25 Mar, 2010

Hooray for Harlequin, Part 1

By: Michelle Smith, Guest Reviewer, Chloe Ferguson and Melinda Beasi

If you haven’t had a chance to check out eManga, the new digital manga portal for DMP, you really should. They’ve got lots of their BL up—some complete volumes and some just samples—as well as a smattering of titles based on Harlequin romance novels. Since there are quite a few of the latter, we thought the best way to showcase them was a special Hooray for Harlequin feature; this is part one, and part two will be posted tomorrow.

To start us off, we are joined by special guest reviewer Danielle Leigh (of Comics Should Be Good), who takes a look at The Apartment. Melinda’s up next with Honor’s Promise, followed by Michelle with Married Under the Italian Sun. Chloe wraps things up with two reviews: Prisoner of the Tower and Word of a Gentleman. Enjoy!


The Apartment

Original text by Debbie Macomber
Art by Ryo Arisawa
Harlequin K.K./SOFTBANK Creative Corp., 126 pp.
Rating: Young Adult 16+

He’s a little bit country and she’s a little bit…classical music? It isn’t just the leads’ love of different musical styles that keeps them apart, but the difference in their class status that is offered as the contrived impediment that keep the two from embarking upon a relationship in this run-of-the-mill contemporary romance.

This Harlequin manga—based on a Debbie Macomber story—is named The Apartment because a landlord has double-booked recent army vet Shaun and sheltered flutist Hilary for the same apartment. While Hilary’s delicate sensibilities are at first wounded by Shaun’s abrupt manner, it doesn’t take long before she realizes he’s a good guy and starts to fall in love with him. Meanwhile, Shaun is hung up on Hilary’s cultured upbringing, and does the dumb male thing by trying to wreck their budding relationship on purpose. For Hilary’s own good, of course.

Even for a formulaic romance, there’s next to no tension in the book and the final resolution is never in doubt. I must admit I have a secret fondness for historical romances, though I greatly appreciate a book set in a post-feminist era that generally treats the characters as equals. Although Hilary is assigned a “princess” background, she is still attempting to make it on her own as a young musician, and it is Shaun who mistakenly flaunts his masculinity as if that were an indelible class marker. While technically a “contemporary” romance, the characters’ hang-ups about the difference in their status seem rather quaint by today’s standards.

The art looks like conventional shojo, but pared down quite a bit to suit the story’s focus on maturing young adults, rather than excitable teenagers. That said, I found myself missing the impressionistic flourishes and all the storytelling excesses that often make shojo titles such a pleasure to read. In the end, this title lacked that artistic and narrative passion that makes representations of various affairs of the heart often so compelling in shojo manga.

The Apartment is available now at eManga.com.

–Reviewed by Danielle Leigh


Honor’s Promise

Original text by Sharon Sala
Art by Esu Chihara
Harlequin K.K./SOFTBANK Creative Corp., 125 pp.
Rating: YA (16+)

Though still mourning the recent loss of her mother, Honor O’Brien strives to keep her mother’s memory alive by caring for the restaurant she started after the death of her husband. When a young man from Colorado sweeps into town and sweeps Honor off her feet, she’s surprised to find herself experiencing real happiness alongside such fresh grief. She’s even more surprised to discover that the man she’s fallen for so quickly is actually in town to deliver a rather appalling truth about her own origins. Can Honor truly find love with the man whose job it is to tear down everything she’s ever known?

This manga starts out strong, easily establishing a believable whirlwind romance between Honor and her out-of-town suitor, Trace, as well as a solid foundation for Honor herself, including her close relationship with her mother and their restaurant’s built-in “family.” If Honor’s surroundings don’t exactly feel like Texas, they do feel like home and all the things (wonderful and hurtful) that go with it. Less well-developed are the story’s antagonists—long-lost relatives threatened by Honor’s arrival into their lives—which keeps the volume’s dramatic climax from truly packing a punch. The greatest sacrifice made in the name of single-volume romance, however, is the lack of time allotted to Honor’s grief after Trace’s revelation, which robs her of an opportunity to achieve real depth.

Though DMP’s adaptation suffers from stunningly sloppy lettering—pages and pages of square blocks of text artlessly pasted over rounded speech balloons—the visual storytelling is quite effective. Honor, in particular, is expressively drawn, which plays a large role in her believability, especially in the beginning.

Though the manga’s middle chapters are too rushed to support the story as well as they might in prose, Honor’s Promise is a sweet, dramatic, genuinely poignant romance.

Honor’s Promise is available now at eManga.com.

–Reviewed by Melinda Beasi


Married Under the Italian Sun

Original text by Lucy Gordon
Art by Mayu Takayama
Harlequin K.K./SOFTBANK Creative Corp., 126 pp.
Rating: Young Adult (16+)

When Angela—an actress who’s been playing a “dumb bimbo” called Angel for eight years—is jilted by her wealthy husband, she’s too weary to battle his lawyers and instead accepts an Italian villa for a divorce settlement. Upon moving to Amalfi, she meets Vittorio, the former owner who assumes a lot of negative things about her character, given the life she comes from, only to eventually be proven wrong when she makes sacrifices for the sake of the villa’s lemon grove and opens up to him about her background.

