Welcome to Romance Roundtable: a feature where the editorial POME Crones gather together to discuss a Harlequin romance manga. Today we’re discussing Tug of Love by Reiko Kitagawa (original novel by Penny Jordan). Get ready for a whole buffet of Terrible Men, a Very Normal (?) amount of Oedipal possessiveness, and—what’s this?—a complex protagonist??.
Jenny: ok so can i just start out by saying:
Jenny: that’s it. that’s the book
Ashley: HAHAHA YEP
Ashley: it’s clearly the 80s or 90s… they didn’t invent therapy yet
CC: ok but also
counterpoint / part 2:
tl;dr (too long, DID read; but):
Jenny: h o n e s t l y
Rachel: lol ok ok but before we dig in, let’s summarize
Jenny: a single mother, Win, is dating her boss, who hates her son; her ex husband moves in with her??? and she rejects the boss and remarries her ex
the son is an absolute shitheel
Ashley: and has a really bad oedipus complex
CC: also the son WATCHED A FAMILY DIE BEFORE HIM
just, like you do
Ashley: lmao yeah… that felt… forced
Jenny: not handled well!
Ashley: i will say, this was one of those special Harlequin Manga where every single character sucks shit
Ashley: they are all extremely reactive and bad at acting like we live in a society / family unit
CC: everyone sucks but heather
the supportive girlfriend
Jenny: BLESS HEATHER
Ashley: AS USUAL the cute friend is the best character / should have been the love interest!!! lol
Jenny: just gals being pals
Ashley: a tale as old as Romance Roundtable
Jenny: lol loved this moment too:
Jenny: very casually tell your friend how sexy she is
Rachel: oh i also got that screencap but my name for it was
“what is with these font choices”
the “BECAUSE YOU’RE SEXY” font is a CHOICE
that someone MADE
CC: heather screaming
Ashley: yeah this was a very special “how to lettering????”
although i appreciate that they were being like, experimental
that being said… does Harlequin manga… have… editors?
show me the receipts because i think these comics are edited by poor AI
Jenny: a good question!
does harlequin manga need editors?? (yes; hire us)
okay new approach: maybe let’s talk a little about each character one by one? there’s a lot to unpack
CC: there is definitely a lot to unpack here
Ashley: let’s start with Tom because trashing men is fun
Jenny: and also he’s the first character we really meet
Jenny: in this classic: you’re not my REAL dad!
also the vocabulary on this kid!
Ashley: also my fave bit,
where he CORRECTLY diagnoses the source of their “relationship” as sexual harassment
Jenny: good points from this child, tbh
Ashley: also sadly the best style of any other person / panel in this comic
anyway Tom… is so very clearly a creep!!
i was sort of hoping that the choice between the two love interests would be difficult…
and it was…
but in a completely opposite way where they are both way gross
instead of both desirable
but also like!!
how did she not see these MASSIVE red flags from Tom??
CC: OMG truly
Jenny: open your eyes girl!
Ashley: yeah…. it took her a while to cop to the charlie thing… and the bad sex thing…
but let me say, from personal experience, i actually did find this interesting and believable
young single mom is desperate for connection and overlooks glaring flaws? yeah, that hits for me.
also THANK GOODNESS there was like, some actual sex talk in this book?
like a surprisingly frank discussion of desire and good and bad sex?
Jenny: more than “fumble fumble” you mean?
Rachel: i was intrigued that there was sex and also some kind of evaluation of sex and what it means to the character!
Rachel: also, there were boobs and i wish there had been at least a dude butt
Ashley: boobs WITH NIPPLES!!
DIFFERENT WOMEN’S NIPS!!
Rachel: YES, several instances of NIPS
CC: surprised by the amount of nips!
Ashley: but yeah, more full frontal and rear…al… male nudity please
Rachel: give us a butt you cowards!!! 🍑
CC: ok but, TBH I don’t want to see either of these dudes in any less clothing than they are currently wearing LOL
I DO want to see some grade A harlequin beefcake
Ashley: HAHA fair, not THESE dudes
they all had across-the-pond massive foreheads
and necks you could drive a truck on
CC: ninehead to fivehead
CC: while we’re on the subject of tom
might I just add
CC: love this swift comeuppance, also, get it girl
take all his money and get as many elaborate 90s manicures as you like
get like, 15 car phones
Ashley: i swear Lisa’s model was based on Courtney Cox
CC: or uh
the girl from Addams Family?
