Manga Reviews: Ultimate Venus volume 1

Ultimate Venus reminds that sometimes the Cinderella fairy tale still can work. 

Ultimate Venus vol 1 (Published by Go! Comi). 

From the back cover: "Poor Yuzu is an orphan who's too clumsy to hold a job. She's reduced to living in a playground -- until a handsome stranger named Hassaku informs her that she's heir to a fortune, and whisks her into a world of wealth, power, and more hot suitors than she can shake a scepter at! But there's a catch: Hassaku must turn this klutz into a lady of refinement, or Yuzu will lose everything!"

Let's see how many cliches we can catch just by reading the back cover copy: Orphaned but determined teenage girl?  Check.  Fish out of water?  Check.  Hot guys galore just waiting to romance the heir to a ridiculous fortune?  Check.  Stoic but secretly kind bodyguard?  Check.

This title is a little bit like the Wild Ones, except instead of a Yakuza background, the heroine here discovers she is actually the grandaughter of a rich and powerful woman, whose company she will one day inherit.  And when I say "a little like" I actually mean the set-up is pretty much identical.  While the heroine in Wild Ones has a gruff, but kindly, grandather figure to watch over her (it seems some kind of accident of fate he just happens to be a gangster), in Ultimate Venus, Yuzu has a tough, domineering, and extremely cougar-ish grandmother.

And that in a nutshell is probably why Ultimate Venus succeeds where Wild Ones fails pretty miserably.  I think David Welsh has complimented mangaka Takako Shigematsu for her willingness to allow certain elements of "meanness" into her narratives (in reference to her cross-dressing show-biz title Tenshi Ja Nai!! also published by Go! Comi) and what another mangaka might make sweet or syrupy, Shigematsu injects the perfect amount of tartness into her narratives & characters' motivations to make us cheerfully swallow the most ridiculous Cinderella-shojo plot imaginable. 

In volume one of Ultimate Venus, Yuzu is saved from a fate of death from exposure as she's living in the elements (as all orphans are homeless and too dense to seek shelter, right?) and plunked down into the intimidating and rich household of her grandmother.  If she's going to survive she's gotta get around life in rich people's world -- which means navigating new social codes and the tendency of almost everyone around her to kidnap her.  Usually for kicks.  And while she starts to develop feelings for her bodyguard, Hassaku (another individual Yuzu's grandmother has saved from some terrible fate), she isn't entirely sure he and her grandmother aren't....um...very, very close (ew!).  The first volume follows Yuzu as she struggles to determine who she can trust and who she can't ...and sometimes even who she can allow herself to care for at all.

Shigematsu's gift is taking the cliche and make it fun, but also shiny and new.  The art is standard shojo for the most part -- big eyes, overly pretty boys, patterned backgrounds, close-ups of characters in various states of emotional excitement.  However, Yuzu's grandmother -- an attractive older woman with a heckuvalot of sex appeal & power -- often takes the story in really strange and fun directions.  (She's completely merciless with her granddaughter emotionally and yet she remains absurdly fun and amusing.  She, in a word, rocks.)

This story took every worn Cinderella-cliche I could have imagined and made it shine -- right now Yuzu has two potential princes, neither of whom I'd trust with my purse, much less my heart.  The fun of volume 2 is going to watch how she develops as a Cinderella and if she is able to work up the nerve to steer her own destiny instead of allowing others to steer it for her.  As for now, I'm definitely hopping onto Shigematsu's ride to see how this all plays out in volume two.

Review Copy provided by Go! Comi

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