Harlequin Violet: Response
It seems that everyone these days is entering into the josei (young women) manga market, tapping into the potential buying power of mature female readers. Central Park Media's Be Beautiful imprint and Digital Manga Publishing have both done extremely well this year with their wide offering of yaoi titles, and with TOKYOPOP's BLU imprint newly opening their doors and books (not to mention their past and current success with the FAKE and Gravitation series), it seems only naturally that Harlequin Books and Dark Horse Manga would team up to create the Harlequin Ginger Blossom manga label.
Divided into two lines, color coded pink and violet respectively for pure romance and heavier sensual subject matter, the manga plots are based on best selling Harlequin novels. This is both a flaw and an asset, depending upon your tastes. Harlequin novels follow a certain stylistic formula of action and reaction, where a man and woman meet, each with issues that come between their love that build up to a climatic break-up. However, in the end, love conquers all. While this basic format of attraction and repulsion can be widely found in shoujo and josei manga, the lack of subtlety in Harlequin Violet: Response may feel strange to a reader coming from translated Japanese manga. Harlequin Violet: Response also contains more dialogue than most manga. While this allows the plot to speed along, readers may feel too rushed in their reading experience with too much information in so few pages.
Harlequin Violet: Response does flow quickly, at a speed comparable to American comics. I would expect this book to have been a three volume series if it was a translated manga from Japan. Sienna does ponder her mixed emotions frequently, but not to the extreme degree that is usually found in Japanese josei and shoujo manga. Once over this speed bump and with adjusted expectations, however, I believe that many readers will enjoy this title.
Our heroine is Sienna, a rather sheltered English temporary secretary assigned to aid Alexis Stefanides, a dashingly handsome Greek multimillionaire in London for short term business. Only naturally, he sweeps her off of her feet, but then he breaks her heart for a misunderstanding involving Alexis' sister and Sienna's brother. As the two part company for seemingly the last time, Sienna has a traffic accident. She wakes up with amnesia and a wedding ring on her finger. I don't want to spoil the final twists and turns of this story, so I'll leave it off here. The plot is rather pulpy, but it's good pulp with a happy ending. It's the perfect book to read when you want something sentimental, but not too sugary-sweet.
At first, I was disappointed by the lack of breasts or nipples or any graphic anatomy in Harlequin Violet: Response, considering that it is marketed as a more mature romance title. However, by the end of the manga, I appreciated the fact that this is a "work-safe" book, something that you can safely read in public without being branded as reading pornography. For women who are new to manga, or who do not enjoy hentai or yaoi as myself and many others do, this is an aspect that we need more of in adult manga.
I must applaud Harlequin Ginger Blossom for releasing non-yaoi josei manga, as that is a subgenre scarcely seen in manga outside of Japan. In fact, the only recent and popular examples that come to mind are Honey and Clover and Paradise Kiss, and Honey and Clover isn't even licensed in the US. As a woman, it's wonderful to read mature manga that isn't oozing on every page with boy love, although I do enjoy the occasional decandent yaoi manga.
I find it curious that sound effects are drawn in Japanese, then translated into English, despite this being an OEL (Original English Language) manga. I will guess that this is meant to visually please manga readers accustomed to seeing sound effects displayed in such a manner. At times, however, it does overcrowd the panel.
Hashimoto does a fair job in illustrating Jordan's work. I don't want to criticize her work too much at this point, as this review is based on an advanced copy of the manga, not a final bound edition, where I can judge tones and lines better, but the characters are rather stony and expressionless, dependent upon the dialogue to give them emotion. On the bright side, Hashimoto does employ a wide variety of panels that flow logically and are still eye-catching, and she does enjoy dressing up Sienna later in the volume, as well as illustrating Alexis and Sienna's love nest on the imaginary grecian paradise of Micros.
Overall, this is a solid title to jumpstart the Harlequin Ginger Blossom line, appealing to fans beyond the highly inclusive subset of shonen-ai and yaoi fans. With a release date of December 7th, Harlequin Violet: Response is a title that I will be looking forward to in the new year.