Manga-ka: Miku Sakamoto
Publisher: CMX Manga
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: July 2010
Synopsis: “It’s the holidays and Koguma and Shinobu plan to spend all of their time together. Unfortunately, both have to work on Christmas, but they have special New Year’s plans to look forward to. However, all of the romance and fun might come to a startling halt when Koguma’s older brother Miki takes an interest in Shinobu. Even though Shinobu’s heart belongs to Koguma, she keeps getting caught in compromising situations that quickly raise Koguma’s jealously flag.”
The height-odd couple return for another, and sadly last, volume of Miku Sakamoto’s Stolen Hearts. The tall and kind Kogamu and the short and sweet Shinobu continue their spend their days together happily, helping out of the kimono shop and slipping in some time for just the two of them. Things are moving pretty slowly – will the two ever have their first kiss? – but it’s all so fluffy we’re more than content to let them wade in the romantic shallow end to their heart’s content. But, still what’s a shoujo without some love triangle drama?
An impromptu invite over to Koguma’s house allows Shinobu to be introduced to his three older brothers. All look similar enough to presume definite physical relation to one another but have fairly distinct personalities; all are generally nice guys and attractive ones at that. The brother most focused on in this volume is the oldest, Miki – a raven-haired young man with impeccable skill at creating kimonos. When Koguma’s Grandmother makes the decision to add custom kimonos to their store’s offerings, Miki is the sole provider of the service when it comes to actually creating the product. Shinobu now finds herself working closely with Miki not only has a consult for ideas but also as a shopping buddy. What it takes her a little longer to realize however is that she’s also caught the eye of Miki in a way that goes past inspiration.
Miki’s interest in Shinobu quickly escalates. Apparently this all comes as no surprise to his family, several of whom see the warning signs possibly before even Miki himself. But, while Miki does some conniving things to create a rift between Shinobu and Koguma, he’s still not an inherently bad guy. A rival, yes; selfish, for sure – but he doesn’t take his toying too far and seems to have genuine regret for his interference. To Shinobu’s credit also, when Miki is upfront about his intent she immediately puts the obvious together that he likes her – a refreshing change of pace from too many other shoujo leads who would’ve just stood there wondering ‘why?’.
Kogamu’s responses to the situations between his girlfriend and brother seem a tad overdone at points. He jumps to conclusions and instead of getting angry or confronting them, he runs away leaving periods of awkwardness between him and Shinobu. While it isn’t to say it doesn’t feel frustratingly plausible, it can still prove maddening for readers who just want them to finally come to honest terms. It all leads to a good crescendo however when tensions rise between the whole family causing a strain not only for them but for patrons of their store as well. The element of running the store and working with clients is a still pleasant bonus to the story and seeing new kimono owners leave happy is an almost as endearing as a smile shared by the love-birds.
Miku Sakamoto’s artwork remains an integral part of the story. It’s outstanding how downright adorable this book is, wonderfully detailed and full of moments to make you stop with an ‘aww’ or a ‘wow, pretty!’. The character designs are all eye-catching, rendered in the soft art style that has a real sense of natural weight to things such as hair and clothing, making them stand out that much more. While kimonos are the most detail-oriented part of the visuals, scenes that see characters out of their formal entire are just as memorable. Most notably this goes for Miki who spends the majority of his page-time in a male-kimono. When he suddenly appears in casual clothes, not only does it take Shinobu a moment to recognize him, but it’s also a really great visual shift that gives his character a more rounded presence. It’s also nice to have a series where when the characters exclaim the attractiveness of anyone, readers have all the reason to agree. Shinobu in particular is so cute in her kimono, you can understand Kogamu’s brief moments of awe each time he sees her in a new one.
It’s such a shame that this second volume marks the end of CMX’s run of the series since DC’s untimely mob-hit of the imprint leaving nary a trace past manga fans’ memories. It’s even more depressing when the ad for the third volume of Stolen Hearts is still listed in the back of the book. Thankfully this second, and likely last English-released volume, ends on a pretty satisfying note that doesn’t leave any cliffhangers. Had the last two chapters switched places, no one would’ve had any reason to think it wasn’t the end – a fluffy, feel good end note that includes Koguma and Shinobu bowing to the audience and welcoming them into the shop after the resolution of the story’s predominant issue before following-up with Kogamu and Shinobu spending the night together in an inn for a bonus side-story.
Stolen Hearts is a must-read series for any shoujo fan, and in light of how these books are out of print the moment they hit bookstore shelves, it’s all the more reason to implore picking up a copy as soon as you can. Sweet and sublime, this now two-book series will easily steal the hearts of its readers.