Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
GAME: Between the Suits
Sayo Fujii is devoted to her job above all else, to the point where answering a work call on a weekend evening during sex is a regular occurrence. Needless to say, this doesn't go over well with her boyfriends, and as a result, Sayo is often single. But it doesn't necessarily go over well with her coworkers either, and with one in particular: Ryoichi Kiriyama, a new hire she's in charge of training. Sayo continually rebuffs his lines and advances, but eventually he convinces her to play a game with him: they'll embark on a physical relationship, and whoever falls in love first (if either does) loses.
GAME: Between the Suits is translated by Jess Leif and lettered by Kai Kyou.
She's a workaholic. He's a jerk womanizer who can't understand why his lines aren't working on her. Is there actually any attraction between them, or is he just trying so hard because she's the one woman who tells him no? The answer is somewhere in this enemies-to-lovers story about two people trying very hard to keep ignoring that the problems in their lives are very much of their own making. It also makes it official that in Seven Seas' Steamship line of racy manga with an intended female audience (at least in its inaugural offerings), there's a real effort being made to provide a wide variety of romance subgenres and staples to read as many readers as possible. GAME: Between the Suits is classic enemies-to-lovers contemporary romance fare; both characters are full-fledged working adults with an unwilling physical attraction to each other that at least one of them is trying very hard to fight. In this case, it's Sayo who's not interested in acting on the sexual tension, and while she does eventually give in (per genre regulations), she's the furthest thing from the wilting virginal heroine you could possibly imagine.
A tax accountant for a corporate firm, Sayo is nobody's damsel in distress. A capable woman, she's the top in her office and takes her job very, very seriously. She expects to be taken seriously as a person herself, and when the world doesn't always meet her expectations, it comes as a blow to her. Her male coworkers don't really appreciate the way that she outshines them on a daily basis, and while they rarely say anything to her face, she overhears them making snide remarks about how unwomanly it is for her to be so focused on her career. It's the sort of hideous misogyny that many people experience on a daily basis, the kind that suggests that because you're not conforming to an outdated societal ideal, you're not a worthwhile human being. While Sayo tries not to let it bother her, it does, and while many of her interpersonal problems are of her own making – answering a business call outside of business hours while you're having sex with your boyfriend isn't a good look – that doesn't mean that she can't still be injured by cruel words.
She is, however, always ready to just keep pushing forward, and sometimes that means embracing the unkind things others have said about her and turning them around on them. To a degree, that's what happens with her and her new coworker Kiriyama. Kiriyama is good-looking and very well aware of it, and that plus his stock of smooth pickup lines has never failed to work on the women he's pursued. All of that changes with Sayo. She is in no way willing to put up with his garbage, and she continually and clearly tells him to cut it out – and when he doesn't she's not above smacking him. Even Kiriyama isn't certain if he's especially attracted to Sayo or if her refusal to play the usual dating game makes her more alluring to him, but whether out of sexual attraction thwarted or bullheaded stubbornness, he remains persistent in his attempts.
Before you write this off as a stalker story (and Kiriyama can be offensively persistent, although not quite to that point), things do become rather more mutual fairly quickly. It's less that Kiriyama wears Sayo down and more that he shows her that he's more than just a penis with a collection of smarmy pickup lines, and it's when she realizes that he may be just as out of his element in serious relationships as she is that she begins to rethink things. This leads to the agreement from which the series takes its title: since Sayo won't date someone she's not in love with and neither of them are quite sure what “in love” feels like, the two will become sex friends. Should either of them fall in love, they'll start dating in earnest…but Kiriyama frames it as if she falls for him, he'll have “won.” Sayo's determined not to lose, and thus their game begins.
As you might guess, there are a lot of sex scenes, but they don't feel hugely explicit. There are no visible genitals or fluids, and very little implication of movement; it's more artistic still images. Creator Mai Nishikata (whose Venus Capriccio was released by CMX back in the day and whose Utena-esque Hana no Kishi is available in French) isn't terrific at drawing the naked body, which is a problem, mostly because Sayo often looks like you could snip her in half with a pair of kitchen scissors. She does draw good faces, though, and clothed bodies look fine, and Nishikata is good with how she positions her characters. Sayo's personality is one of the major draws in the series because she feels like a genuinely strong woman rather than one of the ubiquitous Strong Female Characters who are just an amalgamation of tropes; she's very human, and if Kiriyama isn't quite as much of a fully drawn character, that could be due to the fact that we primarily see him through Sayo's eyes – and as far as she's concerned, he's just a sex partner right now.
GAME: Between the Suits isn't the most explicit of Steamship's releases thus far, but it's still a good one. If enemies-to-lovers is your preferred romance subgenre, or if you just want to read about a woman who's in charge of her own life and body, this is a safe bet. Sayo and Kiriyama may have just started playing their game, but the real winners are the readers who get to watch it unfold.
Overall : B
Story : B+
Art : C+
+ Sayo is a strong person in her own right, solid enemies-to-lovers storyline.
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