This month I’ve read volumes from two different series by Hidaka Banri–I Hate You More than Anyone (vols. 1 and 2) and V. B. Rose (vol. 1 only)¹–mostly thanks to the recs of various folks in the manga blogging ‘verse. Hidaka’s work had been on my to-read list for a while anyway, but last month’s discussion of female friendship in shōjo manga inspired me to track them down sooner rather than later.
It’s worth noting that Hidaka is a very prolific creator of shōjo manga. Her author notes in V. B. Rose 1 indicate that it is her twenty-seventh published series! I gather that some of those series are quite short, but that’s still a lot of stories. I Hate You More than Anyone and V. B. Rose began serialization seven years apart; the former begin in 1997, the latter in 2004. Reading volumes from both series within a relatively short timeframe has provided an interesting look at Hidaka’s work at two different stages of her career.
I Hate You More than Anyone is part of Hidaka’s series of titles featuring members of the Akiyoshi family. Kazuha, the eldest Akiyoshi child, is the protagonist of I Hate You More than Anyone. In her second year of high school, Kazuha is a bit of tomboy and very conscious of her responsibilities toward her younger siblings. She harbors a huge crush her younger brother’s preschool teacher, Mizushima, but soon has her heart broken when she learns that Mizushima is engaged. Of course, it doesn’t help that Mizushima’s obnoxious friend, Sugimoto, has made Kazuha the object of his very public affections.
In V. B. Rose, Ageha is a high school student with a fondness of pretty sparkly things and a talent for making handbags. When her sister Hibari announces she is pregnant and engaged to be married, Ageha is dismayed. She can’t bear the thought of losing her adored sister, especially not to a man she considers unworthy. Hibari’s wedding plans bring Ageha to the boutique V. B. Rose, where she is introduced to Yukari and Mitsu, the two dressmakers who will be creating Hibari’s dress. (For the reader’s convenience, the two bishōnen are neatly distinguished by their haircuts: Yukari has long, wavy light hair, and Mitsu has short, straight dark hair.) Through the usual series of contrivances, Ageha begins to work at V. B. Rose herself.
Even if I had encountered these works without knowing their publication dates, I think I would have been able to tell that V. B. Rose was the later work. Both the story and art are much more polished. Though I enjoyed reading the first two volumes of I Hate You More than Anyone, I felt slightly guilty for doing so: there are just a lot of problems with the setup and execution. Meanwhile, V. B. Rose is a mostly guilt-free pleasure. It may not be profound literature–it’s so fluffy that the primary motifs in the first volume are butterflies and bunnies!–but it doesn’t leave my inner feminist banging her head agains the desk. (At least not yet.)
Both series feature romances between a high school girl and an older man, a setup that always makes me wary as a reader. In I Hate You More than Anyone, the age gap definitely makes Sugimoto’s enthusiastic pursuit of Kazuha a little troubling. Especially in the first volume, much of the plot seems to be driven by Sugimoto throwing Kazuha off balance. It doesn’t seem quite fair, given that he’s seven years older than her. (Later, Hidaka makes some attempts to reverse the power dynamic, but she mostly succeeds in overcomplicating everyone’s feelings.) In V. B. Rose, Hidaka introduces the romance more slowly. While it is painfully obvious that Ageha will eventually be paired off with Yukari–who falls in love with whom is rarely a surprise in shōjo manga–that’s not the focus of the first volume at all. So we get to see Ageha and Yukari interact as fellow designers and crafters before their romance is developed. Also, at least in the first volume, there’s a more level playing field. Yes, Yukari is older and technically Ageha’s boss at the shop, but he also admires and respects Ageha’s talent as a handbag designer even before they are formally introduced.
While the art in the later V. B. Rose is recognizably the work of the creator of I Hate You More than Anyone, it is much improved. The faces are less stiff, and the characters’ poses look more natural. The layouts are also better done. In I Hate You More than Anyone, the pages often look either overly cluttered with tones or strangely empty. The layouts in V. B. Rose are better balanced from spread to spread. There is often still a lot of white space–more sketched in backgrounds would help from time to time–but Hidaka definitely uses screentones more effectively in her later work.
Given how long the rest of my to-read list is, I may not get around to reading more of I Hate You More than Anyone anytime soon. But I’ll definitely be tracking down more of V. B. Rose. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that the inevitable turn to romance won’t mean that Ageha’s bonds with her family and her female friends (best friend Mamoru doesn’t feature prominently in vol. 1, but all of her appearances are awesome) are forgotten.
Who else has read both of these series? Which one do you like better?
¹ Obligatory disclosure: I am friends with Rachel Brown, the English adapter for V. B. Rose, vol. 1.