MIDNIGHT SECRETARY (Middonaito Sekuretari), by Tomu Ohmi. First published in 2006 and first published in 2013.
Kaya Satozuka is a brilliant secretary, and she's determined to prove just that to her new boss, the department store director Kyohei Tohma. Sure, he's rude, dismissive, keeps odd hours, and keeps bringing women into the office late at night for sex, but Kaya works hard to overcome her distaste for her boss and perform at her best. Then she discovers that Kyohei's late night trysts are in fact late night feedings. Her boss is a vampire, and only Kaya and Kyohei's brother know the truth. Now Kaya must not only keep her office running smoothly but also keep her boss's secret. What will happen though when warmer feelings start to interfere with her duties?
It cannot be overstated: Midnight Secretary was a risk for Viz. Josei had (at that point) a troubled and largely unsuccessful history here, so it's little wonder that they slipped this smutty josei series in under their Shoujo Beat line. I can see why it worked where so many others failed, as it's basically a Harlequin novel in manga form. Hell, it's more of a Harlequin novel than many of those actual, literal Harlequin manga adaptations that clutter up so many digital storefronts! The downside to that is that this means that Midnight Secretary comes with all the flaws and foibles that are part of that legacy.
Kaya does have a quiet strength to her that I do admire. She's a dedicated worker, extremely efficient, and until the end of the volume good at keeping her personal issues interfere with her job. Sometimes she will even go above and beyond her duties all to win small victories against Kyohei and others, all while never cracking more than a polite smile in public. Beyond this, though, she's got all the informed flaws of an old-school romance novel heroine. Oh no! Kaya has to wear reading glasses and a bun because otherwise she would look too youthful and cutesy to be taken seriously! She's forced to suffer through evenings at fine restaurants and plush holiday parties with her boss! Truly heavy is her lot in life. Sadly, all that resolve seems to dribble away by volume's end, as she finds herself longing for his kisses, getting distracted with thoughts of him, and generally acting like a lovesick ninny. Still, she's got too much dignity as a character to merit being attached to a jackass like Kyohei.
Kyohei is in many ways your standard alpha-male romantic lead, the sort that romance novels have been peddling for literally decades. The allure of his position, wealth, and generic good-looks are entirely skin-deep, since as a person he's rude, dismissive, selfish, and only gets his way in the business world through intimidation and the occasional bit of industrial espionage. He rejects any and all attempts at comfort or sympathy from both Kaya and his attentive older brother. Based on his reaction to Kaya's conversations with said brother, he's a jealous bastard to boot. He's such a thoroughly unpleasant person that it's absolutely unfair that he barely has to struggle at being a vampire in the modern world.
In this universe, vampires get all the benefits of vampirism with practically none of the traditional downsides. At most, Kyohei has a mild sensitivity to sunlight and objects of faith. Otherwise, he has no weakness to other, more traditional banes of vampires such as garlic or silver, has a reflection, and his bites don't even leave so much as a mark. Meanwhile, he gets to enjoy the eternal youth, wealth, influence, and seductiveness that seemingly come standard with vampires in modern vampire fiction. You honestly have to wonder why Kyohei has to go so far as to threaten Kaya with blackmail to keep his secret when he barely has anything to conceal in the first place. Oh, did I forget to mention that he threatens to fire Kaya's saleswoman mother unless she keeps his secret? Yeah, he's a real charmer like that. Despite all this, he's the one who lets Kaya's hair down, dresses her up like a doll, and inevitably falls for her because her
Coming into this, I feared that Midnight Secretary would be nothing but a trashy, regressive nightmare of a romance. On that front I was partially correct. Kaya isn't as much of a pushover as heroine of this sort tend to be, but Kyohei is more than enough of a jerk to make up for that and the romance between them is precisely as forced and clichéd as expected.
Ohmu's art is surprisingly cutesy for what's meant to be a josei book. It certainly helps it to blend with the rest of the Shoujo Beat line, but it feels almost at odds with the tone of the book. While most of the women in-story are drawn in a generically cute and bedroom-eyed way, Kaya stands out because she's drawn like a damn children's doll. She's got these huge, glittering eyes, a tiny pout of a mouth, and dark flowing hair that all but begs to be pulled from its tight bun for dramatic effect. In comparison, the guys are built along the same leering, broad-shouldered, square-jawed lines, complete with bangs falling ever so artfully over their eyes.
For something that's marketed as sensual, there's not a lot of actual sex on the page. At most, the sensuality involves a lot of sprawling limbs with the occasional peek of bra or bared breast. Meanwhile, everything from the backgrounds to the composition is quite plain. The craziest Ohmi gets is when she breaks out the Dutch angles in her panels. Otherwise, she keeps her focus entirely on her leads.
Kaya might have more backbone than I expected, but backbone alone is not enough to save Midnight Secretary from its horrendously clichéd narrative and its overwhelming douchebag of a love interest. You'd be better off saving your money for actual romance novels than spending your money on this.
This series is published by Viz. This series is complete in Japan with 7 volumes available. All volumes have been published and are currently in print.