by Lissa Pattillo,

Stepping on Roses GN 2
Slowly getting used to her fate as the wife of the wealthy, Soichiro Ashida, Sumi Kitamura is trying to be a dedicated wife to the husband she was forced to wed while also battling her own true feelings for Soichiro's best friend, Nozomu. No matter where she goes, Nozomu seems to be there and each time their eyes meet it just spells more problems for her wavering heart. Soichiro continues to order her around with uncaring abandon and the difficulties of living up to aristocratic expectations isn't lost on the concerned Nozomu as he sees Sumi struggling while still being unaware of her more humble of origins. While learning more about Soichiro's family, Sumi also finally gets a chance to go home and visit hers but while her young ‘siblings’ are thrilled at her momentary return, the concern of her brother is as ill-placed as ever.

You have to give credit to a series that serves up an unexpected twist, especially when it's so early in the series that it actually ends up turning what you thought the plot was back on itself. Granted, though Stepping on Roses had an entertaining first volume, it didn't seem like it had the most engaging of long-term prospects based on its plot thus far.

After being plucked from the streets and shotgun wed to selfish aristocrat Soichiro, Sumi has resigned herself to being his wife in exchange for the financial stability of her ever-growing family back home with the one stipulation that she can't fall in love with Soichiro. However, her obligatory-dedication to her new hubby is already wavering as she continues to catch eyes with the kind and handsome, Nozomu – childhood friend of Soichiro, a wealthy bachelor in his own right and a man who Sumi has had on her mind since the day they first met on the streets.

In this second volume, Sumi and Nozomu's sidelong glances turn into something more when it becomes apparent the two have developed feelings for one another. Expectantly, Soichiro has his jealous moments when the two hit it off, but he still seems to take it almost suspiciously in stride. In fact, it turns out he's been orchestrating this since the beginning! Apparently Soichiro has had an ulterior motive this entire time and Sumi is a dolled-up pawn for a different kind of plot. Sumi and Nozomu meet continuously throughout the book, and while Sumi fights against her feelings, Nozomu is only further inspired to keep trying while Soichiro ensures there's no shortage of opportunity including house visits and trips to the beach. The focus in the second volume remains predominantly on this element, stepping back from completely focusing on the the fish-out-of-water aspect of Sumi's life in the new setting.

Throughout the book, both readers and Sumi are offered further glimpses at Soichiro's life until now. From the death of his parents to the situation behind his survival, several factors begin to fall into place regarding his personality today. His motives however, still remain a predominant mystery despite the outright explanation he delivers. Is the story really giving it to us that easily? Then again, he probably isn't expecting his own budding feelings for Sumi to put a dent in his plan. Either way, his constant disapproval of Sumi's efforts to adhere to his expectations, and his intentionally threatening come-ons, make him a less than admirable character. Moments where Sumi causes him to take pause with her earnest caring does border on endearing though.

Nozomu is definitely the white knight of the series, courting Sumi in a kind-hearted manner. He's obviously the romantic type, swept away in his emotions and eager to sweep Sumi off her feet away from the abusive Soichiro. There is however the occasional panel that hints there may be more to him then we've seen and Soichiro clearly has an understanding of Nozomu that speaks to past occurrences. Still, Nozomu is the closest thing to a saving grace for Sumi in this series where she constantly finds herself surrounded by men out to use her for their own gain.

Sochiro's proven bad enough at times but then there's Sumi's brother – a womanizing playboy who wastes away what little money he and Sumi have ever had on dressing rich and gambling. In his sister's absence, he leaves an abusive girlfriend at home to tend to their many rescued-orphans while he gallivants elsewhere. He's the kind of character you wish you could smack regardless of, and likely much more because of, his oh-so-innocent-me ignorance. His confrontation with Soichiro regarding the treatment of Sumi is another harking moment to the chauvinism of the story that makes it hard to stomach sometimes. His appearances are minimal but they're no less exasperating.

Also recurring in the story is Soichiro's worlds-biggest-fan and butler. His flamboyance and Master-infatuation is an amusing side quirk to the story that proves good for a giggle but never an outright distraction. While being in on Soichiro's plan to get Sumi and Nozomu involved with one another, he does at times seem genuinely interested in seeing true love blossom – either that or his acting is simply really good and he just enjoys the potential opportunity to wear a dress himself.

If one looks at Sumi as the story's ‘Rose’ then she's definitely being stepped on. Her personality is at least more likeable than one may think and her special kind of spunk keeps things lively while also a little different. She still needs a wake-up call but her acceptance and attempts to deal with her situation is actually more surprising than it is frustrating, perhaps simply because she breaks the mold of so many other heroines that you'd expect to give the men a good kick to the nethers instead of trying to face the results of their own decisions. She made a choice based on what she thought she had to and she's trying to deal with it. It's not the easiest thing to watch but it's admirable to a point.

Still, this remains a book completely focused on watching Sumi face one scenario after another that she can't control, be it a party full of critical stares or a brief return to her chaotic home-life. There's definitely something to be said for genre though. Was Stepping on Roses intended to be taken seriously, then it would have a huge problem on its hands. If however, one reads it with the suspended belief intended for such a romantic-comedy, then you just may have an acceptable formula. The artwork, which is ripe with beautiful details (most notably on Sumi and her English-style hair and clothing) is a part of what makes the series so easy to keep on reading while the humour comes in consistent pockets to keep the story from ever being too absorbed by its less than chivalrous subject matter.

Stepping on Roses remains a tongue-in-cheek story that isn't quite as romantic as it wants to be and considerably more one-sided for the heroine then some may enjoy. But, while the majority of the cast doesn't offer up a plethora of reasons to like them, it still has a bunch of reasons to keep enjoying their misadventures. It's a little shallow and silly but full of eye-candy and amusement that makes it a fairly fun diversion all the same.

Overall : B-
Story : C+
Art : B+

+ Good-looking art with attention to detail; individual scenes offer chuckle-worthy comedy and even some decent emotional evolution
Several main characters are distractingly unlikeable and Sumi's presumably inevitable happily-ever-after feels a lost cause to pursue when everything feels so fake and forced upon her

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Production Info:
Story & Art: Rinko Ueda

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