At first glance, it seems like a logical combination. Romance novels are all about happy endings and feel-good stories and shoujo manga is basically a romance novel with prettily drawn pictures. The combination of these two, as I was imagining it, would produce a wonderfully fluffy manga in which I could get my daily dose of hunky men, cheesy dialogue, purplish prose, sex and happy endings all in one go.
+ = AMAZINGNESS
However, the actual execution of said equation has produced less than stellar results, much to my dismay and disappointment. I reaaaaally wanted to like these happa manga-novels, but instead of the happy marriage of love, sex, and fluffiness that I was expecting, the result was just...sorta awkward. I mean, it's not like I was expecting freakin' Shakespeare or anything like that, but I was expecting something with more finesse.
My main complaint is that these manga-novels have no depth whatsoever to them. Characters are introduced with only a cursory explanation, and then you get maybe one or two pages that explains the childhood trauma/emotional scar/phobia of pink rabbits/whatever it is that prevents them from forming healthy, normal relationships.
Then you get to read the rest of the story which consists of these emotionally scarred characters (who you don't really know anything about) resisting the urge to have sex. These characters don't really talk to each other, but they sure do like talking to themselves as they keep up a running internal narrative in which they comment on how passionate, how smoldering, how attractive, how whatever the other person is.
OMG. HE'S SO HOT. But I'm not going to tell him that.
Basically, what I suspect happened was that a Japanese writer read a romance novel and thought "Aw yis! I'm gonna make a manga out of this!" They then went through the entire book, chose a few random scenes and some dialogue, and then told a Japanese artist to draw it. That's how these things read - there's no continuity between the scenes that are drawn, and there aren't any explanations that are given. As the reader, you just kind of have to assume/guess about things. As a result, these manga novels read like limp fish - it just doesn't cut it.
Here it is, proof of the galling leaps of logic
The page above is the VERY FIRST PAGE of such a manga novel. You don't know a thing about the characters - all that has happened is that the guy apparently said, "You must not fall in love with me...I cannot promise you a future," to which the woman's very illogical rejoinder is "I need to break up with him." For all we know, the guy might be terminally ill. Or he might be a soldier and is about to go to war. Or he might be a recovering amnesia patient. Or whatever. Point is, there has been no explanation to justify why the woman should break up with him and why we should sympathize with the woman. It's just sorta plopped in there, and the reader has to draw their own conclusions.
I guess I shouldn't have expected that much to begin with - if you mix fluff with fluff, it's to be expected that you will end up with fluff. But I wanted so much for this genre to succeed! As such an ardent fan of both genres, the prospect of a romance novel manga proved to be too titillating to NOT expect great things. Well, maybe not great things, but at least entertaining things.
Anyway, I will continue to be a fan of both romance novels and manga, but I plan on keeping them separate from now on, like ice cream and broccoli. And don't let this negative post prevent you from checking this new genre out! It may be that I am completely off my rocker and I have missed all the merits of this manga subset. In which case, you should comment and refute all of my statements. I would so enjoy a blogging comment duel, o ho ho ho.
Many thanks to mangafox.com for providing the images for today's post (from the romance novel manga Fujitsu na Koibito as well as Midnight Secretary)! You can also check out here for more examples of American romance novel covers similar to Jule McBride's Naked Ambition, as well as here for pictures of Fabio adorning romance novel covers of the 80s and 90s. Gotta love the hair.
PS: I do not mean any disrespect to Shoujo Manhwa, the lovely group that scanned a lot of these romance novel mangas - you guys are great and are awesome for scanning stuff for us fans! :D