in his past), as she whimpers, bound and gagged by her new would-be lover. Teens might enjoy the melodrama, but they might not understand why certain scenes make them feel unusual, and the underlying messages are of some concern. After being saved and nursing her husband back to health (another traditional female role stereotype that also allows her to see him half-naked), Sumi just can’t figure out why he treats her well but then pushes her away. It never occurs to her that that disfunction means he loves her — and why would it? It’s cheap love-story shorthand for emotion that isn’t at all realistic. Unfortunately, younger readers may see only the romance and the escapist fantasy of having a rich man want you and several rivals fight over you. I admit, it is quite the page-turner, with pretty people in attractive settings acting excessively, all in the name of love.
The most disturbing part of the book, however, is when the author reveals, in her notes, that she planned a chapter-introducing two-page spread of the nude heroine bound by thorny rose stems. Then common sense prevailed, and she realized “a colored image of the main character being naked wouldn’t look good” in a magazine for girls. (The publisher provided a review copy.)