26 Mar, 2010

Hooray for Harlequin, Part 2

By: Michelle Smith, Melinda Beasi, Jennifer Dunbar and Connie C.

We’re back with part two of Hooray for Harlequin, our look at the manga adapted from Harlequin romances currently being hosted at DMP’s eManga site. This installment features five more stories of happily ever after. To get us started, Michelle reviews Jack and the Princess, a simple yet effective tale, followed by Jen whose take on Keeping Luke’s Secret is generally complimentary. Melinda finds Only By Chance to be a breath of fresh air while Connie encounters mixed results with her two picks, The Sheikh’s Contract Bride and To Marry McAllister.


Jack and the Princess

Original text by Raye Morgan
Art by Junko Okada
Harlequin K.K./SOFTBANK Creative Corp., 126 pp.
Rating: Young Adult (16+)

Karina, the 22-year-old princess of Nabotavia, is going to be returning to her home country soon and getting married to an aristocrat of her aunt’s choosing. Lonely and looking to enjoy her final summer of freedom, she attempts to befriend Jack, the new head of security for her uncle’s Beverly Hills residence and only other young person around. Jack’s resistant at first, owing to the gulf between their social circumstances, but the extent of Karina’s isolation coupled with her resigned acceptance of her duties prompts his interest in her to grow and, in what will come as a surprise to no one, they fall in love.

The result is a sweet romance that, even though it contains far too many kidnapping attempts for a story this short, works well in the manga format. I think the reason Jack and the Princess was able to be adapted from the original novel so successfully is that the story is so simple. Lonely princess meets suspended cop who sees the woman, not the title. That’s essentially all that’s going on here, and while it’s definitely nothing new, the end result is still satisfying.

Junko Okada’s clean and attractive artwork complements the story well, with shades of early shojo in Karina’s character design and an appropriately studly look for Jack. While lettering problems persist—some of these lines really could fit the bubbles with only minor tweaking—this volume is completely free from grammatical errors and the script reads smoothly.

The original novel is evidently the first in a series (Catching the Crown) featuring more members of the Nabotavian royal family hooking up with ordinary folks. I have no idea if the others received the manga treatment, but if they show up on eManga, I’ll definitely check ‘em out.

Jack and the Princess is available now at eManga.com.

–Reviewed by Michelle Smith


Keeping Luke’s Secret

Original text by Carole Mortimer
Art by Hinoto Mori
Harlequin K.K./SOFTBANK Creative Corp., 128 pp.
Rating: 16+

When the aging actress Rachel Richmond calls young female historian Leonie Winston to her home, Leonie has absolutely no clue that Richmond is going to request that Leonie be her biographer. Not that Leonie hasn’t been published, but her first book was a biography of her grandfather. She’s stunned at the request, especially since thirty years prior, Rachel gave birth to a son she called Luke. The identity of Luke’s father is a secret to everyone but Rachel and Luke—hence the title. Luke fights against his mother giving up this information, thinking Leonie to be just another opportunist, but there’s a reason Rachel contacted this particular historian, and those reasons will shake Luke’s world to the core.

Interestingly, this manga adaptation of Keeping Luke’s Secret is the first time this title has been published in the United States. I’m not sure why—this version, at least, works just fine. Well. Sort of. I mean, the art falls into awkward angles sometimes and I absolutely do not understand why the boyfriend Leonie has at the beginning of the story has to gradually morph into king of all dirtbags in order to make room for Luke. They could just grow apart like adults, but I guess that’d be asking too much. Still, this is a pleasant enough diversion for a springtime afternoon.

Keeping Luke’s Secret is available now at eManga.com.

–Reviewed by Jennifer Dunbar


Only By Chance

Original text by Betty Neels
Art by Chieko Hara
Harlequin K.K./SOFTBANK Creative Corp., 126 pp.
Rating: YA (16+)

Henrietta Cowper is a low-level assistant to an insufferable physician at a London hospital. Adam Ross-Pit is a well-respected surgeon at the same facility. When Henrietta falls ill in the middle of her shift, Adam forces her into an extended hospital stay, ultimately resulting in the loss of her apartment and her job. Feeling responsible, he steps in to take care of her cats and ends up finding her housing and a new job as well—as a tour guide in a large manor near his country home. Though Henrietta and Adam are each drawn to one another, their social stations place them worlds apart. Is it possible for two gentle souls like these to overcome societal barriers?

Very little happens over the course of this manga, but that’s actually what makes it work so well. While more ambitious stories fall to pieces under the constraints of manga adaptation, this simple, quiet romance slips perfectly into place with no obvious cuts or awkward shifts in tone. There’s no real drama here—no true villains or any genuine conflict. The romance is inevitable but lazily pleasant, like sunlight on a Sunday morning or a cat stretching out after a long nap. Do these comparisons sound ridiculous? They’re not. If you’re now picturing a lazy cat stretching in the sun, you’re actually right on track.

