So you know how I mentioned a couple of days ago how Ouran ruined me for reverse harem manga forever? Well, that's only partially true. It's true that most of them can't compare to the humor and character writing there, but it's also true that a lot of them are simply mediocre like today's selection.
KISS OF THE ROSE PRINCESS (Barajo no Kiss), by Aya Shouto. First published in 2008 and first published in North America in 2014.
Ever since she was little, Anise Yamamoto had to obey one rule above all: she must never remove her rose choker or else she will face a terrible punishment. Then one day a strange bat falls from the sky and snatches it right off her throat, leaving behind four mysterious cards. Anise discovers that with a kiss, she can use these cards to summon four magical knights to serve her. It's a neat trick, but what is Anise meant to do with this power? More importantly, how is Anise going to get her choker back before her father comes back home?
I get the feeling that Aya Shouto didn't have a very concrete idea in mind when she started writing Kiss of the Rose Princess. There are plenty of idea fragments to be found all throughout the story. There's a bit of magical girl here, a touch of reverse harem there, a smattering of humor for flavor, but these fragments never come together to form something whole, much less something with a point.
Like so many lackluster shoujo heroines, Anise isn't so much an active character in her own right as she is simply reacting to the events around here. Very often, it feels like she's caught up in the story against her own will. Since she herself doesn't have much focus, neither does the story around her. As for her knights, they all tend to fall under some of the usual reverse harem types. There's a light-hearted princely type, a token shota, a goth with some sadistic tendencies, and a moody, contrary tsundere who is blatantly being set up as the end goal love interest.
Shouto does at least add one odd twist to most of them: the princely one is a masochist, the goth is a literal vampire, and the shota has a rose allergy. These twists don't really add anything to the story beyond some gag fodder, but these twists do at least bring a touch of levity. The same cannot be said for Kaede, the tsundere. He's positively dedicated to being the biggest pill possible and every scene with him is a trial. Again, I thought the point of a reverse harem was to offer up a sampler plate of appealing boys. I know that if I were faced with Anise's selection, I would sooner choose to be spinster.
The cast-wide lack of personality might not be so obvious if there was a more concrete narrative for them to follow. It takes Shouto far, FAR too long to come up with any sort of proper conflict for Anise and company to face. Most of the volume is spent on wild goose chases in pursuit of Anise's own little Macguffin and all in vain. By the time that Shouto decides on a plot, it's far too late for anyone but the most dedicated and naive lover of magical girl and reverse harem tropes to care.
It's unfortunate that Shouto went with such a busy, gaudy approach to the art for this series. The cast are entirely overshadowed by their unruly, overly tussled hair. Anise in particular has long, tendril-like locks that swirls about her so much that you would swear it was sentient. That hair also has a bad tendency to get mixed up with all the stereotypically shoujo screen effects Shouto uses. Flowers, sparkles, gaudy screentones, all of this and more are present and it all tends to melt together into visual nonsense. This is not helped by the fact that she keeps her panels small and tightly focused instead of giving these flourishes the space they desperately need. The final chaotic touch is how she tends to frame her panels at Dutch angles. Visually this is meant to convey uneasiness, but she uses it so much here that it just makes the whole book feel queasy.
Kiss of the Rose Princess wants to be fanciful and fun, but it's too mired in its own incoherence and gaudiness to be anything other than a tacky, muddled mess of a manga.
This series is published by Viz. This series is complete in Japan with 9 volumes available. All 9 have been published and are currently in print. This series is also available digitally through Viz.