Welcome to Romance Roundtable: a feature where the editorial POME Crones gather together to discuss a Harlequin romance manga. Today we’re discussing Levelling the Score by Kei Kohsaki (original novel by Penny Jordan). Get ready for a romance comic drawn like a horror manga, totally normal, platonic compliments between gals, and lotion-scented intrigue.
CC: y’all wanna start off by summarizing this book?
Jenny: it’s fake dating!!
tragic lesbian, in love with her straight college roommate, settles for said roommate’s brother
Ashley: Here’s my take: otherwise completely sensible career woman, gets lured into a fake engagement by her best friend’s brother, who, she has reportedly been in love with since she was 15, for literally no reason. Blah blah blah they get married and so does the best friend.
it’s actually incredibly hard to summarize because the events just seem to happen in sequence with very little impact on the following events
and the reasoning behind every plot point is shockingly threadbare
Jenny: like trying to make sense of a full season of riverdale
Ashley: HAHA, i imagine so
also sorry about all the errant commas up there idk what’s up, everything hurts
Rachel: Also, they make a big deal about how this gal is a virgin, and how she has to cover for her “promiscuous” best friend
Ashley: oooooooooooooof yeah. yep.
i can’t remember their names even though i read this book like two hours ago, bad sign, but the lawyer-brother is SO MEAN to her, apparently (revealed at the end after they have sex, AFTER he says he wants to get wasted to PREVENT himself from boning her) because she’s so slutty
EVEN THOUGH he then subsequently admits to being horny for her when she was 15 and he was 23
and is also a massive slut, himself
Rachel: lol god this guy
Ok let’s do what we did last time and break it down by characters maybe?
CC: I’d be down, except I have no idea how many people are in this book because they all blur together in my head honestly
Rachel: SIMON UGH
Jenny: paragon of self control
Ashley: LIKE DUDE YOU CAN’T EVEN RAPE CULTURE PROPERLY WTF
CC: could he be any less appealing
Jenny: you mean to tell me that the ascot is not an enduring #look
CC: he has a bad face and a bad ascot
Ashley: truly could not. also NOT JOKING about the HUGE NECK (you know what they say about dudes with necks):
CC: they have….
Rachel: His neck HAUNTS this boo
Ashley: this is the protag’s dumb american bestie
who waxes poetic about dating a married woman who got married DURING their relationship ???
CC: def a person to take romantic advice from
his tiny glasses show that he has it all figured out
Jenny: truly This Idiot
but also specifically this panel
Ashley: that guy is not in a relationship with a married woman, he’s talking about his waifu pillow
who he makes kiss with like a bishonen pillow every night
Jenny: are we sure he’s american and not actually an alien who doesn’t know what human bodies look like
Ashley: Jenny, great point, we are absolutely NOT sure
Jenny: could be worse
Ashley: all of these men look like lizards in human skin
CC: I was genuinely confused when our gal’s boss shows up like halfway into the book to sexually harass her to I guess let simon come to her rescue, for reasons???
bc he also had tiny glasses
Ashley: what other option? ma’am, your evil fake fiance is a LAWYER
Jenny: i just watched an episode of murder she wrote w this exact same plotline
CC: well clearly where things went wrong was not hiring a crone PI
Jenny: could’ve saved herself so much trouble
CC: but ANYway, ok, so: we’ve got simon, and we’ve got tiny baby glasses adultery guy, and this terrible boss
Jenny: craig is the friend
our girl is jenna
and her best friend/college roommate is??
Jenny: that sounds right
lol i try
CC: all the characters in this book
Ashley: oh do NOT forget the milf, Emma
Jenny: oh man the milf!
CC: i totally forgot about her
Ashley: i remember her just fine, lol
Rachel: LOL THIS PAGE
CC: LOL THIS FAMILY
Jenny: that was A Lot
Ashley: i have that same screenshot and named it, “normal mom stuff”
CC: I guess there was also a grandma in this book?