Betty Neels’ protagonists are sweet in an vintage sort of way, reminiscent of the quieter characters of Louisa May Alcott or L.M. Montgomery, perfectly matched by Chieko Hara’s old-fashioned shojo character designs. The art is a real highlight of this volume overall, especially in terms of pacing and emotionally rich imagery. Though the lettering is as sloppy as all the books in this series, its stodgy font choice actually feels rather appropriate.

Though Only By Chance delivers neither high drama nor epic romance, this gentle little love story is truly a breath of fresh, spring air.

Only By Chance is available now at eManga.com.

–Reviewed by Melinda Beasi


The Sheikh’s Contract Bride

Original text by Teresa Southwick
Art By Keiko Okamoto
Harlequin K.K./SOFTBANK Creative Corp., 128 pp.
Rating: Young Adult (16+)

Adina does not wish to go through with her arranged marriage to Malik, a powerful sheikh who was chosen as her husband by her father. She has fallen in love with another, but is too timid to tell her father or her fiancé. Instead, her twin Beth volunteers to go to the sheikh and break up the marriage so that Adina doesn’t have to rock the boat herself. But Beth finds herself falling for Malik and encouraging him rather than breaking things up.

I got exactly what I was looking for in this volume: a sweet story that was easy to read and follow. There’s not a whole lot of depth to the characters or story, and it’s not hard to tell where it’s going, but it was still enjoyable. I liked that Beth’s forwardness was what Malik was drawn to, and I also liked that he was a pretty nice guy, because so often in this type of story the powerful man is a jerk who is brought low or made vulnerable in order to give the heroine an opportunity at his soft side. The relationship between Beth and Malik is very natural and very slowly developed, and the subtlety surprised me. There is a twist at the end that threatens to wreck things (aside from the fact she’s been passing herself off as her twin sister), and of course it doesn’t amount to much in the end, but it was still appreciated.

It’s not going to win any awards, and I’m sure anyone not looking for a romance manga would find it extremely boring, but anyone who’s interested will probably be satisfied with it in the end. And I can’t argue with the e-manga format.

The Sheik’s Contract Bride is available now at eManga.com.

–Reviewed by Connie C.


To Marry McAllister

Original text by Carole Mortimer
Art By Junko Murata
Harlequin K.K./SOFTBANK Creative Corp., 128 pp.
Rating: Young Adult (16+)

Brice is a famous painter who is hired by the millionaire Richard to do a portrait of Sabina, his fiancé and a famous supermodel. But Sabina feels uncomfortable around Brice and continually avoids him. Brice comes on hard in situations where he forces Sabina to meet, and before long, he finds himself falling for the aloof woman. Sabina wants to stay faithful to Richard, but also feels chemistry for Brice. How will the situation work itself out?

The answer to the above question is a pretty obvious one, given the fact Richard is older and fairly sinister and Brice is a young and romantic artist. The story was an interesting one, and while it trod in familiar territory, I do like these Harlequin manga for following a completely different set of clichés than typical shojo manga. I liked this story less than the others I’ve read, however, since there was almost no chemistry between the couple. It was a shock to me when Brice declared his feelings, since he seemed more interested in pushing Sabina’s buttons, and it was even more surprising and abrupt when Sabina began to reciprocate.

There is also a secondary story about an obsessed fan that is handled badly and winds up being irrelevant, anyway. I did like the older characters and more mature emotions on display, though, which I do give it some credit for. There are better Harlequin titles out there, but if you’ve got an itch for the mature rich people story, this will do nicely.

To Marry McAllister is available now at eManga.com.

–Reviewed by Connie C.

Complimentary digital access provided by DMP.

All images copyright © Harlequin.

5 Responses to "Hooray for Harlequin, Part 2"

2 | Kate

March 26th, 2010 at 2:59 pm

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Somehow I had never made the connection that all these electronic Manga might be available on various e-reader platforms. (These Harlequin ones seem to mostly be available for the Kindle, for example).

I really don’t like reading books on the computer, which was my biggest problem with this proliferation of manga in electronic form. I haven’t bought an e-reader yet, but this is definitely a point in its favor. (Though the price points are still too high — an ebook is worth way way less to me than its physical counterpart.)

3 | Michelle Smith

March 26th, 2010 at 3:43 pm

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DMP seems to be the sole manga publisher who has really embraced the Kindle. I can’t think of anyone else off the top of my head who has titles available there.

That said, I found the interface for reading things on eManga to be decent and easy to use. It’s not my preferred method for reading things, but it works great for review copies, when you might not want to really own and store the physical book afterwards.

4 | Kate

March 27th, 2010 at 12:52 pm

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I can totally see that for reviews.

As sad as I am to see the ARC go the way of the dodo, I totally support the format for eARC too.

But I still want to hold my real books that I paid for in my hands. Or get a steep discount. (I feel like if I say it enough times maybe it’ll come true.)

5 | Reading Over Shoulders | Extremely Graphic

April 2nd, 2010 at 10:49 am

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[...] 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, reading [...]

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