Kodansha has been a licensing spree lately, adding all sorts of digital-only shoujo titles to their collection. I figured that since I had enjoyed the josei titles they had picked up so much, surely I would have just as much luck with their new shoujo titles!
Oh how wrong I was.
PEACH HEAVEN (Momoiro Heaven!), by Mari Yoshino. First published in 2007 and first published in North America in 2017.
Ever since her father died, Momoko Shino has had to help support her family by taking up her father's penname and writing erotic romance novels in his stead. None of her classmates have any idea that "George Aihara" is just unassuming (if somewhat exhausted) girl...that is, until she stumbles upon class idol Ranmaru Inui having sex with their English teacher. She uses the encounter for her next book and Ranmaru finds out her secret. He eventually agrees to keep it on one condition: that Momoka become his slave. After all, how can a teenage girl who has never so much as kissed a boy write good erotica unless someone teaches her the ways of romance?
I'm not surprised to learn that Peach Heaven is a decade old because it certainly leans on a lot of old-fashioned (and frankly disturbing) romance tropes used in the name of cheap drama.
Right from the start, Yoshino just piles on the melodrama. It's not enough that Momoko is forced into her late father's job, she also has to be the only breadwinner for her little brother and her perpetually, vaguely ill mother because her late father was a wasteful, philandering idiot. It's meant to evoke maximum drama, but if you're an experience shoujo reader it'll evoke nothing but eyerolls. Aside from that, Momoko is an OK character. She's a fairly down-to-earth girl, even if she's more than a little repressed in all sorts of way. The only thing about her that's not repressed is her imagination, and the most delightful parts of the manga are the ones where she works out new story ideas in her mind. It's even written in a way that evokes the lurid purple prose of a proper romance novel.
Alas, any delight I could take in her ends when he crosses paths with Ranmaru. In many ways, he's not all that different from a lot of other shoujo love interests. He's a handsome blond model, adored by every girl that crosses his path save for our heroine, the illegitimate son of a wealthy yet neglectful family, alluring enough to tease and tempt the heroine with the promise of sex yet too noble to simply force himself upon her, and slowly but surely falling for the heroine's innocent charms. He's also a giant asshole like so many of them, if the fact that he's willing to blackmail a fellow classmate into personal slavery wasn't a dead giveaway.
Thankfully, his notion of 'slavery' doesn't extend beyond making her make him lunch and tagging along on some of his jobs, but the fact that he thinks blackmail is a good idea in the first place makes him downright despicable. Then there's the fact that he's got a major double standard when it comes to sex. For lack of a better phrase, Ranmaru is a slut. He sleeps with multiple girls and women indiscriminately, yet he constantly guilt trips Momoka over the fact that she's a virgin. Of course, he also takes it upon himself to 'correct' this by forcing the equivalents of heavy make-out sessions upon her. We, like Momoka herself, are meant to simply take this in stride because he's just sooooo handsome, but instead I would rather see him punted into the stratosphere.
Once the contract is made, the story devolves into more predictable scenarios. There are impromptu modeling sessions, health scares, drinking parties, attempted date rapes, most of which are set-ups for Ranmaru to do something nice or say something nice about Momoka when she's not around. None of these so-called tender moments were enough to counter all the shit that happened before. Reading this is like reading the second coming of Mayu Shinjo, and that's just about the last mangaka I want to be reminded of.
At least Yoshiro's art doesn't make me want to scream. It's actually quite nice. Her character designs are a lot more round and plain than your average shoujo artist. I especially like Momoko's scruffy mop of hair. It's a little thing, but it works well at visually communicating her constant sense of exhaustion. For all that we're told of Ranmaru's irresistable beauty, he's mostly just arms and an overly long torso than anything else. Maybe that's because he's not terrible expressive; no one in the book is in particular.
Yoshiro keeps things mostly tasteful when it comes to the saucier stuff. Momoko's imaginings are mostly covered in roses and text, while her hot-and-heavy moments with Ranmaru remain mostly clothed. She also tends to lean a lot of screentones for backgrounds, but she uses them well. They never overtake the action or emotion and she tends to use shadow-like ones to suggest the everyday scenery of your average street front.
Peach Heaven is about as far from heavenly as you can get. It leans far too heavily on tired, exploitative cliches and I don't know what was more chilling: the premise or the love interest. Surely Kodansha can find far better shoujo manga to bring over, even if it's digital only.
This series is published by Kodansha. This series is complete in Japan with 12 volumes available. 3 volumes have been published digitally and are currently in print.
PS: Just go read The Full-Time Escapist's Wife instead, or Tokyo Tarareba Girls. You'll have a far better time doing so.