god I can’t remember her name
Ashley: i was ALSO thinking joan cusack from addams family values lol
babe of the century imo
CC: i am here to: look hot, take yr money aesthetic
Rachel: you love to see it
CC: I don’t really wanna “live to work” either I mean honestly
good 4 u
Ashley: Lisa the receptionist said honeypot rights
Rachel: LOL ashley
ok we spent too much time talking about nasty tom
let’s pivot and talk about nasty james
CC: hahahaha so fair
Ashley: okay yeah, JAMES
the tech exec from down undah
i did LOVE that they straight up just had a panel full of koalas whenever australia came up
down to a branded polo James wore that said “coara”
Jenny: was cute
another GREAT heather moment
Ashley: HAHA heather really is a good friend
also her hairstyle with the little wispies confirms: DEF the mid-90s
but anyway… okay so did anyone believe that James really thought Charlie ran his “make dad move in with us” scheme by Win???
CC: absolutely not
Jenny: lol NOPE!
CC: this feels like it’s out of some terrible divorced dad playbook
Jenny: this is not the face of a man who assumed everything was approved
CC: no dad who asked permission to spontaneously move in would take their kid to an amusement park that often
I’m just saying
Ashley: you mean, ONCE???
I’ve never been to a disney theme park I’m SUSPICIOUS
no, you’re right, this is a super divorced dad who forgot his kid existed move
CC: ALSO he was super quick to want to drop charlie like a hot potato when things didn’t go well
Jenny: yeah! a bad look!
Ashley: yeah, i’m not over that
he did straight up admit at the end that charlie was a cover for, “sorry, i was just really horny?”
Rachel: so true
and like, for a second, he had me
i was on board
Rachel: like, that’s a good thing to say to your son!
Jenny: i mean — p good parenting, but also!!
he absolutely jumped her the moment they were both out the door
Ashley: OH YES I’M SO GLAD YOU BROUGHT THAT UP
Jenny: it was like: look how good i am at being a dad; also i just failed to save two people and their child from burning to death, BC OF STAKES, so i need to be comforted also
Rachel: oof you’re right
it was so disappointing
Ashley: Charlie CONVENIENTLY and MYSTERIOUSLY got way jealous of James the night after they has crazy sex
and the whole time they’re discussing his “jealousy” i’m like… has no one considered the very real possibility that he HEARD / SAW them??
by Harlequin manga standards, that sex scene was WILD AF
like it started literally in the hallway OUTSIDE HIS BEDROOM DOOR
CC: also that sex scene just looked loud
Ashley: lol for real though
bless Win though, her moments when she’s honest with herself about Being Horny as a Normal and Not Remotely Spiritual Endeavor are when i love her best
CC: related-ish??? but even though he is absolutely made out of day old garbage I did appreciate James being somewhat self aware here:
CC: what’s that? you’re worried that your TEENAGE girlfriend, your BABY GIRLFRIEND is not emotionally ready for this relationship but pushed it anyway???
I guess at least he realizes it, which is a big up on like, the entire relationships subreddit
CC: what i am saying is, this is a very low bar
Ashley: yeah, when they’re finally honest about it all, it’s like, okay this can be problematic in a very Human way! as a treat!
Jenny: i do want to mention, kind of to this point: their misunderstanding of each others emotions did, for the most part, actually feel p believable
Jenny: this felt like a perfectly reasonable assumption
Ashley: oh yes
this is almost the plot of Carol
and also every divorce ever
this guy comes back into your life, after spending the summer w your son, and he’s criticizing you
felt like a logical jump
and it was actually p fun and well done to watch her point of view on this evolve
Jenny: when james whisks the son off to an amusement park, foiling Win’s plans to make a nice breakfast!
CC: love a protag w chocolate on her face
chocolate shavings in the coffee right?
Ashley: def chocolate
but i think this is a good time to pivot and focus on Win (short for Winter)
she makes bad choices left and right, including when it comes to trying to seem like a good parent
and even though she’s kind of nasty and reactive… i… actually think it worked?
like, finally a Harlequin manga character who isn’t a cardboard cutout of an angel from a pickup line?
