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April 13, 2011

Bento Bako Lite: Harlequin Highlights 13

If you surf on over to Digital Manga Publishing’s eManga website, where you can read digital copies of manga titles (by buying points to spend on buying or renting them), you’ll find a section of the site under the name “Harlequin.” What you’ll find there is a collection of short romance titles (most run about 126 pages). They go for 100-400 points a piece (you can buy 500 points for $5.50). They are essentially comic adaptations of romance novels. Since these are short, low budget titles, I feel that it would be best to group them together and review several at once.  This week we’ll look at The Billionaire Boss’s Forbidden Mistress and The Billionaire’s Secret Baby. Also, for anyone who has noticed or cares, I am going alphabetically through the titles currently available to me.

Title: The Billionaire Boss’s Forbidden Mistress
Author: Megumi Toda, original story by Miranda Lee
Publisher: Harlequin K.K./SOFTBANK Creative Corp.
Vintage: Original novel in 2006, Harlequin manga version in 2009

Two years ago, Leah and her mother were in a car accident. Leah’s mother died while Leah survived, but she was covered in scars. Not wanting a damaged wife, Leah’s husband divorced her. As a result of such treatment, she has vowed never to let a man into her life again. Leah now works as a receptionist for a small cosmetics company, but the company is bought out by billionaire bachelor Jason Pollack (who is, guess what, Polish). Jason had married an older widow and inherited her vast assets when she died. He has been buying up companies and selling them since. Because of a woman he saw in his dreams (yes, in his dreams), he bought the cosmetics company, and is immediately struck by Leah’s beauty. He’s even more drawn by her rejection of him, which isn’t something he’s used to, but his immediate interest in her doesn’t go beyond his lust. He pursues Leah again, and is once again rejected as Leah stresses about the scar on her leg, thinking that no man would want her if he saw it. As Jason becomes persistent, Leah decides to show him why she has refused him, and blurts out her painful story while showing him her scar. Jason, now ashamed at how he pursued this fragile woman for his own gain, wraps his arms around Leah and gives in to her tear-filled pleas for intimacy. The next day, they part with the intention never to see each other again, Jason because he is still in love with his late wife, and Leah because she cannot work with him after their night together. Unfortunately, things don’t go as planned, and they are again brought together. Knowing they are drawn to each other, Leah decides to compromise her desire for love to be with Jason. Can the two of them live happily in such a relationship?

Well, apparently not. Because like most romance stories, Leah falls in love with Jason. The amazing “twist” here is that Jason starts falling for her too. But because they agreed at the beginning that they didn’t need love (or couldn’t love again, in Jason’s case), they both hide these feelings. Leah starts writing in a diary things like: “I love him. Oh but I can’t tell him, or I’ll lose him!” It really made me cringe. Leah pretends that she’s just happy someone will have sex with her when she’s got such an ugly scar (and the first time, that is what’s going on), which is already a problem. It feels like a pity lay, that Jason’s only sleeping with her because he feels sorry for her. I guess it’s a nice message that a scar doesn’t make you ugly or undesirable. Especially when you’re drop dead gorgeous otherwise, Leah. It just doesn’t have the impact that, say, a story about a woman with a disfigured, scarred face would have. Let’s have a Harlequin romance where the guy falls in love with the personality first, rather than the looks. …. Hahahahahaha, I made myself laugh. Sorry, that was really bitter for some reason. I didn’t feel that way reading it; it’s actually kind of sweet at times.Well, let’s move on to another billionaire (oh those dastardly billionaires, that seem to be a dime a dozen in the world of Harlequin).

Title: The Billionaire’s Secret Baby
Author: Masako Ogimaru, original story by Carol Devine
Publisher: Harlequin K.K./SOFTBANK Creative Corp.
Vintage: Original novel in 1999, Harlequin manga version in 2009

Five years ago, Meg had a one-night-stand with rich playboy Jack Tarkenton. Finding herself pregnant, she married a man named Allen and never told Jack about their baby. S when Allen died in a car accident, Meg was quite surprised that Jack showed up to the funeral. Jack wants to be a part of his daughter’s life, and offers Meg and ultimatum. Fight him for custody, a public media mess that might harm Katie, or marry him. Meg reluctantly agrees for Katie’s benefit, but has conditions of her own. Jack must give her a proper mourning period, they must sleep in separate bedrooms, and Jack has to stop sleeping around with other women. As a man, Jack isn’t thrilled about the last condition; Meg refuses to sleep with him and insists the marriage be for outward appearances only, but won’t let him find someone else. Meg is fully aware of Jack’s nature, and made the offer thinking he would refuse and compromise another way. Jack decides to play her game and starts playing a little dirty, making Meg and Katie spend time with him by getting Katie excited to play with her cousin (the son of Jack’s sister and Meg’s brother). While visiting with Jack’s sister, she reveals the real reason behind Jack’s behavior, the result of media pressure after their political father was assassinated. As Meg watches Jack play with the children, and later visits him at his mother’s home to have dinner with his family, she starts to see another side to Jack that she begins falling for. Being whisked along at Jack’s pace confuses her, though, and she grows frantic about her convoluted feelings. Things don’t get any less complicated when they’re married. Can the innocent little Katie that binds them also bring them together in love?

It’s rushed, which sort of ruins the story’s development. That is to say, it just jumps from one point to another with little “developing.” Suddenly there’s a baby, suddenly a husband dies, suddenly there’s a wedding, suddenly there’s sex, suddenly it’s all hunky-dory again. There are other Harlequin manga titles with much better pacing. As for the story itself, it’s…OK. Meg is so gung ho about not wanting anything to do with Jack that she never even gives him a chance. They met once, had sex, and never talked again. But the thing is, while it’s true Jack didn’t contact her, she made no effort to contact him, even though they were family (they met at the wedding between his sister and her brother). So the fact that she is so standoffish and actually rather angry with him doesn’t make a lot of sense, because she didn’t make an effort either. It’s clear she felt it wouldn’t matter, because Jack was such a playboy, and Meg figured she was just another in a long line of women. But she didn’t bother to find out otherwise. I’d be pretty upset if I was Jack, and he’s remarkably kind about the whole ordeal for the most part. He just wants to be in his daughter’s life, and he’s angry that Meg is trying to deny that. He didn’t bother her while she was married to someone else, but found his window when Allen died. The gist of the story is that Katie basically brings them together. Meg seems to be a little inept at dealing with reality and handling Katie, while Jack has an understanding of what it’s like to lose a parent at such a young age. What really gets me is that even though they’re family, they had NO contact for five years, even though Jack was known to visit his sister often. It’s kind of an annoying hole in the story.


Access to eManga provided by Digital Manga Publishing.
All images copyright © Harlequin.


One Comment

  1. […] at ANN. Kate Dacey posts short takes on recent releases at The Manga Critic. Kristin reviews some Harlequin manga at Comic […]

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