Reviewby Lissa Pattillo,
Stepping on Roses
Sumi and Nozomu have run away together to find their own happiness, away from the pressures of Sumi pretending to be Soichiro's aristocratically-bred wife and Nozomu from the stress of the family responsibility. An earthquake causes the building they're in to catch fire and despite all Nozomu's knight-in-shining-armor roles before, it's Soichiro who ends up flying to their rescue. As Sumi helps tend to Soichiro's wounds after the fact, Nozomu moves onto his own affairs – a new wife and a new business venture. Meanwhile a new comer on the scene is preparing his own plans for the trio and he's out to proposition Nozomu to the cause.
Introduction volumes allowed for easy excuses made for the series – a beautiful art style glossing over the story of a girl being abused and enslaved with cheesy romance-story overtones. It was a guilty pleasure sort of thing. Stepping on Roses tries to be funny, it tries to be cute, and it even tries to be dramatic – but against all attempts to give it the benefit of a doubt, what this story succeeds in being here in the third volume is unapologetically terrible.
Reader theories are proven accurate as the oh-so-perfect Nozomu turns out to be of the obsessive stalker variety. Now that he has finally whisked Sumi away from her fake-husband, he decides that they'll finally be together forever …and ever. He ties her up in their little summer retreat and proceeds to remain inside as it works towards burning to the ground. Instantly he has flipped from savour to maniac, tearing away any notions that Sumi has someone in her world who isn't out to use her for their own devices.
But, in expected fashion, her mentally abusive pseudo-husband Soichiro comes flying to her rescue with dramatic bravado laced with flashbacks to his own angsty-childhood. Upon being saved, using the term a bit loosely, Sumi takes it upon herself to nurse Soichiro back to health, oblivious to the fact he's apparently developing actual feelings for her. But what of Nozomu? No worries there, he's already dove into his family's financial affairs to distract from his loss. Or not. Nozomu soon has a wife of his own to use and begins concocting his plans for getting Sumi back involving a campaign to infiltrate Soichiro's company. All good friendly competition though – after all, everything up until this very point has been according to Soichiro's master plan in the first place.
Suffice to say there isn't a lot of love to feel here. The story boils down to Soichi and Nozomu wanting what they want and stepping on anyone they need to do to get there, which in this case happens to be Sumi in most instances. Alas even she fails to bring any feeling of sympathy to the table as she absorbs everything like a brainwashed sponge who has still yet to discover the worth of something called self-respect. She maintains her ‘quirks’ of cooking and cleaning amidst the rich environment and pouts a little to try and show she has her own thoughts, ultimately succeeding in being more frustrating for readers, even when she's engaged in an almost-tense battle of Shogi against a childhood friend for - surprise, surprise – the sake of another business deal for Soichiro.
But surely there must be something endearing about this, right? Fans of the harlequin-formula will recognize the tropes. Sumi and Soichiro have been spending enough time together for their forced interactions to start budding into something more. Sure it feels fake but at least it feels like the series is working towards its intended resolve. Soichiro's attentive young butler continues to be the most likeable of the cast purely out of seeming to care for both Soichiro and Sumi's well-being. His kindness to the latter prove brief but positive little blips in the story, especially when you have moments such as another appearance by Sumi's gambling-addicted brother to make readers want to hurl the book across the room.
Rinko Ueda's art style remains another bright spot to the story, rendering every character as beautiful figures adorned in rich clothing and living among striking locales. Some character designs look distractedly similar but in this case, most notably between Sumi and Nozomu's new wife, it seems quite intentional.
There's still something that can be said for this type of melodrama however. It's a story about selfish people doing selfish things yet all it plays out with the kind of self-imposed dramatics that make it hard to stop reading – the proverbial train wreck in slow motion. But, a guilty pleasure is called as such for a reason, and while Stepping on Roses may've gone past the point of offering much pleasure to its readers, it's still bound to leave some feeling guilty. It's a high energy, low substance story that utilizes some misplaced humour and commotion to tell a tale that may not be entirely worth telling but, hey, at least it looks good.
Overall : D
Story : D-
Art : B
+ The art's still pretty and the story can have its entertaining moments when you get past the actual plot and characters
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