CC: love 2 see a protag in these books who can actually make mistakes
not just the victim of circumstances
not ENTIRELY the victim of circumstances I mean
you put your finger on it right there
she’s just as responsible for her misery as the men in her life
CC: yeah — I am glad she was willing to kick tom to the curb in the end though
Jenny: but also would like to remind everyone that the men in her life are also responsible for some level of misery
Jenny: this fucking asshole
Jenny: but also def she is world more complex than most harlequin manga protags
Rachel: lol, and again, the bar is so low
Ashley: this is true
Jenny: i did like that she had v relatable dreams, though (when it comes to romance)
Rachel: this was CUTE
CC: please give us a harlequin manga about THEM
i wanna know EVERY DETAIL
Ashley: omg yESSSS
CC: but also, for all we know they just started hooking up
Ashley: EITHER WAY
i’ll order 5, please!
CC: LOL agreed
Ashley: also, while we are all canon in favor of old couples…
this hit hard during quarantine… 😥
look at them, surviving to old age… being outside together… no hand sanitizer in sight…
Rachel: oof yeah
CC: the 90s-a few weeks ago really were a different time 😥
Jenny: i mean yeah — this was the 90s so this couple is probably dead now
not to be That Guy
good for them, y’know
really dodged the bullet that is 2020
CC: this is fine dot gif dot jpg dot tiff dot exe
to pivot away from the wider tire fire around us to the more centralized tire fire that is the characters in this book
heather called it: these dudes ARE all super weirdly and creepily possessive
Jenny: ALL OF THEM!
CC: is this the time bud?
yeah, this is like, reaction-image-palooza
Rachel: (note to readers: this was right after they put their son to bed after he woke up SCREAMING because he’d just seen a whole family die in a horrible accident, and then her nightgown was slightly askew and he got a peek at the outline of her boobs)
(so, very CLASSY)
Ashley: just a little light objectification humor in a crisis!
sure, this gif might be more applicable re: tom, but
Ashley: we got enough rope to hang em all
Rachel: it’s definitely not NOT applicable
Rachel: well, with that, are y’all ready for final thoughts?
cause i have one
CC: I’m ready!
Rachel: i don’t think this is how the pill works
CC: IT’S NOT
Ashley: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAA omg i’m so glad
Rachel: if it is, then i have gotten VERY LUCKY
Ashley: not even Ms. Rona could do that!
Jenny: i’ve heard that that happens, but i think it is urban legend
sometimes people just don’t take them regularly
Ashley: tbf, in this scene she is 19 at the OLDEST
so she’s probably like… yeah, uh… yeah a cold,
CC: honestly the only, ONLY thing related I can think of
is I guess there are some antibiotics that I think used to conflict with the pill? or that people THINK can interfere with the pill’s effectiveness but in reality I don’t think really do????
I am a little rusty on this stuff, as I haven’t taught a Managing Contraception class in over a decade
but I can’t think of one reason that a cold should be able to interfere with your birth control pills LOL
Rachel: i feel like if this is a real thing, my doctor would have told me about it
what a wild urban legend tho
CC: unless you were sick and forgot to take it!
Rachel: that’s probably it!! (re: jenny’s point!)
Jenny: my final thought ties in a little bit to earlier points: all of the dudes are gross and possessive; this child is an absolute shitheel
Jenny: this is “your house”??
check w the bank, my dude
Ashley: kid can’t even define “mortgage” smh
Rachel: lol to be fair, i was some version of this kid to an extent
i definitely got in fights with my mom because I had RIGHTS and i was her EQUAL
CC: kids in the 90s!
snarfin ‘za with their buds
idk LOL what did kids do
Jenny: in their YoYo t shirts
Rachel: playing with pogs
Ashley: that they bought with THEIR OWN money
Jenny: no cell phones
CC: that brings me to my final point
Jenny: it’s the worst
CC: love 2 get sexually harassed at work; definitely rewarding & fulfilling experience
every dude in this book is bad but i hate tom the most
Rachel: he is definitely the worst of the lot
and also i’m mad because he gets no comeuppance
i’m used to the obvious villains getting obviously punished in these books lol
Jenny: yeah hiring an incompetent young woman for you to flirt w isn’t as much of a comeuppance as i wanted
Rachel: my head canon is that she married him and killed him for the money
secret black widow
CC: blessed content
Ashley: love it
CC: i’d love 2 see it
Ashley: okay my final thought is:
don’t read and gestate, kids
it could hurt the baby!!!
not even once
Rachel: especially if that baby is a lady baby
can’t have her reading too soon
Ashley: also, it’s illegal
Ashley: thanks for going on this journey y’all! it was a juicy one!
i gotta go eat the dinner that my non-psychotic husband made us
CC: love is real!!!!!