In volume 5 of Venus in Love, romance is finally blossoming between Suzuna and Eichi, and their relationship grows stronger as various holidays provide opportunities for each to demonstrate their affection to the other. But complications loom on the horizon in the form of Yuki, another boy in their group of college friends, and once again, Nakaji has added an extra sexually ambiguous twist. In previous volumes, Eichi became Suzuna’s romantic rival when both developed crushes on their friend Fukami. Here Yuki initially enters the story as Suzuna’s rival for Eichi’s attention, but that very rivalry soon becomes a basis for a tentative friendship. Before long, Eichi’s the one who has reason to be jealous, as he begins to wonder about the amount of time Suzuna and Yuki are spending in each other’s company.To anyone who’s read much shojo manga, this latest plot twist is really not much of a twist at all. Eichi’s and Yuki’s uncertain sexual preferences are hardly shocking developments in a genre that glories in sexual and gender ambiguities; in fact, as shojo narrative twists go, Nakaji’s efforts here are positively tame.
This is a problem because everything else in this story is all too familiar. The episodes in this volume are spins on familiar shojo manga plot points–such as going on a date at the zoo, working a seasonal job for the holidays, and giving Valentine’s Day gifts–and Nakaji does little to put her own spin on them. Each of these episodes comes to a wholly predictable end, and as a result, they do almost nothing to further develop the characterization of the three leads. Readers don’t know Suzuna, Eichi, or Yuki any better at the end of the volume than they do at the beginning. Though the stories are pleasantly fluffy and occasionally amusing, they have almost no narrative substance.
These chapters also fall flat because they focus solely on romance. Several months pass during the course of this volume, but Nakaji hardly shows readers anything in the characters’ lives as college students. One character apparently has an interest in archaeology, but that only serves to provide a semi-exotic location for a romantic misadventure. Occasionally Nakaji shows her characters coming and going from classes, but their hopes, dreams, and fears outside their love lives never become part of the story. Many other manga series set in schools, whether high schools or colleges, also focus mostly on romance, but the best of them find ways to incorporate other aspects of the characters’ lives–such as their families, their ambitions, their attempts to define themselves–into their romances to make the overall storyline more compelling.
Nakaji’s art is pleasant and serviceable. For a shojo artist, she uses relatively conservative paneling; as a result, her pages are very easy to parse; even a reader more used to shonen page layouts would probably have no problem following the action here. Her character designs are drawn in a fairly typical shojo style. Sometimes it is a little difficult to tell characters with the same hair color apart, but this is only a minor problem.
Though Venus in Love is ultimately very forgettable, CMX has done a solid job with their US version. Sheldon Drzka’s translation and adaptation retain at least some of the original Japanese honorifics, which is always nice to see, and most importantly, they never throw the reader out of the story by sounding too American or otherwise infelicitous.
Shojo manga fans won’t find anything exceptional in Venus in Love: it’s not quite charming enough to be more than average. If this was the start of the series, I might be inclined to give it a couple more volumes to find its feet; given that this is volume 5, however, I’d only recommend this and future volumes to fans who are particularly attached to Nakaji’s other work.
Review copy provided by CMX/DC Comics.
Review originally published at MangaLife.com