Title: Only By Chance
Author: HARA Chieko and Betty Neels
Harlequin 1998, 2007, Digital Manga
I thought I would try something new this week, and talk about a title that CAN be read online in English. This book, Only By Chance is part of the Harlequin line of Josei manga licensed and released in the US by Digital Manga Publishing. It can be read online at their site. Each book features a story that is based on an original Harlequin romance novel (in this case, one by Betty Neels) with art provided one of many well-known manga artists. DMP gave me the opportunity to read some of their titles, and I was excited to see the Harlequin books. I know that my favorite Josei manga artist, SAKAI Miwa, has done some of these books (I really want to read those) and for this book, we have art by HARA Chieko, an artist I have already talked about here before, for her romantic mystery series, Tobiiro Shadow. For Only By Chance we have a more conventional romance story.
The heroine is a young woman named Henrietta Cowper. As the story begins, she works at a hospital as a general aide and assistant, helping patients with some basic therapy and other minor duties. Henrietta is not a registered or licensed nurse or anything, so her position at the hospital is precarious. Her boss, a mean older lady, is looking for ways to get rid of Henrietta (whom she did not hire) to replace her with someone certified, regardless of how well Henrietta actually does her job and is liked by the patients.
Meanwhile, all the nurses at the hospital are aflutter, drooling over the handsome top neurosurgeon, Dr. Adam Ross-Pit. Adam is tall, kind, and a brilliant doctor. If this story was set at a high school, he would be the school prince type of guy (I bet he WAS that type back in high school). All the nurses speculate about his love life and want to win him. However, it seems that one person already has his attention…
You guessed it, Adam has noticed Henrietta toiling away as a hospital aide. Henrietta is always cute and cheerful, with a charming smile and gentleness towards patients. Adam is attracted to her sweetness. (good for him, attracted to something other than her looks at first!) However, before he can do anything, Henrietta collapses! Oh no! It seems she has fallen ill, and will need to stay in the hospital a few days to recover. Adam tries to help her, and in doing so, learns that Henrietta is living under harsh conditions. She is an orphan, lives alone, and has little money. Even staying at the hospital while she is ill is too much for her to afford.
Still, Adam is a dashing do-gooder, so he does his best to help Henrietta anyway, but naturally, things aren’t entirely smooth. While Henrietta does have a talent for hard work and making friends, there are people who do not approve of her associating with Adam. After all, how can there be any future for them? Henrietta is dirt poor and works menial jobs, while Adam is wealthy and admired by all. He is a true elite. There is no way she can climb to his level. He may be fond of her and treat her well, but it must be out of pity. Henrietta lacks the self-confidence to believe there could be anything more. Can Adam prove her wrong?
I had mixed feelings after finishing this story. The pace is quick, with few surprises. This really is just a one-shot story chapter, not a full-length tankoubon. I think HARA Chieko does better when drawing her own stories than when adapting someone else’s work. The plots have more twists and turns. Maybe it’s because the original work is a western romance novel that was written without thought of a graphic presentation in mind. As for that presentation itself, reading this is a little awkward. The fonts used are more like something you would see in a book instead of the comic book-like fonts you usually see in translated manga. The dialog often overflows the word bubbles, and some of the smaller text is left in Japanese, with the English dialog squished in beside it. This is probably because the pages are displayed in a fairly small size, at least compared to my monitor.
Still, in spite of my complaints, this is a pleasant enough story, if very fluffy and lacking substance. The main couple are a little too perfect for me to be completely happy. Henrietta is a sort of angel type of character who always works hard and makes friends and doesn’t seem to have any flaws (aside from being poor). Adam is of course, handsome and smart, and good-hearted. They don’t really face any monumental challenges that are high-stakes. But this is a cute time-killer read, a harmless and silly romance, worth taking a look at if you’re a fan of Harlequin novels or josei manga.