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Review: Two New VIZ Shojo Titles

VIZ released two new shojo titles this spring, both of which feature young women facing the idea of marriage.

Stepping on Roses, vol. 1
Rinko Ueda
Age Rating: OT/Older Teen
VIZ, April 2010, ISBN: 978-1-4215-3182-3
200 pages, $9.99

Sumi Kitamura is in dire straits. Her good-looking, but useless brother Eisuke is supposed to be supporting the family, but instead of money, he always brings home orphans for Sumi to take care of. The kids depend on her and she loves them, but she can barely find the money to feed them and pay the rent. Just when things are at their darkest and Sumi is prepared to sell her body to save the children, she receives a very different sort of proposition: marriage! But who is Shoichiro Ashida and why is he so desperate for a bride?

None of Ueda’s stories–such as her ninja romance series Tail of the Moon (VIZ)–are going to win points for feminism, but something about Stepping on Roses was especially anti-girl. The story takes the idea of the plucky girl sacrificing herself for others just a bit too far. Sumi’s desperation to save her family is admirable, but Ashida has such a horrible personality that it is hard to imagine how Ueda will manage to make this story into a romance. It seems likely that his hardened heart will be warmed by her sweet personality, though she’s not the brightest of people, making them so mismatched as to be unbelievable as a couple. There is a complication, in the form of Ashida’s handsome and charming best friend, but that element also seems like a set-up for a typical romance novel switch: nice guy turns out to be evil. Sumi’s story is set during the Meiji Era (1868-1912), though it is not clear exactly when. Unfortunately nothing on the back of the book or at the beginning of the story made that historical setting clear, making for confusing reading at first. The art is pretty enough and readers who love costumes will enjoy Sumi’s dresses. But attractive art is not enough to make up for a predicable plot and unappealing characters.

Flower in a Storm, vol. 1
Shigeyoshi Takagi
Age Rating: OT/Older Teen
VIZ, May 2010, ISBN 978-1-4215-3241-7
200 pages, $9.99

Riko Kunimi tries hard to be normal, but when you’ve got superhuman abilities that’s hard to do. Her quest for normalcy is made even more difficult with the arrival of Ran Tachibana. Ran is the most powerful 17-year-old in Japan. He has money, looks, and works in finance and he has decided that Riko will make the perfect bride. But his crazy behavior and over-the-top stunts just force Riko to show off her abnormal skills and that’s not going to win him her heart!

Takagi’s odd little romance might speak to fans of Bisco Hatori’s Ouran High School Host Club (VIZ). It has a similar art style–sharply pointed faces with heavy-lidded, knowing eyes–and a similar wacky, rich-meets-middle-class plot line. Unfortunately Takagi’s story does not have the spark that makes Ouran High School Host Club so enjoyable to read. The characters are too flat. Takagi is over-the-top and Riko is resistant to his charms, but that is all the detail we get about them. Even though the first volume is mostly just set up for the rest of the story, nothing in here is gripping enough to motivate readers on to future volumes.

Both Flower in the Storm and Stepping on Roses are appropriately rated OT/Older Teen. There is discussion of sexual matters, some comedic violence, and some language in both series, but nothing beyond the appropriateness level of an average YA graphic novel collection. If you’re desperate to add new shojo romances to your library’s collection, then Flower in the Storm vol. 1 is not a bad pick. It has more substance than Stepping on Roses vol. 1 and is a nice read-alike for Ouran High School Host Club. But these are two series that you can comfortably pass on and wait for something stronger to come along.

This review is based on complimentary copies supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © VIZ.

Snow Wildsmith About Snow Wildsmith

Snow Wildsmith is a writer and former teen librarian. She has served on several committees for the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Services Association, including the 2010 Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She reviews graphic novels for Booklist, ICv2's Guide, No Flying No Tights, and Good Comics for Kids and also writes booktalks and creates recommended reading lists for Ebsco's NoveList database. Currently she is working on her first books, a nonfiction series for teens.

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