Ashley: yeah, she only appeared on page like, twice
CC: and simon has a girlfriend???? who appears in like, one panel, just to smirk?
Ashley: ah yes, a blonde
because apparently jenna thinks her red hair makes her unlovable
Jenny: this is the panel and the whole page is actually a treasure
mostly the “don’t say a word craig”
CC: definitely easy to tell who is a blond and who is a redhead in these b/w pages
Jenny: i mean bw manga is just the destined format for this story
Ashley: i’m surprised based on some of the sound effects that there weren’t labels saying “blond,” “red,” on every page
Rachel: Oh yes I wanna take this opportunity to talk about the comics-ness of this story
Where they choose to draw everybody either extremely close up and you can see half their face, or you can just see a body part
But no mid shots
Or wide shots
this comic was drawn like a horror comic, basically! it made the plot barely intelligible!
Rachel: It’s SO CONFUSING
What is even happening????
Ashley: complete with huge double page spreads of just background, which s clearly what the artist prefers to draw
CC: extremely hank hill voice:
i am here to draw backgrounds, and background accessories
Ashley: the file name but it’s: “hank hill but make it british i guess”
the backgrounds are really nice. also the fashion is actually good. very dim bright spot
CC: this enormous castle spread
CC: side note: why????
is this the same castle they spent the night at in the beginning of the story??? or another castle???
I read this book yesterday but everything about it is a fog to me
Jenny: w e a l t h
Ashley: why, indeed. absolutely no clue. but make me a jigsaw puzzle of it.
Jenny: so many castles
the basic plot though, right:
our girl’s bff wants to run off w her bf and asks our girl to cover for her w her brother, whom our girl loves but who is a dick and also does not approve of his sister’s bf
the sister/bff says she’s staying at the country house, but when the brother and our girl get there, respectively, they realize she’s not there
but it’s too late to drive back to town and
Jenny: and there was only one bed (classic)
they’re discovered in bed together by the maid the next morning, and the brother tells the maid that it’s ok bc they’re engaged (they are not)
but then the maid spreads it around to their families, and our girl doesn’t want to disappoint them, and the brother of our girl’s bff is just trying to trap her into marriage, so she goes along w it
unrelated to this, her boss is pimping her out to clients, she refuses to sleep w them, and is fired
so she has some free time to go to a villa in the south of france
CC: wait that guy wasn’t even the boss
I’m so confused
Ashley: nah the guy in the hotel was a client
but also this comic’s bad!!!
why are there so many different characters????
how am I supposed to keep up with all of them???? I have a full time job and a dog!!!
Jenny: it’s so unnecessarily confusing!!
Rachel: It has a bad story but it’s also bad as a Comic
Like, it’s bad at the medium
Ashley: rachel, AGREE
here’s an illustrative page i called: “i should have known from the first panel this would be hell”
Ashley: MF SAID “TWITTER”
it took me SOOOOO long to figure out that abstract shape was supposed to be… light…?
Jenny: christ almighty
Rachel: IS THAT WHAT IT IS
Ashley: i think so?????????
like, sun beams refracted through a (invisible) window?
Rachel: Dang, that is… a choice
An illustrative choice
Also v ambitious for this artist in this black and white format
Ashley: we really need to turn romance roundtable into an investigative report on harlequin manga, because this book just screams “i was paid to draw this in 24 hours for minimum wage”
CC: how are there so many
how does harlequin manga make money on all of these
but, getting back to this one specific book
I have a question for you
is….jenna rich???? and if so, why does she work at this terrible office?????
and if not, how did she grow up with people who own multiple castles???????
weird zoning issue, or????
Ashley: her parents are dead, so i think probably not?
susie and simon are rich, though
susie gets a trust fund at 25
CC: I guess jenna grew up in a village with her granny? but also near susie and simon?
