published by Viz; $9.99 US
Midnight Secretary Book 6
by Tomu Ohmi
The two have finally admitted their love for each other, a particularly difficult revelation for the vampire Kyohei, who sees humans as inferior. However, that in some ways makes their boss/secretary relationship more difficult, particularly when attending social events. He’s willing to go public with their relationship, although when Kaya dresses up, she looks remarkably young, a callback to her struggle with her “baby face”.
Also complicating is the presence of Kyohei’s parents, a human father and vampire mother. They love each other, but their mixed marriage has been a struggle to manage in the larger culture, so they fear for the younger couple’s coming problems. As the mother says, “Love alone isn’t enough” … but I don’t believe that will be the lasting message, since Midnight Secretary is a rather traditional romance, underneath the sex scenes and the vampire’s blood needs.
Now that they’re a couple, they’re facing more typical struggles for established pairings, such as a pregnancy scare. That leads to more conflict with the vampire clan, who are suddenly very interested in the possibility of a child. In this mythos, vampires don’t turn those they feed from; instead, if a vampire/human pair results in a child, it’s a 50-50 chance it would be another vampire (which is how Kyohei has a human father and brother).
Personally, I don’t care much for couples that suddenly go from love to wanting to spawn, so I found this abrupt focus on having a kid somewhat disconcerting. It does allow for more drama, though, with Kaya risking kidnapping and having a new subject to obsess over privately. We go from “does he see me as more than a meal?” to “he says he won’t have a child with me, does he mean it?” as the latest “why don’t the characters just talk to each other?” hidden subject. Even as I know this is cheesy and artificial in extending the story, though, I do like the characters and hope the best for them.
Happy Marriage?! Book 6
by Maki Enjoji
I keep hoping for deeper themes in this book, which is a mismatch, since by this point, I should realize that Happy Marriage?! will always go for the misunderstanding and refusal of the characters to talk to each other as symbolism for troubled relationships that still hold together. I suspect a certain type of reader likes that certainty, the reinforcement that problems can be overcome (and probably the reassurance that “at least my marriage isn’t that bad!”).
Chiwa has previously gone to the hospital to visit Hokuto’s estranged father. Her husband blames that parent for his mother’s death, and his dogged pursuit of company power is all driven by a desire to find out why. Chiwa continues to investigate on her own, which sets him off. She won’t listen to him, because she wants to help him, and he won’t trust her. (Sometimes, this is less a romance than a dark comedy about how wrong marriage can go.) After a couple of days, Chiwa discovers something new about a matter that’s obsessed Hokuto for 20 years, but I found that a bit unlikely.
The two are ridiculous in their treatment of each other. He’s working late, so she sends him to bed when he gets home, which makes him think she doesn’t want to have sex with him, while she’s trying to be considerate. He doesn’t communicate when he goes on a business trip, so she feels ignored, so she implies she’s having an affair, which sets him off, all because he wouldn’t text her back. They have to scream at each other before they bother to say what they really want and what they’re feeling.
I suppose a number of readers need to see the miscommunication in order to learn what not to do, but it just makes me want to slap some sense into them. Then comes a story where she naturally helps him in his business by being charmingly naive to powerful businessmen. Or he worries about her overworking herself, and there’s a hint of true feeling between the two. The balance isn’t what I’d choose it to be, but I can see why others would find it encouraging to see a romance that isn’t picture perfect.
Sweet Rein Book 3
by Sakura Tsukuba
The final volume of the short Sweet Rein series is also a kind of romance, as Santa Kurumi finds out that spring is mating season for the human Reindeer. As a result, Kaito, already handsome, is nearly irresistible to girls, making Kurumi jealous. The story that results has potential, but compared to the two books above, the relationship aspect falls strangely flat, with most of the chapter devoted to Kurumi’s waffling about what she wants to do. It’s a younger-aimed series, so that’s probably more age-appropriate.
Other stories in this volume feature a summer vacation where they discover a sick child who wants to make up with a playmate he treated badly; a Halloween-timed tale with a lone reindeer who makes Kaito jealous; and a final Christmas story in which a black reindeer (one separated from his Santa) finds redemption and final happiness. They’re well-intentioned, if slight, and this series length seems about right. This volume seems to be aiming at expanding the mythology and characters, but I think the potential of the concept has been about played out. Any of the books in the series would make for good light reading during the holiday season, with none of the stories strongly serialized.
(The publisher provided review copies.)