It's Bad Romance Month once again at the Test Drive, and we're taking a spin once again through Kodansha's digital shojo offerings and fishing out yet another dud.
WITH THE SHIEKH IN HIS HAREM (Shiekh-sama to Harem de), by Rin Miasa. First published in 2018 and first published in North America in 2021.
Just a few weeks ago, Sanagi was just another Japanese teen girl. Sure, she had to work a bunch of menial part-time jobs and save every yen to keep her family financially afloat, but aside from that she was fine. Then she managed to talk a weird rich blond boy out of jumping off the roof at one of her jobs, and that boy turned out to be a prince from a far-away land who wants to reward her with marriage! With her family in dire straights, Sanagi has no choice but to accept his offer. Now she's being whisked off to the sun-baked land of Armadia where she'll be surrounded by luxury and intrigue.
First of all: Really? REALLY? Who the fuck writes sheikh romances in 20-goddamn-18?! This is the sort of thing I expect from crappy manga remakes of 1970s Harelquin romance novels, not a shojo manga that ran in Nakayoshi! How can anyone peddle this sort of orientalist, culturally insensitive bullshit?
For the sake of fairness, I don't believe that Miasa was trying to be purposefully offensive. Based on her notes, it seems that she regards the whole sheikh concept as just something to spice up what is otherwise a stock-standard Cinderella-style shojo story. She doesn't even really commit to it - it's mostly just an excuse for a vaguely Middle Eastern looking setting (which is also described as being in the South Seas, which would make it closer to the sheikhless sultanate of Brunei) and having Lui and his family dress in keffiyah and saris like it's Cultural Cosplay Day.
She certainly didn't put any more thought into the characters, particularly the lead couple. Sanagi is your usual poor but hard-working heroine, one too proud to accept Lui's life of luxury without at least a bit of token protest and too stubborn to respond to his advances with anything other than a blushing freak-out. Lui comes off like a bargain-bin Tamaki Suoh: blithe, blond, and empathetic, but so ridiculously wealthy that they have 0 impulse control. Sadly, he's not quite dumb or distinct enough to compare with the likes of Tamaki. Together they make for a rather predictable couple: he showers her in gifts and sweet words for merely existing while she drags out and denies every possible act of affection possible despite being literally married to this doofus.
Not even the intrigue is enough to elevate this premise. True to form, Lui has a scheming step-mother who wants her precious baby boy Adil to take the throne, and she's not above kidnapping her step-son's naive new wife to get to him. Also true to form, Adil is everything you expect from a shojo manga rival boy: dark haired, cruel, haughty, and all too willing to threaten vague sexual violence towards his brother's wife for the sake of sport. I'll happily take some mediocre action over the endless loop of Sanagi and Lui's relationship, but it's not enough to save this series from its lackluster cast and bad idea of a premise.
Like a lot of Nakayoshi titles, Miasa's art here tends more towards the cutesy side of shojo art. Expect a lot of lanky, bobbleheaded, childish-looking characters. Sanagi is a prime example of that, as she's largely defined by her enormous, round, shimmery eyes. In comparison, Lui is more angular, even if he's all limbs and tousled hair. Her page compositions are suprisingly tidy, but Miasa leans hard on the screentones for both texture and mood, to the point of obnoxiousness. It you slap enough spectral flowers on a scene, then surely these characters MUST be falling in love!
This series is published by Kodansha Comics. This series is complete in Japan with 8 volumes available. All 8 have been released digital-only and are currently in print.
As soon as I took a look at the cover my immediate thoughts were "Oh, no, it's gonna be turbo racist."ReplyDelete