Ashley: i think when she talks about “asking grandma for help” when she gets fired, it’s like, regular generational wealth gap and not Rich Grandparent
Jenny: i’m not sure if this is more “i would rather draw backgrounds” but
i love the implication that this bridge murdered her parents
CC: who’s to say it didn’t?
Jenny: tower bridge is out for blood
CC: i never liked the look of that infrastructure, i’ll tell u what
so many windows, and for what???
ok, another weird moment but
the part where simon walks in on jenna while she’s changing?
love 2 spin the wheel of tropes, tho, tbh
Jenny: they don’t actually kiss, but she imagines that they do (i think)
CC: and then it leads to this
super normal interaction
Ashley: okay, i was wondering about that
Jenny: i’m not sure if the top half of this was real or her imagination
but i do believe that he smells like lotion
not sandalwood, at least (the thing i feel like somehow all romantic interests are described to smell like)
Ashley: it’s so alien and normie at the same time
it’s like swooning over someone having two eyes
Jenny: what kind of lotion
i need to know
CC: this kind
Jenny: lol bless
Rachel: I dunno, I feel like it’s just like
Like, the blandest
Jenny: just jergens
generic brand unscented lotion
with a hint of baby powder
like finishing salt
Rachel: Yes, cannot be bothered with the scents the peasantry use to cover up the smell of poor
Rachel: Honestly, this book was bad in a way I did not even find enjoyable lol
Normally I like getting into how fun the bad parts are!
But this one OFFENDED me, I think because of how bad it was at being a comic
CC: totally agreed
it was also very boring!!!!!
Jenny: and didn’t make a whole lot of sense!
CC: and it wasn’t even steamy at all!!!
Jenny: a boob gets cupped at one point and that’s IT
Rachel: There wasn’t even a nip!
Ashley: there was one good boob part….
Ashley: that underboob!!
Ashley: this really should have been a horror comic about how everyone in this family is horny for jenna and it results in bad things
…. actually i guess that is what the comic is about!!
CC: you’re totally right!!!!!!
Rachel: lol it’s true!
Jenny: are y’all ready for final thoughts?
Rachel: i’m ready!
CC: free us from the prison that is this book
final thoughts time
Rachel: ok here’s mine
this is the one visual/comics thing i liked about this book
Rachel: i love it when somebody’s mad and their hair goes WILD
CC: v cute!!!
Ashley: hahaha!!! the pearls are flipping out!
it was cute…
… it was also literally cut/pasted a few times
Rachel: lol YES
which is further evidence for the fact that this book was maybe made at minimum wage in under 24 hours
i’d copy/paste art too
Ashley: hehehe yeppppp
ok so, my final thought is
Ashley: AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH HAHAHAHAHAHA
Jenny: how dare you make me watch this with mine own two eyes
Ashley: the guy going “what? what?” is all of us
Rachel: i’ve heard CC do this Pikachu voice so many times
CC: IT’S TRUE
Jenny: it’s uncanny
Rachel: now when i think of it, i hear her and not pikachu
this is your legacy CC
CC: I LOVE IT
hire me, the pokemon company
Rachel: also unrelated, i just had the best idea for my maid of honor speech
Jenny: oh no
CC: “””” ITS BECAUSE —“
Ashley: okay okay here’s mine:
imagine this pasted over the butterfly in the meme: “is this… heterosexuality?”
Ashley: COMPHET IS REAL AND IT KILLS!!!
Jenny: this book was bad! it was badly written and badly laid out and the messages it’s pushing are bad!
that said, my final thought:
Jenny: i’m a simple bitch and i live for this
Ashley: omg i snorted lol
fake engagements are always a good trope, even when a garbage comic tries to use them
Jenny: you just can’t beat it
Join us next time for Romance Roundtable, when we’ll be covering Suite Seduction — which just seems to be You’ve Got Mail, but with chefs. In the meantime, check out our Patreon for just a few bonus goofs that didn’t make it into today’s roundtable, as a treat.