Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Missions of Love
Yukina is known as the Snow Woman by her classmates for three reasons: her skin is cold due to poor circulation, her eyes make it look as if she is glaring all the time, and she isn't hugely friendly. But what they don't know is that she moonlights as the popular cellphone novelist Yupina and that all of them are fans of her work. After hearing classmates lament the lack of romance in her stories, Yukina decides that she needs to add some in. But she has no experience! What's a girl to do? Why, blackmail the most popular boy in school, of course.
If the genders were reversed in Ema Toyama's third series to get an English release, it is a safe bet that many more readers would cry foul. The basis of Missions of Love (retitled for the American market from Watashi ni xx Shinasai!, or “Do XX to Me”) is that Yukina needs to learn about love and romance in order to be able to write it, so she blackmails Shigure into helping her by ordering him to do things he is obviously uncomfortable with. Yukina doesn't see anything all that wrong with this, which encourages the readers not to as well. Unfortunately, older readers may recognize this as the inversion of virtually every unhealthy shoujo manga relationship, and it is nearly as distasteful here as it is in something like Black Bird. The “nearly” is because Ema Toyama is still writing for a younger audience – the manga comes from the pages of Nakayoshi – and this necessitates a slightly more restrained approach.
Fortunately (?) the characters introduced in this volume are very difficult to like. Shigure, who appears to be the golden boy of the school with his good looks, willingness to help, and apparent charm, is actually quite the jerk, which allows Yukina to take advantage of him in the first place. Yukina herself, tragic backstory aside, has the social skills and affect of a radish, making her a tricky heroine to relate to. Her desire to please her readers is offset by her determination to do so no matter who she hurts, and while it is possible that this will allow Toyama to later show her realizing that what she is doing is wrong, it does make for a difficult first volume. The one character who has potential so far is Yukina's cousin Akira, who appears to be her sole friend and possibly is crushing on her. Cousin issue aside – we've certainly seen worse in manga – Akira's calmness makes him a potential light in the tunnel, and his reactions at the end of the volume are promising both for him and for their possible impact on Yukina's understanding of Human Relations.
It is, in fact, Yukina's near total inability to relate to other people that brings the biggest strain on reader credulity to the book. If she is supposed to be such a successful novelist, how can she have so little understanding of how people get along? If it was only classmates who were enthused about her work, that might be excusable, but we see early on that one of her novels is about to get a print edition, which indicates a wider popularity. Perhaps all of this is too much reading into what is a wish-fulfillment story for young teens, but adult readers may find themselves questioning more than just the romance.
Missions of Love, as might be expected, is essentially a naughty book for middle schoolers. Much racier than Toyama's earlier works (she admits to being surprised that the series was approved), it could be read as a girl taking charge of her own romantic education. The real fly in the ointment here is that Shigure is so obviously uncomfortable with Yukina's advances, particularly when she orders him to kiss her. Toyama does manage to make the art fairly sensual, however, with her characters, despite being in middle school, having more mature bearings than previously and giving us the equivalent of slow-motion as the bodies of the protagonists move closer together. While a fair amount of tone is used, most of it a type that makes everything look shiny, the art is still easy on the eyes and the panels simple to follow. Kodansha USA's translation is smooth and natural sounding except for the series' original English tagline, which is retained throughout the book.
Despite the uncomfortable premise and the decidedly unhealthy nature of the central romance, Missions of Love's first volume does make for a quick read, and those who don't mind the way Yukina and Shigure begin their “love” should find this entertaining, as that is based on personal preference. Readers who don't enjoy an unequal romance, however, would do well to steer clear. Sensual and readable, Missions of Love is a flip of the usual shoujo romance blueprint, and while it isn't always nice, it is hard to put down...no matter how much you may want to.
Overall : C+
Story : C
Art : B
+ Very readable, pleasant art that is sensual in the right places.
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