With a name like Virgin Love, it’s fairly obvious that this Kodansha debut is one of their more mature titles, at least in so far as it’s a josei and centred on adult characters. But does it prove to be a manga that’s worth your time? Let’s find out!
Our story follows twenty-six-year-old Shoko Shoji, a working woman well respected in the office and by those around her in her social life, thanks to her efforts to meet everyone’s expectations, no matter how lofty they happen to be. However, Shoko is secretly lacking in one aspect of her life: romance.
Despite now being 26, Shoko has never dated anyone before. This is largely down to a poor experience in high school where the boy she was crushing on called it “gross” when he heard rumours of her romantic interest in him. But being as old as she is with no experience with romance or sex, Shoko doesn’t know where to go from here.
On her lunch breaks, she spends half an hour in the women’s magazine section reading tips and tricks before buying multiple books on improving business instead, something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the bookstore staff, including worker Tanaka who makes a women’s self-help section inspired by Shoko. As Shoko gets to know Tanaka (after he approaches her in the store), she comes to realise she might not be the only one unlucky in love and suggests that the two of them apply to be on reality TV show The Love House.
The Love House program puts six young single adults together under one roof for a year. They’ll go about their normal daily lives otherwise as the aim is to simply see if love will bloom from them sharing their living environment. Joining Shoko is, of course, Tanaka and then we have the IT manager at his own company Akira, hair stylist Momo, fashion school student Rio and last of all Kei – who applied for the year of free rent, rather than romance. Although the group are all of similar ages, Shoko can’t help but notice how pretty and forward Momo and Rio are as her fellow female contestants. Will she ever be able to overcome the hurdle that love poses?
Although I broadly like the premise of Virgin Love, I find it difficult to overlook the fact that there’s a perfectly good romance brewing between Shoko and Tanaka. He can relate to her struggles, he knows that she’s secretly a virgin (having overheard her embarrassing outburst, which led to them becoming friends) and he’s all around a nice guy. But Shoko can’t see what’s right under her nose and is instead barrelling ahead with pursuing Kei, whom she finds it easiest to get along with in the Love House.
And don’t get me wrong, Kei is also a good match for Shoko but I’m not a fan of Tanaka’s feelings going unnoticed because of Kei (especially when everyone but Shoko recognises that Tanaka likes her). Maybe it bothers me since a story like this is likely to loop back around to her falling for Tanaka in the end. At least, I’d be surprised if it doesn’t, in which case it unfortunately all feels like manufactured drama, which is a shame.
Still, my complaints about the romance aside, this is an entertaining read. It’s mangaka Tina Yamashina’s debut in the English market and also her first multi-volume series generally. The artwork is detailed and each of the characters is fairly distinct, which is important when you have such a large cast of characters (although it has to be said they all fit within certain tropes, such as Akira being a handsome rich man). What is nice is that Shoko in particular is drawn throughout the ten chapters here in a range of outfits and with differing hairstyles, which is the kind of attention to detail I always enjoy in series like this. Honestly, if not for the stereotypical circumstances between Shoko and Tanaka, I would have come away quite happy with this generally, given the quality of the art and storytelling otherwise.
I’m not sold on the idea that Virgin Love will be memorable in the long run, nor that I won’t get annoyed with it as it goes on. However, I like the cast and premise enough to keep going with it for now. It’s certainly one of those series where I think Volume 2 will be the deal-breaker, especially as you get a decent amount of chapters packed into these releases, judging by what we have here. Some readers will likely be done with it at this stage, but if you do have the patience for more, I could see it potentially being rewarding.
As mentioned earlier, Virgin Love Volume 1 comes to the West thanks to Kodansha and under their Vertical imprint. The release is translated by JM Iitomo Crandall with editing by Alexandria McCullough-Garcia. As is often the case with Vertical, no one is credited for lettering. The book reads well with no issues to note. Included as extras are colour pages at the beginning and some character profiles at the end, which I found interesting to read and it helped to flesh out the other female characters who are largely in the background here.
The series appears to be ongoing in Japan with four published volumes so far. In English, Kodansha has Volume 2 scheduled for a release in February with #3 following in May and #4 in September. A fairly quick turnaround, perhaps to capitalise on the fact the J-drama adaptation of this has recently been released on Viki.
Overall, Virgin Love is off to a fairly middling start. There are bits that I appreciate, but I worry it will be overshadowed by our protagonist being completely blind to what’s in front of her – to an unrealistic degree. If you particularly like romance manga and the sound of the premise, this may be worth your time but otherwise, I’d caution waiting for Volume 2 before jumping in.
A free preview can be read on Kodansha’s website here.
Our review copy from Kodansha (Vertical Books) was supplied by Turnaround Comics (Turnaround Publisher Services).