All her life, Sachie's mother told her that she didn't have any other family, so imagine her surprise when, soon after her mother's death, a man claiming to be her grandfather arrives and invites her to live with him. She suspects something's up when she notices that he's missing a pinkie, but even that doesn't prepare her for the reality: her grandfather is the head of a yakuza gang.
Sachie's grandfather assigns the princely-looking Rakuto, the member of the gang closest to her in age (he's 16, she's 15), to be her bodyguard. He's a huge flirt, and all the girls at school love him (they have no idea he's a yakuza member), but Sachie can't even begin to guess what he's thinking.
What she doesn't realize is that Rakuto has cared about her since they first met, when they were children. Unfortunately for Rakuto, Sachie is the boss's daughter. He doesn't want to overstep his bounds when Sachie's grandfather has done so much for him. Sachie is the beloved princess of everyone in the gang, not just Rakuto - he can't just monopolize her, and he knows it.
In this first volume, Sachie tries to adjust to her strange new life. She invites Rakuto to the movies, gets a bit jealous when Rakuto receives a New Year's card from a person he calls his "first love," and tries to deal with the whole gang when they overdo things a little trying to get her a gift for her birthday.
I enjoyed this first volume, but there are already signs that the series probably won't be able to sustain itself very well for the 10 volumes I think it lasts. If Sachie weren't so blind, and if Rakuto weren't so averse to speaking about his true feelings, this series could have easily ended in one or two volumes. From what I could tell, Sachie's grandfather probably wouldn't mind if Sachie and Rakuto started dating – in fact, my current theory is that Sachie's grandfather is hoping they'll start dating. The other yakuza members would throw a fit, but they'd eventually be okay with it, too, as long as Sachie made it clear that Rakuto made her happy. There doesn't seem to be any obstacles keeping Rakuto and Sachie apart that they don't create themselves.
Even so, I found this volume appealing. There's not much here that lovers of shoujo romance haven't seen a million times before, except possibly the yakuza stuff that acts as background for everything, but then again the “criminals with hearts of gold” thing has been done before, too. “More of the same” isn't necessarily a bad thing, as long as you enjoy it and don't expect too much. This first volume hit some of the same notes I tend to enjoy in a lot of other shoujo manga.
There are the usual storylines in which the characters demonstrate that they have feelings for each other, even though they may not always be completely aware of those feelings. The bit with the girl who tried to steal Rakuto away, after essentially giving a guy friend of hers permission to do whatever he wanted to Sachie, is not unusual in shoujo manga – something similar popped up in Yuu Watase's Absolute Boyfriend. The “hero and heroine met and first fell in love when they were children, even though one of them no longer remembers this” storyline also pops up in manga a lot – Natsuki Takaya's Fruits Basket is a good example. Not everything that happens is something I can remember seeing in another manga, but the overall tone of this series feels, so far, like a lot of other stuff out there.
Rakuto is, of course, hot. He's also an outrageous flirt, who uses that as a mask for his true feelings. Sachie is the nice, ordinary girl who, at first, feels like she's completely out of her depth with her yakuza family, but there are plenty of signs that she's going to get along with them just fine. The only reason this works at all is because the dangerous side of yakuza life is either minimized or used to humorous effect. Anytime Sachie screams, the guys think there's a raid. The guys break a few of Rakuto's ribs as punishment for entering Sachie's mother's former room, but the beating isn't shown, and the only effect broken ribs seems to have on Rakuto is to make him collapse (after he intimidates the guy who was bothering her, of course). If anything, being wounded only makes him sexier, because it emphasizes just how much self-control he has and shows that he's willing to do what he has to for Sachie's sake.
At least, that's the reaction I think Fujiwara was going for. I couldn't help but think that it was unnecessary for Rakuto to take that beating. Did he really believe that Sachie's grandfather would punish her for making an honest mistake? Or that, if he punished her, it would be something worse than maybe being grounded? Sachie's grandfather's household is generally presented as a happy, family-like sort of place, but then there are things that make me wonder, like Sachie remembering her mother saying that her father (Sachie's grandfather) scared her, or the possibility that Rakuto believed that Sachie might be physically punished for accidentally entering her mother's old room.
