Stepping on Roses Vol. 1 (VIZ Media)

Sumi’s brother put her deep in debt, but a suave new stranger just might be her salvation in this romance manga with a hint of My Fair Lady.

200 pgs, B&W, $9.99
(W / A: Rinko Ueda)
 
You know when you’re out at a bar with one of your friends and you’ve had, like, four Newcastles and they’re all like “Hey, let me tell you about this situation with so-and-so-that-you-don’t-know,” so you order another round and you put on your best listening face, then your friend tells you the story and you want to respond correctly but you’re just completely bewildered by the situation, which almost seems hypothetical because it’s just so random that you can’t even begin to wrap your head around it?
 
Stepping on Roses is a little like that. It features two siblings: Eisuke, a ne’er-do-well gigolo who keeps collecting orphans to use as future slave labor, and Sumi, his beleaguered sister. Eisuke’s got a bit of a gambling problem, leaving the pair deeply in debt. They can’t afford to feed all these tykes, one of the kids is sick, and the doctor won’t work on credit anymore. Sumi is completely at a loss in coming up with a solution, so she ends up sobbing on the street, begging for someone, anyone, to come help her.
 
Fortune changes in the form of a handsome man who gives Sumi a handkerchief with some money tucked inside—just enough to get the medicine the little one needs to get better. Unfortunately, another debtor comes to call and Sumi ends up deciding that, rather than see the children hurt, she’s going to go show some leg and see where that gets her. Naturally, the creepy manga guy that hangs out in books waiting for such moments shows up and is about to screw Sumi over in more ways than one when someone new enters the story.
 
The newcomer is Soichiro Ashida, a pretty, wealthy man on a mission to find a bride in order to inherit his grandfather’s fortune. Somehow he decides that Sumi is it, and we enter into a fairly dysfunctional My Fair Lady homage. There’s a kindly butler who oversees Sumi’s transformation, and you know that handkerchief man can’t be far from reappearing.
 
Writer/artist Rinko Ueda, previously known for her work on Tail of the Moon, has the shojo technicalities down, though. Her art is gorgeous, the book cover is clever, and the story is set in the little-used Meiji Era of Japan’s history. The clothes are frothy delights, everyone is beautifully captured, but the story just doesn’t grab me. The characters are just extreme to the point where I can’t really empathize with them—the debt collector is so bad, Soichiro is so manipulative, Sumi is so desperate, Eisuke is so irresponsible. Except for a few moments during Sumi’s “lady lessons,” it just doesn’t feel like there’s a middle ground, and the middle ground is where stories always seem to grab me. I have to think it gets better in future volumes, though, maybe when we get to see more of Sumi and the butler, who star in this book’s most human moments.
 
I definitely think that if you see it at your friendly neighborhood comic retailer, you need to take a look at the cover, which I find utterly delightful. Would I be interested in further volumes? Maybe. It seems like this book has potential but, for now, I’m going to remember that one girl’s ick is another one’s squee, though, so I recommend this book for fans of drama on 11. | Erin Jameson

 

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