Reviewby Casey Brienza,
After her mother dies, Yuzu Yamashita assumes that she'll be living beneath a playground slide for a month or two...until she can find a paying job. Destiny in the form of a handsome but icy man named Hassaku Kagami finds her instead to inform her that her grandmother has been looking for her—and that she, Yuzu, is a potential heir to the vast Shirayuki fortune! Becoming an heiress sure as heck ain't easy, though, and Yuzu is going to have to do a lot more than lose the geek glasses and bad attitude. Family members and other jealous parties want her out of the picture, and not even the exclusive Getsuei High is a refuge from the politicking of the elites. Sometimes a mother's love and teachings just aren't enough. So whom can she trust? Fellow Elite A classmate Haruka Nakayama? What about her cousin Iyo Hashibara?
Ultimate Venus is, from the perspective of genre, a shoujo romantic comedy. But its plot per se is driven by the decidedly unfunny, intersecting tale of two major wars—the class war and the war between the sexes (just in case you were thinking that one war per manga series is simply not enough). Naturally, the heroine of the piece, Yuzu Yamashita, fights as a confirmed rebel on both fronts. And as the first volume opens, it quickly becomes apparent that she is quite the independent thinker. On page one, we find out that she has just lost her mother to illness and that her father has been dead for many years prior. Unwilling to remain a freeloader at her gay male friend's apartment once his boyfriend moves in, she lies courageously—and stubbornly—to him, telling him not to worry because she has somewhere else to go. That “somewhere else” proves to be a hole underneath a playground slide.
Which, of course, is where elegantly handsome Hassaku Kagami finds her. But do you suppose this gal who keeps gay friends is happy to have this “prince” come to rescue her and tell her that she is heir to a vast fortune? Hell, no! Instead, she immediately recalls Rule #23 of her Mother's Love & Teachings, “Suspect good-looking men more than suspicious-looking ones,” and staunchly refuses to go quietly. Other examples of her mother's Rules appear throughout the book and they take, shall we say, a very oppositional stance against the rest of the world—and men in particular. For example, Rule #1 states, “If someone picks a fight, give them one to remember.” Likewise, Rule #110: “When men go after you, you go after their balls.” Talk about some strongly-worded advice. Yuzu's mother must have been quite the character! And her daughter, it is safe to assume, is a chip off the old block. Indeed, she doesn't start to take her position as potential heiress seriously until she sees just how much and how hard her grandmother works as head of Shirayuki. Yuzu is descended from a line of matriarchs, and she realizes that her grandmother's position is not something to be unequivocally reviled. (In spite of the dubious male harem staffing the mansion that, understandably, creeps her out.)
Even so, Yuzu has very little patience for the elitism of her aptly named Elite A classmates (rich people) and even less for cold-hearted, manipulative bastards like Hassaku and Iyo (men). Although she has grudgingly accepted her destiny as potential Shirayuki heiress, she is still swinging away on the rebel side of the class and gender divides. Her first new friend at school, sure enough, is Haruka, the effeminate, underdog boy who is getting bullied. And she is fast convinced that her hunky cousin Iyo is out to get her. Arguably, however, Yuzu's battles are being waged at least in part within her own mind, and it may well be that the lines between friend and foe are not as definitively drawn as they seem at first. There is clearly something sinister about Haruka, and despite Hassaku's presence in school as an undercover bodyguard of sorts, she is being maliciously targeted by unknown assailants. Is he risking life and limb out of loyalty to her grandmother…or for some other reason? Meanwhile, we discover that Iyo might not be as bad as he seems; at the end of volume one, he warns her that he can no longer protect her.
Mangaka Takako Shigematsu, best known in America for her previous series Tenshi Ja Nai!! and King of the Lamp, has produced yet another solid, appealing title with Ultimate Venus. Although her artwork is really only a touch above average, it is serviceable. Ignore the clumsily drawn, mitt-like hands, and it's easy to immerse oneself in the twists and turns of the pleasurable tale that she weaves. You will love how she strikes ringing blows for populism, girl power, and geek (glasses) pride—and gets a good laugh in here and there to boot. Too often, shoujo manga about a normal girl who enters the world of the wealthy elite become less about her and more about all the dreamy dudes she meets along the way. Ultimate Venus, on the other hand, is true to its title with the way it puts the protagonist at the summit of the narrative agenda. Yuzu is a great character, and she is that one that captures the imagination here. If you love strong manga heroines, check this one out!
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ A strong heroine and a surprisingly nuanced storyline.
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