Overall, as long as I just took this as a light romantic comedy, I liked this manga. I don't know that it'll have the staying power for 10 volumes, but I guess I'm going to find out, because I own several more volumes of this. Here's hoping that Fujiwara brings in some actual romantic obstacles. And also, here's hoping that she eventually starts drawing Sachie consistently. I'm a sucker for clean lines and good use of screentone, both of which this manga has, but Fujiwara doesn't always seem to be able to get Sachie's proportions right. In some panels, she looks like the 15-year-old she's supposed to be, and in other panels she looks like a child with a bobble head and scrawny body. Then there's the first time Sachie and Rakuto met in this volume – in that scene, both Sachie and Rakuto have enormous right hands.
If I were to give this a grade, I'd probably give it a C. It's definitely not bad, and those who are newbies to the world of shoujo manga may enjoy it, but if you read as much shoujo manga as I do it's not really anything spectacular.
Author sidebars, which actually include a bit of information relating the manga but still manage not to be terribly memorable; 2 pages of cultural notes (not much info, but still helpful); a few short, funny little comics starring the Wild Ones characters.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- The Wallflower (manga) by Tomoko Hayakawa - If you thought Sachie's horror when faced with some of the less ideal aspects of her new life was hilarious, and if you loved her reaction to Rakuto's over-the-top flirtiness, you might want to try this series. Be warned, though - I haven't read this whole series, but I suspect the romance will ever get any kind of conclusion. This series stars a girl named Sunako, who loves scary and horrific things. Sunako's aunt tells a group of gorgeous guys that they can live at her mansion rent-free...but only if they can turn Sunako into a lady. It's a funny series with a hint of romance.
- Marrying the Mafia (live action movie) - I loved my grad school library - it had an excellent selection of movies, one of which was this one, a Korean romantic comedy. In this movie, a straight-laced businessman and mousy lab tech wake up in bed together with no recollection of how they ended up there. They part ways, but then the woman's three brothers visit the business exec and inform him that she is the daughter of a powerful mob family. They tell him he must pursue a relationship with her, or else. Those who'd like another romantic comedy featuring organized crime might want to try this. I remember it being surprisingly cute.
- The Gokusen (anime TV series) - I think this started off as a manga series, but it doesn't look like the manga is available in the US. Those who'd like another comedy featuring yakuza characters might want to try this. The main character is a woman who becomes the homeroom teacher for a class filled with delinquents. She manages to win her class's respect, but what the school doesn't realize is that she is the heir to the Oedo Group, a powerful yakuza clan. If her secret gets out, her career as a teacher is over.
- Ouran High School Host Club (manga) by Bisco Hatori; Ouran High School Host Club (anime TV series) - Those who'd like another light romantic comedy starring lots of flirty guys might want to try this. In addition, there is a minor character (in the anime, anyway - I don't know if he shows up in the manga) who is the son of a yakuza boss. In this series, Haruhi, the only scholarship student at an elite high school intended primarily for the children of people who are rich or have a lot of influence, ends up becoming part of the Ouran High School Host Club. Haruhi breaks a vase that belonged to the club and can't afford to pay them back, so becoming a club member is the only other option. The guys all later figure out that Haruhi is actually a girl. If Haruhi's secret gets out, she'll no longer be able to be in the club. I butchered the description of it, but this is actually a really funny series. Those primarily interested in the series' romantic aspects may be a bit disappointed, however, since Haruhi seems mostly uninterested in romance, from what I've seen.
- Kare Kano (manga) by Masami Tsuda; His and Her Circumstances (anime TV series) - Those who'd like another series with a tightly controlled main male character who has a tendency to mask how he really feels might want to try this. As far as most people know, Yukino is perfect in every way - gracious, good-looking, a good student who is liked by everyone. What no one but her family knows is that her perfection is a mask that she wears in her quest for others' praise. One day, Yukino's rival, Arima, who also seems perfect in every way and who, to her horror, has confessed his love for her, learns her secret.
- Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya; Fruits Basket (anime TV series) - Like Wild Ones, the main character of this series, Tohru, is on her own after her mother dies. Tohru ends up living with the Sohmas, a strange family suffering from a curse that causes some of their members to turn into an animal from the Chinese zodiac when they become weak or are hugged by a member of the opposite sex. Tohru's mother used to be a yankee (a delinquent, member of a bike gang) - she and Sachie's mother seem very similar. Those who'd like another shoujo romance series with similar story elements and a similar overall feel might want to try this.