Maid Sama Volume 3 by Hiro Fujiwara
While Maid Sama might not reach the heights of other new shoujo series from Tokyopop like Shinobi Life or Karakuri Odette, it continues to be a fun if very lightweight read. School President Misaki’s secret job at a maid cafe is almost revealed during a cosplay race at school, but the suave Usui comes to the rescue as always. Other problems in the third volume of Maid Sama include Misaki’s difficulties portraying other aspects of moe culture and Usui’s struggle to come up with a color to assign to her for a power ranger/fighting maid day. There are small glimpses of character development as the reader learns that Usui’s admiration of Misaki comes from seeing her try so hard in everything she does in contrast to the way he seems to be able to pick up things easily without being truly challenged. Things take a serious turn towards the end of the volume as a saboteur begins to threaten Misaki’s hard work with the student council.
I think one of my favorite aspects of the book are the full-panel drawings included at the beginning of each chapter. Misaki springs into action as Usui is dressed like Rambo in the background with a knife clenched between his teeth. Usui perches on a throne as a king with his crown at a jaunty angle. An accident at school turns Usui into a parody of a soaking-wet romance novel cover model. There were plenty of comedic outtakes with the trio of useless students who worship Misaki in her maid persona as well.
Misaki’s determination to be the best at what she does begins to extend to her job at the maid cafe when one of her co-workers accuses her of not taking the job seriously. I’m wondering if Misaki’s relentlessness will cause her to burn out so I’m hoping that she manages to take a vacation or rest day before the end of the manga.
VB Rose Volume 7 by Banri Hidaka
I previously enjoyed the first two volumes of this series about a girl and her adventures working at a bridal boutique. I intend to pick up the intervening volumes eventually, but I decided to go ahead and sample volume seven.
A “will they or won’t they” storyline can be hard to pull off compellingly. Seven volumes in and Ageha and boutique owner Arisaka are aware of their feelings for each other, but neither of them know for sure how each other feels. The age difference between Ageha and her much older boyfriend may cause some readers to worry, but I’m guessing the romance won’t actually start until after Ageha has graduated high school. The group at the boutique have a birthday celebration and Arisaka has too much to drink, leaning in and vomiting on Ageha after getting too close to her. She’s relieved to see a less than smooth side of Arisaka, since he always seems so perfect.
Arisaka is just getting ready to work up the courage to tell Ageha how he feels when a couple of developments take place that keep the would-be couple apart. Ageha finds out that the standoffish corsage maker Kana is Ageha’s ex-girlfriend. She isn’t sure how to react at the revelation that another woman is part of the inner circle of VB Rose. Ageha’s friend Nat always shows up just when she needs him to walk her home. She’s suddenly aware that he’s been growing up too, and Nat isn’t happy with the way Ageha always seems to be sad when she thinks about her feelings for Arisaka.
The clean lines and deceptive simplicity of Hidaka’s art have really grown on me. She adds plenty of details to the precious fashion creations of the characters, but some of my favorite panels in this manga were the ones where she just focused on Ageha and Arisaka’s facial expressions as they reacted to the new emotional tension that has settled between them. Arisaka’s partner Mitsu keeps the budding romance from being overly sweet, as he gleefully lurks in the background to observe his new favorite soap opera. The major strength of VB Rose is the interplay between the characters. The boutique workplace setting gives it a different feeling than most other shoujo manga, and it is fun seeing Ageha enjoy perfecting her craft, struggle with her feelings, and have fun with her co-workers. If the story and humor continue to develop as they were in this volume I’m definitely going to look forward to the next seven volumes of this manga and I won’t be resentful that the series is fourteen volumes long.
INVU Volume 5 by Kim Kang Won
Ah, I feel a little bitter about this series because I really wish Tokyopop would bring back Queen’s Knight by the same author instead. But if it isn’t selling, I guess I can understand why. I’ve actually read all four volumes of INVU, but I gave/traded them away because I thought that the rest of the series would never be published. I wished I still had the older volumes to skim through before picking up the fifth. There was a character guide and plot synopsis in the front of the book, which was quite handy.
As I was reading this I was struck that the wild soap-opera type plots would make this manhwa perfect for the Korean dama fan. Hali is in love with her teacher, forced to dress like her dead brother by her insane and abusive mother, and just starting to make her way in the fashion world as a model. In contrast with all the drama surrounding Hali, the more low key story lines of the supporting cast serve to ground the narrative a little bit. Sey and Siho’s halting progress towards romance may have reached a breakthrough point by the end of the volume, as Siho shares information about his childhood with Sei. Aspiring model Rea may achieve more success by working as a stylist.
INVU is disposable fun, but the hints of a conspiracy centered around Hali’s teacher introduce a darker theme that is much needed with all the fashion world antics. I am noticing that most of the parents in this book are either absent, insane, or controlling which ensures plenty of drama to come for the cast of teenagers.
Review copies provided by the publisher