Stepping on Roses, Vol. 1
By Rinko Ueda
Published by Viz Media
Rated T+ (Older Teen)
Sumi Kitamura is in a bind. Her older brother (a happy-go-lucky male escort with a gambling problem) has a habit of bringing home orphaned children for her to take care of. Unfortunately, what he rarely brings home is money. With the landlady looming and loan sharks at her door, Sumi decides to sell herself in order to keep her family alive and together. The buyer is Soichiro Ashida, a wealthy, jaded young man who must marry immediately in order to inherit his grandfather’s business empire. Soichiro promises Sumi all the money she needs in exchange for her hand in (loveless) marriage. Desperate, Sumi agrees, but is she really prepared to give up everything she loves for a the life of a lonely society wife?
When it comes to frothy romance manga, there are allowances most readers are always prepared to make. Realism? Unnecessary. Depth? Optional. Cliché? Bring it on! In return, these readers ask for just one thing: Romance–heart-stopping, unrestrained, no holds barred romance. Unfortunately, though Stepping on Roses takes full advantage of its readers’ generosity, it fails to deliver on its end of the bargain.
Though Sumi and Soichiro are positioned perfectly for their roles as the plucky commoner and guarded aristocrat who unexpectedly find love while trapped in a marriage of convenience, neither is interesting enough for them to develop any real chemistry. Soichiro is cold and controlling like so many of his ilk, but without any real sense of mystery with which to attract readers, let alone Sumi. Meanwhile, Sumi is bland, dense, and surprisingly shallow–more distraught over having lost out on a chance with Soichiro’s charming best friend than she is about the family she left behind (or even the calculated erosion of her individuality). Gags involving Sumi’s lack of social refinement repeatedly fall flat. And without any context provided for the story’s Meiji Era setting, it’s hard to know what conclusion to draw when her ignorance of western manners and customs is characterized as near-barbarianism.
Rinko Ueda’s artwork, a highlight of her series Tail of the Moon, feels tired and lifeless here. The work is nicely detailed and generally attractive (especially its period settings and dress), but offers little character or passion, much like the story itself. Even opportunities to engage readers in the unique dynamics of the period, visually or otherwise, are passed by with little enthusiasm.
Though it’s tempting to hope that subsequent volumes may offer something more to grab onto, even dedicated fans of romance manga may find their optimism hanging by a string. With all its trappings carefully in place, Stepping on Roses simply lacks heart.
Review copy provided by the publisher.