Manga is a booming business in Japan. For the uninitiated, manga is a Japanese art form that has been adopted and adapted by publishers worldwide. Manga, roughly defined, is the Japanese word for comics or drawn cartoons. In reality it’s far more than that. Manga are not just comics for kids. Subject matter can range from G-rated to X and the stories can be fantastical or realistic. Since the business of manga has become so massive in world publishing, it’s no surprise that Harlequin has gotten in on the action. Since 1998 they’ve re-published over 250 of their novels as manga in Japan (in an arrangement with Ohzora Publishing Company). These have been so successful that Harlequin is now working with Dark Horse Comics to reformat them again for an English language market. According to the company: "HARLEQUIN romances are timeless, and this partnership allows us to bring our compelling editorial to a younger readership in a format that they find relevant.” Interesting experiment in publishing, hmm?
Dark Horse is publishing these novels in two color-coded lines. The pink are aimed at younger readers and purple for an older audience. A Girl in a Million is the first of the pink line. Originally written by Betty Neels and published first in 1993 as a Mills & Boon Romance and then again a year later in the U.S., in June 19944, as a Harlequin Romance (#3315), it has been adapted to work for a younger reader (I’d put the age range at about 9 – 13) and I think the adaptation works.
I’m stating up front that I was a Betty Neels reader and fan (the Harlequin Romances) back when I was about twelve or 13 myself, so my response to the first of this new line was definitely colored by that early exposure. As I read I was charmed and amused and I know that some of that was definitely caused by nostalgia for the Neels formula. Young, innocent English nurse meets older, experienced Dutch doctor and falls in love. She’s convinced she’s too plain, inexperienced and uninteresting to get the doctor and he’s the strong silent type who doesn’t tell her how he feels until the final pages of the book.
In this particular novel Caroline Frisby is the nurse in question and Marius Van Houben the doctor. The deus ex machina that brings them together is Marius’ 3-year-old nephew Mark. Mark was injured in an accident in England and Caroline is his nurse. Marius is intrigued by the quiet Caroline so when he sees how well Mark responds to Caroline, Marius arranges for her to accompany the family back to Holland where Caroline can nurse Mark back to health. Because Caroline is attracted to the very handsome Mark, she agrees to go.
Neels’ trademark straightforward storytelling translates well to this new format. The author has always kept her romances centered on the protagonists’ dance around each other. No suspense subplots for this author. Conflict arises out of the couple dynamic, and the only outside force affecting the relationships is the "other" woman who is always beautiful and always considered by the heroine to be more suited to the hero. In this case the beautiful other woman is Marius’ sister-in-law, a woman with whom he was once involved, but who is now married to his brother.
Because the plotting is basic and the dialogue minimal, illustrations play a large part in the storytelling in manga. The artwork here is nothing particularly ground-breaking, but it does suit the story. I had visions of school-girl miniskirts (the apparel of choice for many manga authors!) which luckily did not come true. No heaving bosoms either. And though we have to read from right to left instead of left to right as we’re used to, the simple line drawings make the action clear at all times, which makes this a great manga starter for younger readers.
I didn’t assign a letter grade to this one because though I think this edition works, I’m not the target audience. Add in my feelings of nostalgia and I couldn’t even begin to figure out how to rate it. Suffice it to say I enjoyed myself and if you have young girls interested in romance, you might give this one a shot.
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