I’ve been curious to check out the manga adaptations of Harlequin romance titles, and the folks at emanga were kind enough to load up my reading list with a sampling of titles, so expect to see a few reviews of these titles over the next few weeks. I find them absolutely hilarious summer reading. For all I might make fun of the romantic cliches contained in these titles, I tend to think of Harlequin as a really progressive and savvy publisher. They started an early ebook initiative. They have imprints that you might not instantly recognize as Harlequin, like Mira and Luna (for sci-fi and fantasy books). They also have a Young Adult line. So I was honestly not surprised to see that they’d licensed their books in Japan with Ohzora Publishing to provide stories for manga adaptations since 1998. I decided to start with a sampling of books that had the word “Bride” in the title.
The Sheikh’s Reluctant Bride by Ayumu Aso and Teresa Southwick
A girl named Jessica travels to an Arabian kingdom to look for her long-lost relatives. She’s met at the airport by a handsome man in a suit who turns out to be the prince of the country, Kardahl. He is known more for his womanizing ways than his performance of his princely duties. Jessica is shocked when he announces that she’s going to be his wife. Unfortunately Jessica has a bad habit of not paying close attention to documents that she signs that she’s unable to read in a foreign language, and sure enough she has signed a marriage contract with the prince! Of course they agree to act as if they’re married, and Jessica fins out that Kardahl is not a womanizer but a man haunted by his past and only she can heal his emotional wounds. I found the art in this title not very well executed, but sort of charmingly over the top. Both main characters have bee-stung lips that would make Angelina Jolie jealous. Kardahl has a terminal case of the pointy chin, as his face often looks like a triangle with a nose. There are so many sparkles on every page, it should be called the “The Sheikh’s Reluctant but Inadvertently Twinkling Bride”.
The Sheikh’s Contract Bride by Teresa Southwick and Keiko Okamoto
Funnily enough, Sheikhs seem to have a habit of importing foreign women to marry. In The Shiekh’s Contract Bride there are some twin identity switching shenanigans as a bonus. This book serves a sort of sequel to the Shiekh’s Reluctant bride, since the Sheikh in question is the brother of Kardahl.
The production quality for these manga, particularly the lettering isn’t great. There were many spots where there were empty word balloons or awkward placement of the English lettering. I tend to be more forgiving of these glitches in electronic only editions, but it did make for a more awkward reading experience. Adina and Alina are identical twins, and the eldest twin Adina has been promised to a Shiekh and trained to be a queen since birth while Alina was ignored by their ambitious father. Adina falls in love before she was supposed to meet her fiance, so the sisters switch places. Alina introduces herself to Malik as Beth, and they begin an unconventional courtship. Beth starts quizzing Malik about his views on arranged marriage and he finds his future wife interesting since she’s not the modest and submissive woman he was expecting. The art on this title still as a bit of a rushed quality, as I would expect that these volumes are production line type adaptations. But the character designs were a lot more attractive than the ones in The Shiekh’s Reluctant Bride.
Sale or Return Bride by Kazuko Fujita and Sarah Morgan
I really liked the title of this manga because it made me think of someone picking out a bride at Filene’s Basement, not liking her even at bargain prices, and then returning her for a different model. I thought that this was the most entertaining title of the three I sampled, because while being forced to marry desert princes with topaz eyes the color of the sand is fine, evil scheming grandfathers make for a more entertaining story. I knew I was going to be reading something good when the second page proclaimed “A blond beauty spoiled by a wealthy Greek family. This was the bride’s profile. But behind this mask lay a cruel plot of vengeance.” I’m all about cruel vengeful plots in romance novels!
Alesia is stunned when her grandfather tells her that she’s going to marry Sebastian Fiorukis. Their families have been locked in a hate-filled business rivalry for decades. Furthermore, the Fiorukus yacht was the site of a horrible accident that killed Alesia’s brother, injured her mother, and left Alesia barren. Alesia’s grandfather decides that he’ll complete his revenge on the Fiorukis family by ensuring that their family line will not continue to the next generation due to Alesia’s inability to have children. Alesia is willing to go along with the charade because she’ll be able to get money from her new husband to pay for her mother’s much needed surgery. She’s embarrassed at the clothes that her grandfather insists she wear before she meets her new husband but her grandfather snaps “Be quiet! It’s just right for catching that man’s attention! Remember you are my air-headed, luxury loving grand-daughter!”
The art in Sale or Return Bride was the best of the three. It felt to me like the artist had more time to plan out and execute the illustrations for the manga adaptation. Alesia and Sebastian are both blessed with long curly hair, and the artist does a good job showing Alesia’s embaressment and repressed rage as she attempts to portray the idiot heiress she’s supposed to be. Of course her true nature shows through and while Sebastian and Alesia originally approach the marriage as though they are enemies their growing attraction to each other turns the marriage into a real one.
These were all quick reads – I felt like I breezed through these titles in around half the time it would take to read a more serious or artful manga. But as the manga equivalent of summer beach reads, these titles worked very well if you find romance novel and shoujo art cliches amusing. I’m going to check out more of these Harlequin manga in the future, they’re perfect to read when you want to be diverted by something light and silly.
Access to electronic copies of titles provided by the publisher.