Tokyopop had the good sense to package a manga preview with the final volume of Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket, introducing four series to readers of its most popular series. For me, the results were mixed.
Ten pages weren’t nearly enough to have any idea what Taro Shinome’s KimiKiss is about, if anything, though the cover with the busty girl pulling her shirt off makes me wonder exactly the nature of the crossover audience might be. Kazuko Furumiya’s Bloody Kiss is about hot vampires and has an awful title, so I feel safe in assuming it’s not for me. The first line of the sample of Princess Ai: The Prism of Midnight Dawn (created by Courtney Love and Stuart “D.J. Milky” Levy, story by Stuart “D.J. Milky” Levy, written by Christine Boylan, art by Misaho Kujiradou) is “Mama! Who pays the birds to sing?” which made me both snicker and cringe, and I really want the time back that I spent typing that sentence probably as much as you want the time back that you spent reading it.
Fortunately, the sampler also includes some pages of Banri Hidaka’s V.B. Rose, which I liked enough to head out and buy the first volume. Having read the first volume, I plan to buy more. So, marketing has yielded at least some return.
The things that grabbed me about the sample were that the heroine did stuff – designing and sewing handbags – and had a personality – not a great one, but a plausible and interesting one. Her name is Ageha, and she’s a high-school student. As the story begins, her older sister, Hibari, announces that she’s pregnant and going to be married. Hibari and her parents are delighted; her boyfriend is a good guy, and they’d planned to marry anyway, so it’s just an acceleration of the inevitable with the bonus of a grandchild.
Ageha is less pleased; in fact, she’s furious. She resents anything that she perceives as taking her sister away, and a new husband and baby feel like the final straw. This makes Ageha sound unbearably selfish, and she kind of is, but she’s aware that she’s being unreasonable. She makes concerted efforts to support Hibari, but her adolescent temper bubbles to the surface as often as she’s able to suppress it.
She accompanies Hibari to an appointment with her dressmakers, a handsome pair of young men who run the titular design shop. To Ageha’s surprise, Ageha’s already met them, and they know her by reputation; Hibari has proudly shown them Ageha’s accessories. Mitsuya, the pattern maker, thinks Ageha is adorable. Yukari, the designer-owner, thinks she’s an insufferable brat, though talented. The beauty part is that they’re both right. After some predictable but well-executed twists, Ageha ends up helping the boys make Hibari’s dress, partly to atone for her bad attitude and partly to prove her promise as a designer.
I really like the way Hidaka handles Ageha’s shifting moods. Her outbursts aren’t predictable, but they’re realistic. I like that Ageha is working to be less of a brat and that she doesn’t experience some instant epiphany that turns her into a bland, shôjo princess. The rest of the cast is fun, too. Hibari has a sweet, unflappable serenity of someone whose life has come together. Yukari may be a bit of a lite version of George from Paradise Kiss, but V.B. Rose is kinder and gentler, so it makes sense. And it’s fun to see how Yukari has got Ageha’s number.
It’s an attractive book with lots of visual sparkle and style, which is only appropriate given its subject matter. Hidaka is also up for low comedy, which keeps the shimmer in check. My only complaint about the book is the singular blandness of its cover, which does nothing to communicate its energetic charms.