Do you need some trashy shoujo in your life? Are you hankering for a shoujo romance wherein the female protagonist is just as bad of a person as the primary love interest? Are you tired of shoujo romances where the girl has all the strength of will of your average jar of peanut butter? Well, folks, you’ve come to the right place!
While not quite as trashy as the cover art would imply (and I’ll admit that the cover art kept me away initially – sorry, can’t quite bring myself to buy in-store a manga featuring a junior high student straddling another while grabbing his tie as its cover image), Missions of Love definitely falls more toward the Hot Gimmick end of the shoujo spectrum than, say, the Fruits Basket end. Mercifully, unlike in Hot Gimmick, though, our lead is a fairly fearless, conniving sort, which is part of what makes the whole thing work.
Missions of Love is about a young cellphone novelist, Yukina Himuro, penname Yupina, who is feared by her classmates because of her harsh stare. Little do they know, Yukina stares because she’s gathering material to use in her novels… because that Yukina is a famous cellphone novelists is, of course, a big secret. Yukina, though, is worried since her fans have been clamoring for some romance in her writing – but she doesn’t know anything about that! Luckily, she manages to discover that class sweetheart Shigure Kitami is distinctly un-sweetheart-ish (behind his pleasant façade he’s busily scheming to get all the girls in the class to fall in love with him), and she promptly blackmails him. The deal? He has to do whatever she tells him to, or she’ll spill the beans… and given that Yukina’s trying to learn about romance, no prizes to guess what sorts of things she ends up forcing him to do. Also, Yukina’s only ‘friend’ is her cousin, Akira, and, surprise, surprise, turns out he’s hot for her. Can you say ‘love triangle’?
I will note, though, that although its all fairly trashy, and although the author enjoys standalone art for covers and chapters that looks a bit risqué, we’re not in smut territory here). I do wish the characters were a touch older and that we got some smut, to be totally honest. Even someone like me occasionally likes to have some straight smut in their diets.
So, Missions of Love is, ultimately, about a few teenagers with massive flaws and bad-to-borderline-bad personalities, trying to play at romance. On the one hand, I feel guilty for finding Yukina’s way of handling Shigure amusing – after all, she’s blackmailing him into doing things, so the this isn’t freely given consent. On the other hand, Shigure is a rotten person who treats Yukina badly at several points – after learning that she hates being in front of people without her glasses on, he snatches them and then leaves her in a crowd. Both of them are very, very self-centered characters, so I find it hard to feel too sorry for either when the other does something crappy to them.
Then there’s Akira, who goes from meek and milquetoast-y to a would-be Romeo when he senses that Yukina may be getting too into Shigure. The personality switch is a bit funny, but it also just demonstrates that Akira, too, is pretty damn selfish. Of course, as far as Akira is concerned, I’ll confess to being a bit shocked at how forthcoming Kodansha Comics is about his portion of the triangle – the back cover of volume three directly states that Akira is a. Yukina’s cousin, and b. trying to romance her. While this may be totally fine for the Japanese market, cousin-cousin romantic relationships are considered unacceptable by much of the U.S. and Canada, so it seems a curious move by KC. Of course, it is certainly true that the manga-buying public isn’t terribly averse to such, but it still is surprising to see it so obviously stated; usually that sort of detail is just left in the narrative for actual readers to find out about rather than for outraged censorship fiends to find and start screaming over without even having read the material in question.
But, back to the manga itself. Its highly entertaining. Watching the petty rivalry between Shigure, who doesn’t want to admit that he’s falling for Yukina, and Akira is fun. Watching Yukina do things to watch for the reaction from both of them in order to recycle it into her latest cellphone novel is also quite fun. However, the reading experience is also riddled with moments wherein I found myself squirming over what was going on on-page; these kids just don’t seem to have much of a concept of consent, and while it doesn’t make me dislike the characters (which itself unsettles me), given shoujo’s tendency to play nonconsensuality as sexy, I do feel uncomfortable about its presence here.
Of course, it could also be said that these teenagers are actually behaving just like teenagers, for good or ill. Yukina and Shigure seem to not know what they actually want, and Akira’s ideas of romantic behavior are cadged from romance novels. Yukina’s inability to figure out what a racing heart means is flat-out silly, but there’s a grain of truth in there – hell, I remember as a teenager having to work out how to tell the difference between liking someone and liking someone (although, yeah, Yukina going to the nurse’s office complaining of a sore chest is just stupid, even if it does set up an amusing visual gag).
Kodansha Comics does a perfectly fine release here, although the short cover text reminds me of nothing so much as the various merchandise rattling around out there that features small snippets of Engrish printed on them. It isn’t that its actually Engrish-y, but, well, for whatever reason, that is what it brings to mind.
All in all, I’m enjoying Missions of Love in spite of its flaws. Watching these kids dashing around doing idiotic things while running on the power of hormones and ambition is a nice summertime diversion, and it rounds out nicely my current slate of shoujo titles (Kamisama Kiss, A Devil and Her Love Song, and Limit). I do wonder a bit about its staying power over the long-run, but through the first three volumes I remain pleased.