For Valentine’s Day, Kodansha brings you Missions of Love vol. 2 a valentine that obeys your every order … or not. Yukina Himuro, a high school student and secretly an acclaimed cell phone novelist, recognizes that her serialized book’s rankings are suffering of late because she lacks any real-life experience in love. So, she does what any sensible, slightly pathological intellectual would do — blackmails the most popular guy in school!
But never fear — both parties have things to learn. Yukina may have her demands, but Shigure, the boy she’s blackmailing, has his, too. Like in most romantic relationships and the best shojo drama, what’s expected goes awry, especially when Yukina’s cousin and best friend Akira (though she doesn’t recognize it), comes to resent what the two are doing to each other — because he wants Yukina for himself!
Shigure is a young man who is quite intelligent, but has no intellectual peers, so he secretly detests everyone around him. Yukina, on the other hand, is internally sweet but externally aloof. Akira’s a beta male and shiro character, at least in book one. In the first volume, we saw the characters introduced and Yukina’s particular personality brought vividly onto the page. But now, the boys’ characters are being expanded and filled-out, while a few surprises keep Yukina on top of her game, too.
I wasn’t sure where the plot would go after the first book gave us such a complete view of Yukina. Instead of exhausting romantic sentiments, the plot presents a new step of emotional connection and the dating process, such as holding hands, kissing, and, in a characteristically Japanese bit, calling each other by first names. But what this book does really well is invert genre tropes in several major ways.
Rather than a tired love triangle, what we have is two people going through the motions of love because they’ve been told they have to. Unlike most stories where both men pine for the girl, the third leg of the triangle, Akira, is looking in and trying to pull both Shigure and Yukina away from their short-sighted behavior. Moreover, instead of being the helpless pining person in the background we’re all supposed to feel sorry for, Akira steps up to the plate on every occasion and shows an inner ferocity that is both believable and exciting. He becomes a hero not in the fantastical sense but in the everyday sense, giving readers a role model that would do good to emulate in the real world, something not often seen in shojo.
The emotional handling is light overall, but Yukina herself is neither the catty girl nor a victim; she’s an actor in her own destiny and it’s delightful — if a little scary — to be emotionally resilient, and see her turn everything that should go against her into another useful thing for her books. Even Shigure is not without redeeming value; throughout his attempts to sabotage Yukina, he learns more about interacting with people, and thereby, how to get out of his current situation of emotional alienation to the other people by legitimately becoming a better man.
All of these facets of character and plot combine to make a shojo romance more relevant to teen and young adult readers than a Twilight-style one. Yet, the book is still light reading, so it’s one that is particularly appealing for commutes.
Like most of Kodansha’s books, a great amount of time went into its creation. The layouts are open and airy, and the shine on the hair is so complicated (in a nice way) that it’s almost overdone. The art is definitely erotic, but in a simple, vanilla sort of way — the closeness of a mouth whispering in an ear, the touch of two hands, the blush of girl. One thing that might be a little off-putting is the loli look that Yukina sports; the big eyes and round face that boarder on chibi-style at times make her look younger than most teen manga protagonists, shojo or otherwise.
Overall, in volume two we get to see new characters come into their own, as Kodansha continues to push the boundaries of genre with art and story. A fun read that shows emotional angles you don’t often get to see in comics, Missions of Love, volume 2 closes with many possibilities for its romantic future, and leaves you feeling introspective, too.