That wasn't the only josei series to come out this year, though. Viz continues to sneak out the occasional josei title through the Shojo Beat line, and sadly they can't all be Everyone's Getting Married levels of good.
SP BABY (SPxBaby), by Maki Enjoji. First published in 2014 and first published in North America in 2017.
Tamaki Hasegawa was simply trying to get to an interview. She just couldn't help kicking and lashing out when she saw what she thought was a man in a fight. That man turned out to be Kagetora Suga, the nephew of the prime minister, and he thinks she'll be perfect to serve as his bodyguard. No one ever said that this new job would also require fending off a lot of stolen kisses and possibly her own changing feelings for her new boss.
Compared to Enjoji's previously licensed work, Happy Marriage, SP Baby is not so bad. Hell, even compared to a shoujo series like Beauty Bunny it's not so bad! Nonetheless, she does expect her readers to accept a lot of face value and put up with a lot of bad behavior in the name of "love."
I can appreciate that Tamaki is a fairly practical gal with a flight-or-fight instinct set firmly to "fight." She throws high kicks and punches with fierce speed, and it's a shame that we never really get to see her put her instincts and later training to the test. What's less believable is that this young 20-something woman still approaches romance with all the shyness and experience of a sheltered schoolgirl. A woman her age should still not be freaking out about things like her first kiss, or make nothing but excuses as to why she can't make a move on her handsome florist neighbor Natsu. Not that in matters in the end, as by the end she's swooning over the guy who has done nothing but made her panic or angry because The Plot Demands It.
On the surface, Kagetora comes off a lot better than a lot of male leads in josei tend to do. He's not cruel or controlling. He smiles almost constantly and encourages Tamaki to better herself. Yet every time I reached a point where I might be willing to let him off the hook, he would mess with Tamaki's personal boundaries. He touches her without permission, kisses her repeatedly, ogles her body (particularly her legs), gets pissy when she tries to act professionally, and generally acts like a cheerful douchebag. Worse still, this is the main source of comedy for the series, with Tamaki's shock and offense serving as the punchline. Ha ha ha, there's nothing more amusing than sexual harassment!
Those parts are pretty intolerable, but that's nothing compared to Enjoji's idea of a red string of fate to tie the two together. It's established that Tamaki is a Tragic Orphan, having lost her parents in a car crash many years ago. Meanwhile, Kagetora keeps dropping hints that he's met Tamaki before and has a ridiculous nerve disorder where he's unable to feel pain...except when Tamaki hits him. He's basically all but screaming HEY I WAS INVOLVED IN THE CRASH THAT KILLED YOUR PARENTS and there's no way that this plot thread isn't going to end in maudlin disaster. So when I said that this series wasn't so bad, that doesn't mean that it's any good.
Enjoji's art is fairly typical of middle-of-the-road josei. Her characters are generically attractive, if not particularly original or all that far removed from those "how to draw shoujo manga" books. She doesn't bother much with backgrounds or screentones, which is probably for the best because her page composition is downright chaotic. Panels are assembled and layered with abandoned, which I suspect was her attempt to liven up a manga which is mostly people talking to one another in a white void. The only positive I can say is that at least there's not a lot of gratuitous fanservice there only to justify publishing it in a josei magazine.
SP Baby wants to pretend that it's empowered, but it's just offering up more of the same old sexist rom-com nonsense in a new package.
This series is published by Viz. This series is complete in Japan with 2 volumes available. 1 volume has been published and is currently in print.
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