The relationship between Angela and Vittorio is rather shallow, but I suppose that’s what happens when a full-length novel is condensed into a short manga like this one. It’s entertaining for the most part, but sometimes they behave inexplicably seemingly only for the purpose of putting an obstacle in the way of their just being happy together. There’s also a pretty unusual twist on the love triangle idea, resulting in some amusing scenes of the unlikely threesome sightseeing together.

Mayu Takayama’s art is fairly attractive, though pages have a tendency to look a bit too busy when depicting the villa and its grounds. My main quibble with the visual presentation of the book is actually not the lettering—which, as other bloggers have noted, doesn’t even try to fit into the word balloons—but with the grammar problems in the text. Sometimes these are minor (“Can’t… breath…”), but sometimes they affect the meaning of what’s being said: “I think I will thank you” and “I think I will, thank you” mean two different things to me.

As a final note… guess what never happens in this book, despite its title?

Married Under the Italian Sun is available now at eManga.com.

–Reviewed by Michelle Smith


Prisoner of the Tower

Original text by Gayle Wilson
Art by Karin Miyamoto
Harlequin K.K./SOFTBANK Creative Corp., 126 pp.
Rating: Young Adults (16+)

There are, essentially, two kinds of bad shojo in the world: the irredeemably awful, and hence “just plain bad,” and the bad-yet-enjoyable, a class of works that manages to strike the right note between trashy and good to achieve the coveted “guilty pleasure read” status. Thankfully, Prisoner of the Tower features far more of the latter than the former, turning its all-too-familiar bag of chance meetings, mistaken identities and Regency lovers into a middling, if solid, dose of girl comics. A slightly older central pair keeps the focus from devolving into the typical tale of star-crossed young’uns; the youthful girl and boy are here replaced by a widow with a ward in tow and a troubled war veteran, whose post-traumatic stress from wars on the Continent is apparently Regency’s most popular “troubled male” trope.

Still, the combination of high melodrama and an almost retro sparkling look on the part of Miyamoto call to mind (not unpleasantly) some of shojo’s earliest soaps, a la Glass Mask or Candy Candy. It’s a bit like a thick slab of chocolate cake in comic form; nutritionally empty, but it goes down easy and sweetly, even if one is left feeling slightly ill afterward. Granted, there are better romantic one-shots out there, but for period piece fans with a taste for dramatic flair, Prisoner of the Tower remains nonetheless a perfectly serviceable (if forgettable) outing.

Prisoner of the Tower is available now at eManga.com.

–Reviewed by Chloe Ferguson


Word of a Gentleman

Original text by Lyn Stone
Art by Tsukiko Kurebayashi
Harlequin K.K./SOFTBANK Creative Corp., 126 pp.
Rating: Young Adults (16+)

Taken completely objectively, Lyn Stone’s decidedly middle-of-the-road text for Word of a Gentleman will neither thrill nor offend Regency romance fans: spirited heroine forms (initially) purely convenient marriage contract with rakish nobleman; dangerous hijinks, falling in love, discoveries of tormented past ensue. And yet, it’s hard to willingly suspend disbelief and switch off the brain for a bit when Tsukiko Kurebayashi’s decidedly less than serviceable art reminds us why a sense of space and proportion should underlie every mangaka’s career. Gangly arms! Mangled hands! Awkward spaces! Junk-food stories are best consumed with a heavy sugar coating of good artwork, and the dearth of quality here will likely leave readers choking.

So too are unfortunate side effects of crushing a multi-hundred page novel into some 120-odd comic pages readily evident in both art and plot. Despite a supposed sense of urgency permeating the events, individual moments feel starved of importance: it’s a series of empty romance pictures, strung together by panels of tone. Plenty of tone. Overflowing, omnipresent backgrounds and squares of tone that substitute both for location and act as a rather bland way of signaling to the reader that (drama drama!) time is ticking…not that you’ll care in the end. There’s nothing wrong with indulging in a little mindless Regency now and again—but when the mindless indulgence becomes a distracting slog through terrible art, it may be time to look elsewhere for your romance kicks.

Word of a Gentleman is available now at eManga.com.

–Reviewed by Chloe Ferguson

Complimentary digital access provided by DMP.

All images copyright © Harlequin.

3 Responses to "Hooray for Harlequin, Part 1"

2 | Hurray for Harlequin!

March 30th, 2010 at 3:04 am

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[...] two manga I reviewed were Honor’s Promise (Original text by Sharon Sala, Art by Esu Chihara) and the surprisingly charming Only By Chance [...]

3 | Reading Over Shoulders | Extremely Graphic

April 2nd, 2010 at 10:48 am

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[...] folks at Manga Recon offer lots of reviews in a Hooray to Harlequin feature. Here’s part 1 and part 2. yahooBuzzArticleId = window.location.href; Categorized under: entertainment, [...]

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