Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Dec 4th 2011
Stepping on Roses
As Nozomu descends further into his obsessive madness, his willingness to do anything to get Sumi escalates. He uses Natsuki's thirst for power in the Ashida company to his benefit, which involves Sumi's brother Eisuke. Soichiro, meanwhile, is forced to confront his former friend's bizarre attachment to his wife, as is Nozomu's own wife, Miu. Sumi is relatively unaware of the dark schemes behind the scenes as she works to be a good spouse to Soichiro and a benefactress to the children. But even her sweetness and light can't keep the wolves from the gates and she will not be ignorant for long.
Romance is a more difficult genre than you might suppose. It is rife with subgenres, from the innocent to the downright disturbing, and what flies in one won't cut it in another. Rinko Ueda's Stepping on Roses in some ways more resembles the Gothic fiction of the late 18th century than any contemporary romance, or at least the Victorian sentimental novel. In any event, this volume is packed with melodrama and despicable characters, both of which keep the reader well entertained, even if she can't believe she's still voluntarily reading.
One of the mainstays of Ueda's rags-to-riches series is an almost complete lack of likeable characters. Readers have long complained of Soichiro's high-handed, borderline abusive relationship with Sumi, and even his slowly warming heart cannot change these behaviors. He is a hero from the Doumiyouji School (hero of Boys Over Flowers), and as such is fairly reprehensible. Most of his communication with Sumi is done in a yell, and while he does defend her and comfort her at times, it is skin-crawlingly obvious that their marriage is not one of equals. This is, of course, nothing new in a romance hero, and if you enjoyed Miki Aihara's Hot Gimmick, you'll find plenty to like here.
Soichiro is not alone in his unpleasantness. Nozomu, who began the series as the sweeter of the two men, is by this point certifiable. Readers may remember that he tricked Sumi into posing for a nude painting, and in some ways this showcases the depths of his obsession. It is not a healthy one – apart from the fact that he has painted her naked without her consent, he has also wrapped her in thorny vines, like a demented incarnation of the Sleeping Beauty fantasy. This indicates to readers that he wants her subservient to him, possibly even enslaved, as any movement would cause her pain. Perhaps this is reading too much into the story, but Ueda's similarities to early genre fiction make analysis an easy passtime for series readers. She even includes a Victorian madwoman in the attic moment, as Nozomu's obsessions drive Miu to the edge. Natsuki's scheming villainy is moustache-twirling quality, and readers of early romantic fiction will recognize the character of the reformed woman wandering about as well.
Story-wise there is no new ground covered here. In earlier volumes Ueda has commented that she is not trying to write the next Tale of Genji – this is intended to be a typical romance. And while she has raised the disturbing factor, at least in terms of what gets translated into English, this is still at its heart a story about two people slowly coming to love each other. Many staples of shoujo romance are in evidence: there's the dark-haired guy and the light-haired guy that the heroine is stuck between, the impossibly young and gorgeous butler, fabulous wealth, and lovely dresses. What Ueda adds is a healthy dose of melodrama to make the ordinary captivating once again.
Speaking of the costumes, this volume makes it official: the Victorian Era has left the building. While early volumes of the series managed to maintain a semblance of fidelity to the setting, Ueda has succumbed to the temptations of Gothic Lolita. All of a sudden skirts are to the knee and hairstyles call to mind the beehive hairdos of the 1960s. Given that Ueda has successfully done European historical in other works, it is a bit of a shock, but the story is engrossing enough to gloss over these small details.
Ueda's art definitely enhances the story. Her people, although they suffer from fish face syndrome in profile, are sleekly attractive and easily identified. Eyes are a particular strength in this volume. Both emotion and sanity can be clearly seen in the characters' eyes, with Ueda borrowing some techniques from horror mangaka to get her point across. Backgrounds have a slightly generic feel, but Ueda provides some of her research for the buildings' exteriors, which indicates that similar research went into the interiors as well. The contrast between the wealthy and poor homes is especially well done, as attention is paid to such details as cleanliness and general maintenance. Body language is also strong, with characters showing restraint, madness, and sensuality in their stances when appropriate.
Stepping on Roses is a romance novel, and as a genre piece, it succeeds totally. If you are fan of Boys Over Flowers or Hot Gimmick, you'll find a lot to enjoy here. On the other hand, if romances are not your bag, then this is not the series for you. You have been advised.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : A-
+ Engrossing story, lovely art, and a good example of the romance subgenres of “Gothic” and “Melodrama.”
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