by Maki Enjoji; adapted by Nancy Thistlethwaite
published by Viz; $9.99 US
Boy, am I glad I read these volumes together, because if I’d read just Book 2 alone, I would have thrown it across the room and refused to continue. But Book 3 provides some much-need forward motion to the story after the second volume’s continued reliance on having the characters refuse to talk to each other to maintain artificial suspense.
As established in the first volume, Chiwa has married Hokuto in order to pay off her father’s debts. She doesn’t want to sleep with him unless and until they love each other, while he thinks fidelity to each other is part of their contract together. He is remarkably clueless about maybe telling her how he really feels, and he relies on her understanding his actions without words, which isn’t a great basis for interacting with a naive virgin.
Book 2 introduces a temporary rival, Yu Yagami, a new employee Chiwa is asked to train. He and she become fast friends, although she’s idiot enough to rely on his advice even after he declares his interest in her. You’d think she’d realize that maybe Yu’s suggestions on how to deal with her husband weren’t totally unbiased and correct at that point, but Chiwa frequently in this volume crosses the line from naive to stupid. I shouldn’t be so hard on her, I suppose — she’s a case study in how sheltered girls aren’t given the tools they need to cope with honest, real-life romance.
(I do like Yu, and I hope we see more of him, because he asks for what he wants, doesn’t hide how he feels, and calls Chiwa out for not simply asking her husband what he thinks.)
Of course, all this isn’t helped by Hokuto’s refusal to talk about his appearance in the tabloids linked with a celebrity. Chiwa is dying to know more, but she refuses to ask. She wants so much but doesn’t take any steps to achieve her desires, instead pouting and running her mouth to everyone but the guy she should be talking with. The art does a remarkably good job making her look cute, innocent, and hurt. She’s upset that Hokuto once compared her to a chihuahua, but she really is puppy-like in attitude and expression.
The author’s treatment doesn’t help her character advance. When the two finally have a romantic dinner together, Chiwa gets sick and passes out before a key revelation. That allows her to later overhear another piece of information that becomes the next hurdle between her and Hokuto. This is all standard romance novel stuff, but it’s so creaky and obvious that it’s not enjoyable.
It also becomes disturbing when Chiwa makes some fledging attempts to avoid having Hokuto control all aspects of her life. She tries to get another job, since she doesn’t want him as both her boss and her husband, but he shuts that down by saying, “You belong to me.” I think that’s supposed to be romantic, indicative of fate, but it reads as creepy.
In Book 3, illness returns, as Chiwa takes care of her overworked husband. It’s a welcome respite, even if the situation is predictable, since it allows for more light-hearted misunderstandings and small progress in learning more about each other. That leads into the meat of the volume, as the two start exploring Hokuto’s family history. Finally, Chiwa stands up for herself and her husband.
Author Maki Enjoji has finally given us more idea of what was behind Hokuto’s acceptance of the marriage deal. He was a bastard child, and he aims to acquire and run his family’s company in spite of the black marks against him. By bringing the couple in contact with the stuffy family who despise Hokuto, Enjoji gives them a common enemy and a shared goal. That’s very welcome in moving the story beyond their refusal to talk to each other. The situation also drives some more openness between the two that I much appreciated.
There’s also a cute Christmas story that is entertainingly anti-romantic. The comedy works better for me when they two have more of an equal, although mismatched, footing. If future volumes are more like this latest installment, I’ll enjoy the series much more than its rocky start. (The publisher provided review copies.)