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Reviewby Bamboo Dong, Jan 30th 2006
Harlequin Violet: Response
After the death of her father, Sienna was left with nothing but her job and her loving brother. That was until she met Alexis, a wealthy businessman who has stolen her heart. The last thing she was expecting was for him to use her for vengeance; it will take more than money and amnesia to heal the pains of the past.
Harlequin has built an empire around what they call “women's fiction,” something the outside world refers to as trashy grocery store romance novels. You can go to your local supermarket and pick up any number of saucy stories about powerful women who are driven into the arms of lust by even more powerful men. It was only a matter of time before the manga industry decided it was the next hip thing and started adapting various titles into one-shots. Each volume in the Harlequin Ginger Blossom line is a sexy toast to smut, written in the poor prose that characterizes all Harlequin novels and Response is no exception.
Adapted from the novel by Penny Jordan, who has penned several bestselling Harlequin fictions, the story is given sequential life by Takako Hashimoto, whose minimalist artwork works wonders for this project. The action flows smoothly from one panel to the next, and the characters' emotions are clear and obvious. Giving support to the daydream-like feeling of the visuals is the sketched art; rather than clean, strong lines, Hashimoto has opted for quick pen strokes that make everything seem more like a fleeting fantasy. It may help that everything is printed in a bright fuchsia, part of the gimmick used to sell the “Harlequin Violet” stories in the label. What would normally be incredibly tacky actually works surprisingly well, given the flowery, sensual imagery and the dreamlike quality that only a far-fetched trashy novel can convey.
Then again, it may be the fuchsia that makes this book impossible to take seriously as either art or literature. Or… it could be the fact that it's so obviously an illustrated grocery story novella set to pictures.
The story is very typical for dirty romance novels, a genre that has based itself around stories of independent women who want to go back to the days of lost femininity and be swept away by strong, unyielding men with hearts of lead and wallets of gold. They struggle and defy, but eventually their bodies give in, followed by their lust-filled hearts. In Response, the heroine is a secretary who has fallen for a corporate tycoon Adonis who knows he's God's gift to women. Despite the drama bombs that explode between the tortured couple, she gives in to her body's demands.
Despite modern America's insistence that women should be strong and in charge of their own sexual desires, there's nothing inherently wrong with books that tell of women who become slaves to a man's touch. After all, it's the surrendering of emotions that could be seen as romantic, or even sensual. What is insulting is the flagrant flogging of the English language throughout this book.
Even though it's been translated from Japanese, it's not hard to believe that the book reads just as awkwardly in both languages. It's only with scrunched eyes and stifled eye-rolls that anyone could get through the monologues in Response. With doozies ranging from “I was released. It was not the blue clear sky of freedom—but a vast, dreary canvas of sorrow,” to “I could feel Alexis' hot gaze on my throbbing, exposed skin… I could sense that he was trapped in a storm of desire,” it's the kind of book that makes you feel embarrassed for the copy editor. It's not good writing. It's nickel tripe, and even all the big eyes and heaving bosoms in the world couldn't convince you that it was respectable manga.
Given the material they had to work with, Dark Horse did the best they could. The sound effects are lovingly translated next to the originals in closely-matched fonts, and they look wonderfully organic. It also can't have been a simple task getting everything printed in violet, but they went the extra mile to do so, and it really adds a special touch. Normally, it would be far too easy to blame the silly dialogue on the translators, but considering the lines sound like they were practically taken verbatim from any given Harlequin book, the conclusion can only be that they were just as insipid in their original language.
It's a shame, because it's not a terrible read—simply embarrassing. In fact, if all the words were removed with an eraser, it would be a beautiful story. The characters are so romantic and wonderfully drawn that it's like being sucked into a dreamy margarine commercial, with hazy lens effects and hunky men. In short, it's the note-perfect illustration of every woman's fantasy—elegant dresses, chiseled faces, quiet vineyards, and even a pair of killer slingback pumps. If the prose wasn't so awkward and ludicrous, it would even appeal to girls outside the narrow niche of middle-aged women with failing marriages.
The Harlequin Ginger Blossom series is definitely an interesting idea, but if Response is any indication, it might alienate many of manga's existing readers. Every woman loves handsome tycoons and sun-bathed Grecian islands as much as the next, but one would hope that they're above such hackneyed smut. There's a line between sensual and sexy stories about love and lust, and ridiculous camp-fests, and Response crosses it in leaps and bounds. Unless you eat up Harlequin's normal lineup of novels, this is a romance that is best to be admired from afar.
Overall : C
Story : C-
Art : A-
+ Beautiful artwork, wonderful portrayal of emotions.
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