Today's review is one of the few new series this year from Kodansha. I can't blame them for resting on their laurels a bit after bringing back the money pot that is Sailor Moon, but if their prospects are anything like today's series, maybe they should get moving a little faster on new licences...
MISSIONS OF LOVE (Watashi ni xx Shinasai!), by Ema Toyama. First published in 2009, and first published in North America in 2012.
PLOT: Yukina Himuro is perceived by her classmates as a distant, even frightening ice queen. What they don't know is that she doesn't stare at them to intimidate them; she's observing them as research for her writing. Yukina is secretly one of the most popular cell phone novelists on the market. One day, she overhears a group of fans wondering why there isn't more romance in her work, and even though she has no experience with love or romance, Yukina becomes determined to experience it so she can incorporate it into her writing. Circumstance intervenes when Yukina discovers that Kitima, the most popular and handsome boy in class, keeps a notebook full of his conquests and notes on how to exploit those around him for benefit. Yukina uses this to force Kitima to be her romantic test subject, commanding him to do things to hold her hand or cuddle her or else be exposed as a manipulator. Kitima doesn't take this situation lying down, and now the both of them are caught in a battle of wits and blackmail, all while Yukina tries to complete her missions of love.
STORY: Well, this is unusually dark for a shoujo romance...and thank goodness for it!
I expected this story to follow that well-worn path for shoujo romances, where a socially awkward girl learns to open up and love thanks to the gentle affections of some perfect, popular dreamboat. Now, there are ways to make that cliche of a storyline work (which I'll discuss someday whenever I get around to Kimi ni Todoke), but most mangaka just follow that outline to the letter with the results ranging from mediocre to dull. Thus, when our supposed dreamboat is exposed to the reader as something of a manipulative bastard, my interest was peaked.
Shoujo love interests tend to be either impossible pictures of perfection or moody, tsundere-ish "bad boys." Kitima is neither of these things. Outwardly he appears to be the former, but his motivations are selfish and even lazy; he manipulates others not so much for gain as simply to make his life easier, or in the case of the girls, he manipulates them for his own amusement and observation. He's not only a bit more like Yukina than he would like to admit, but he's also something of an awful person, and that is actual rather noe vel for shoujo. My interest remained peaked when he spent the rest of the volume trying to manipulate others to turn on Yukina, and things only get more interesting when he utterly fails at it.
So, how does Yukina compare to him as a character? Well, morally she may be a little better than him. She's certainly more honest about herself than he is. She's aware that the world perceives her as cold and distant, and for the most part she doesn't care. She uses that distance to observe the world around her methodically and to incorporate all its little nuances into her work. She brings that same methodicalness to romance - she needs to learn about romance, so she decides to use Kitima as her test subject and to approach each step of physical affection like an experiment. Still, once she learns Kitima's secret, she's not above blackmailing him to keep her test subject in line, and she proves to be the mental equal of Kitima where manipulation is concerned. Near the end of the volume, he does manage to learn her one weakness, and frankly it's a rather stupid one. There's something of a kernal of emotional truth in Yukina's reason for her weakness, but it's still kind of a silly misstep in a series that had been running so smoothly and interestingly to that point.
Missions of Love is not your average shoujo romance, in part because its leads have some moral shades of gray to them and in part because at this point it's far less about the inevitable romance and more about two people engaged in a fascinating battle of wits, and I for one want this battle to continue.
ART: While the story of Missions of Love is surprisingly unconventional, the artwork is sadly much more conventional. The character designs are unremarkable, with their plain faces and overly long, pointy, messy hair constantly flopping in their faces. Like so many shoujo works, it makes liberal use of the sparkles and effects, and usually to the detriment of the panels they are used for. The panels are larger than average, but the mangaka never really takes advantage of that extra space through the use of interesting angles or striking images. Otherwise, the art for Missions of Love isn't necessarily bad, but its mediocrity hampers its otherwise interesting writing.
PRESENTATION: The only extra to be found here are some brief translation notes and a bio.
This series is published in the USA by Kodansha. The series is ongoing in Japan, and the first of 8 available volumes is currently in print.
You can purchase this volume and many more like it through RightStuf.com!
Want a chance to win Volume 1 of this and 5 other series? Leave a comment to enter the 12 Reviews of Christmas Giveaway here!