By Rinko Ueda. Released in Japan as "Hadashi De Bara Wo Fume" by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Margaret. Released in North America by Viz.
I actually finished this manga and was fairly intrigued by it. I want to read more. I'm not entirely certain, however, that it's for the reason the author would LIKE me to have.
The basic premise is one perhaps a tad familiar to shoujo fans. Girl meets jerk, jerk forces girl into relationship, girl stresses out. It does get off to a good start by being set in 1892, which helps to set it apart from other high school mangas along the same lines. But the girl is still a likeable but gullible drip, her brother is still a sleazy player, and her new man is a conniving trickster. So it's not set apart that much.
I can't promise I'll keep reading, as Sumi really does grate on my nerves. I've notes before how I prefer my shoujo heroines to be tomboyish and perky to nervous and twitchy, and that comes into play here. I did like the way that she began to make an effort to better herself and learn reading and writing, though admittedly it's so that she can get a guy to notice her. But hey, she actually does pretty well considering.
Where the manga does intrigue me is its portrayal of Soichiro. He's an absolute ass. And unlike most absolute asses in shoujo manga, he doesn't even get that one 'throwing the girl a bone' art shot that lets the heroine think she possibly misunderstood him and maybe they can really love each other if she tries hard to see his good side. Everything in this volume is designed to make us dislike him, and like Nozomu, the guy that Sumi seems to have a total crush on.
Now, clearly things will not stay that way. We'll find the reasons for Soichiro's cold persona, desire for Sumi to "not" love him, and his secret nobleness. But I have to admit, I'd love it if he simply turned out to be an ass, and the manga was about her trying to escape her hideous circumstances. I'll read it until I'm proved wrong, which will likely be the next book. Other than that, it's an average shoujo manga, with pretty art and some amusing gags. Its strength is that it makes good use of the period, with gorgeous fashions and some good historical characterization (when's the last Shojo Beat heroine you saw who couldn't read?). I can see why Viz picked it up, and will keep an eye out for Vol. 2.