Manga-ka: Minoru Toyoda
Publisher: Del Rey
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: October 2006
Synopsis: “Hoshino’s never been afraid to tell Negishi just how he feels about her. Hoshino loves Negishi heart and soul–after all, she’s his very first love. But suddenly it’s gotten harder to share his feelings, because now he’s feeling something he’s never felt before: jealousy! The new boy at school, Wakaba, has a major crush on Negishi. And when Wakaba and Negishi become friends, Hoshino gets worried. Is Negishi pulling away from him? And will Hoshino’s silence only make things worse?”
Love Roma is basically a one-trick pony, but if you like the trick then it’s still pretty entertaining. Much of the humour in the series comes from the characters being painfully straightforward, especially the male lead Hoshino. Hoshino isn’t mean-spirited in his bluntness, in fact he’s usually just trying to tell his girlfriend Negishi how much he loves her. Sometimes she gets the message, other times she whacks him over the head for being an idiot. Rinse, wash and repeat and you have Love Roma.
Another source of humour is how extreme Hoshino takes everything. For example, in the first story, ‘Track #19: Run, Hoshino’ Hoshino turns the school’s annual marathon into a way to show Negishi how much he loves her. This means coming by her house at 4 AM so they can train together. The story is a little too sentimental for me, but anyone who has ever trained hard for something will appreciate Hoshino’s dedication.
The next story involves Hoshino running for student president. When he asks Negishi to deliver a speech in support of him, Negishi has to think about what exactly it is about Hoshino she likes. Eventually, she gets some help from Ryo-chan, a girl who has a crush on Hoshino, and is able to tell the whole school how she feels about him.
The next story introduces an important minor character named Wakaba. Wakaba is a friend of Negishi’s from junior high, and when they reconnect he develops a crush on her. Hoshino doesn’t want to be seen as controlling or jealous, so he encourages Negishi to be friends with Wakaba. But Hoshino soon finds there’s a possessive side to himself that he doesn’t like.
Jealousy is a strong theme in this volume. When Valentine’s Day rolls around, Ryo-chan wants to give Hoshino some chocolate. When a boy who has a crush on her intervenes, the whole situation gets tangled up.
The last story in this volume was my favourite and also involves jealousy. When Hoshino returns a lost purse, he becomes friends with a girl in his class named Saeki. Negishi starts to feel jealous when she sees them talking and arguing all the time. The last thing on earth Hoshino wants is to hurt Negishi, but he doesn’t want to be mean to Saeki either. The ending was sweet in a subdued way.
A few more stories round out this volume. Hoshino wants to be an astronaut but hates the fact that prep school takes him away from Negishi. In another story, the couple go see a sad movie and Negishi is shocked that Hoshino doesn’t cry during it. This leads to Hoshino dedicating himself to learning more about human emotion, with mixed results.
Love Roma is a nice enough romantic-comedy, but it has a very set style in how it tells its jokes. It reads better if you do one chapter at a time rather than trying to read it all in one sitting, or else the repetitive nature of the comedy might get on your nerves. One thing the manga-ka does very well is including a ‘bonus’ track at the end of each story. This little epilogues, usually only a page or two long, give the author a chance to throw in one more closing joke without throwing off the flow of the main story. In some cases it also gives some interesting insight into the characters’ pasts.
I don’t think I would like Love Roma as much as I do if not for the art style. Minoru Toyoda draws in a very thick, blocky style. The characters remind me a little of elongated lego people, with their stiff joints and square bodies. The layouts mimic the blockiness of the art with everything being contained in square panels with gutters between them. The backgrounds are done in a cartoony style but are still neat and clean. The art might not appeal to everyone, but I like it and it’s different from most of the art seen in rom-com manga.
Del Rey does a good job with the adaptation, but then again I don’t think I’ve ever been disappointed with a book they’ve worked on. The cultural notes at the end are helpful, but missing one thing. At one point in the book Ryo-chan gets her haircut and Hoshino assumes it’s because he broke her heart. I’ve heard this before, but I always assumed it was more of a Japanese belief than western one and I was surprised there wasn’t a note explaining it.
There’s an author’s afterword where he talks about why Negishi is often on the left side of the panel. It’s an interesting read and actually explains a lot about Love Roma (she’s usually on Hoshino’s left so she can react to whatever crazy thing he’s just blurted out).
Love Roma is a cute and fun romantic-comedy, but it’s best in small doses.