Manga-ka: Rinko Ueda
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: April 2010
Synopsis: “Poor Sumi Kitamura… Her irresponsible older brother Eisuke keeps bringing home orphans for her to take care of even though they can barely afford their own basic needs! Just when Sumi’s financial problems become dire, wealthy Soichiro Aside enters her life wih a bizarre proposition: he’ll provide her with the money she so desperately needs if she agrees to marry him. But can Sumi fool high society into thinking she’s a proper lady? Moreover, is it worth giving up everything for this sham of a marriage?”
Life isn’t easy for Sumi Kitamura. Poor and left to care for a group of enfants, she struggles each day just to find food to feed them and another excuse for their landlady. To make matters worse, the number of children keeps growing when her gambling-addicted older brother keeps bringing home stray children with debt-collectors close on his heels. Not to be taken half as seriously as the plot would suggest however, Stepping on Roses is a frolicsome shoujo story that mixes societal clashing with unbelievable scenarios in this opening volume of a “rags-to-riches romance”.
Just when it seems life can’t get any worse and Sumi is led to sell herself for money, she accepts an offer from a rich gentlemen named Sochiro Aside. In exchange for all the money she could ever desire, she need only become his wife. The catch? She has to give up the notion of love, for she must never love him and he must never love her. But with the two of them in it solely for the money involved, could there be anything wrong with this arrangement?
Next thing you know Sumi is whisked away to a ritzy mansion complete with decadent décor, frilly dresses and a flamboyant pretty-boy servant who proves himself a side character both amusing and attentive. Dolled up and decked out, wedding bells are chiming and Sumi quickly finds herself the wife of Soichiro Aside and under scrutiny of fellow aristocratic types (though in truth its only Soichiro who seems to really mind everything she does).
Interestingly it’s her Japanese-heritage that causes her the most issue, more so than her penniless home-life. Things such as a keeping one’s shoes on, eating with a fork and being kissed on the hand by random strangers all boggle her mind. The story feels awkward making these societal differences evident however when Sumi doesn’t look any different than everyone else – is she Japanese? Are the rich individuals Japanese living an English lifestyle or are they foreigners? Is this even relevant? The author seems as unsure as readers have the potential to be.
But amidst it all, Sumi’s mind stays dreamily focused on a kind stranger she met once before. It’s little surprise to readers that this well-dressed stranger is revealed to be an associate of Sochiro. Despite the little that we know of said stranger, Nozomu Ijuin is someone you can’t help liking. Sure the story pushes his perfection on you to a point where you want so badly to expect something negative of him, but when compared to the selfish acts of Sochiro or Sumi’s older brother, he’s a welcome saint.
Stepping on Roses is not something intended to be taken seriously (we should hope). Selfish motivations abound in this story and even Sumi’s well-intended wish to help the children her brother keeps bringing home fall flat. Despite being thrust by men into one painfully stereotypical-female role after another, she doesn’t do or say anything about it enough to earn our sympathy any more than a soggy doormat would in the same situation. The other side of things are no better with Soichiro Aside, a self-centred individual whose sole purpose in keeping Sumi around is to solidify his hold on his family’s inheritance. He spends the majority of his page-time criticizing Sumi’s every action. The story is so ridiculous that it creates its own humour regardless of intention. Other times it’s just painful. The saving grace of the plot is the strength of its execution – a little rushed at times but with an overall smooth and fluent feel to the read itself.
The true consistent treat from start to finish however was the artwork. The style isn’t anything too deviating from the expected in modern-day shoujos but it still has its prominent charms. Most notable is the amount of detail on things such as clothing, hair and architecture, especially when the setting of the story moves to the Western-style motifs. What makes the visuals differ from other detail-heavy artwork is the lack of screen toning. While tones are used sparingly throughout the book, they’re absent on most scenes that have the most intricate details, allowing the more minute features to stand out that much more. As for the characters themselves, the pages are adorned with gorgeous men who challenge the role of prettiest with lead-female Sumi and a cast of little kids who look an eerily amount like Kewpie dolls.
It’s also worth noting the creative cover design which, when staring at the cover and then flipping to the back for the artwork’s continuation, is a brilliant rendering of the leads’ real relationship.
All cards on the table, Stepping on Roses is a pretty silly manga that’s so chuckle-worthy shallow that you can’t help but keep reading. And that’s just it – you can’t help but keep reading. The characters aren’t very likeable, and the trials of the plot fall weakly because of this, and yet, the fluidity of the story telling and the charm of the artwork act as irrefutable hooks to finish. Your will to seek out volume two will naturally vary based on how much you actually enjoyed volume one of course – but still, regardless of what you thought overall, you can’t ignore the sheer and subjective entertainment-value of something so flippant.