Sometimes when reading one wants the equivalent of a decadent Sacher-Torte and other times one might want is a Ho Ho Snack Cake. Is Harlequin manga good? Could the question essentially be meaningless? Sometimes the combination of hackneyed plot tropes and rushed manga adaptations comes together to produce something extraordinary, although most of the time I tend to find it adequate and that’s ok! Sometimes you just want to eat a Ho Ho or read a Harlequin manga. There’s fortunately plenty of selection available on Kindle Unlimited and here are three that I’ve read recently in honor of Valentine’s Day:
Valentine Vendetta by Sharon Kendrick and Miho Tomoi
Valentine Vendetta is the story of a successful party planner named Fran Fisher. Her alcoholic friend Rosie claimed to have been callously used for sex by Sam Lockhart. Rosie wants to be smuggled into a party that Fran is planning so she can confront this terrible womanizer. When Fran shows up at Sam’s house she’s a bit surprised that he’s living in a mansion in the country as a literary agent. Even more mysterious is the fact that Sam is sporting some unconvincing stubble in the first few panels that introduce him, but then he leaves Fran to take a call and comes back clean-shaven. Was he really taking a phone call? What happened with his beard? I honestly spent most of this manga speculating about stubble and wondering when it was coming back only for that mystery to remain unresolved. Sam drives Fran to the train station, and she’s immediately attracted to the messy state of the backseat of his car, it doesn’t match up with the playboy image she has in her head.
Fran just learns how wrong her assumptions were when Rosie and a pack of other women show up and cause a scene at Sam’s Valentine’s Party, and it turns out that they are all upset because they were essentially stalking him! Fran’s put her party planning business on the line for some extremely questionable reasons! Sam however keeps popping up in Fran’s life, she learns more about him and his family and eventually falling in love with him! Miho Tomoi’s adaptation is clear and easy to follow, but I would have appreciated a bit more visual interest, just because the plotline of this title was fairly bland. I wanted more vendettas!
Alexei’s Passionate Revenge by Helen Bianchin and Yu Mahara
After being a bit let down by Valentine Vendetta, I was hoping for more dramatic plot twists in Alexi’s Passionate Revenge. Revenge doesn’t work when it is too dispassionate, does it? This volume kicks off with Natalya Montgomery being blackmailed into working for the CEO who bought out her father’s company who happens to be her ex-boyfriend Alexi. Now Natalia is stuck being Alexi’s personal assistant unless she wants the secret of her father’s affairs to be released to the media. The plot of this story proceeds in a lovely smorgasbord of tropes including parental alienation, a pregnancy scare, a private villa in New Zealand, a gay best friend, and even more complications that ensured just because Alexi and Natalia had actually managed to have a conversation about their feelings before engaging in blackmail-based business practices. The character designs and illustrations for Alexi’s Passionate Revenge were a bit blocky, and not as delicate as I would have liked, although it was all adept enough. One thing I’m not a fan of is that the revenge in this story was pretty one-sided. Where’s Natalya’s revenge? I hope that she’s planning on something in the future but I won’t count on it.
Her Secret Valentine by Helen Brooks and Akemi Maki
This manga has more of the old school quality to the art that I enjoy in Harlequin manga adaptations, although even that isn’t enough to save it from a rather lackluster story with little dramatic tension. Everyone’s eyelashes are three inches long and the heroine has starry eyes all the time. In my mind, this makes up for a certain lack of detail in the backgrounds. Ward Ryan is a widower with a young daughter. Jeanie is his colleague at a law firm who has been crushing on him for years. Ward discovers her crying with frustration about her crush at the office one day and invites him home for dinner. He’s assumes that she’s crying over a man, and says that Jeanie’s imaginary boyfriend is no good for her! Jeanie helps out at Ward’s daughter’s birthday party and they grow closer, while Ward becomes more and more upset that Jeanie’s man doesn’t appreciate her. It is fairly amusing to constantly hear Ward bashing himself to Jeanie. Eventually Jeanie decides that she can’t keep nurturing her crush and quits the law firm, and Ward decides to start pursuing her. Really, there wasn’t very much dramatic tension in this story, and the curly eyelashes didn’t make up for it.
I would say that out of the three of these volumes, Alexi’s Passionate Revenge was probably the best example of the genre, there were enough inexplicable and yet entirely predictable plot twists to satisfy most Harlequin manga connoisseurs. Now that I’ve revived my Harlequin manga habit, I will continue my quest to find the perfect example of insane plot points and rose-petal filled art.