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 have to hand it to Rinko Ueda, she's done what Miki Aihara and Kanoko Sakurakoji were unable to do: get me addicted to a complete and total soap opera of a book. This SHOULD have been the point at which I dropped this series - I even predicted this when I fist bought it - and yet something about this story compels me to keep reading.
We pick up right where we left off, with Sumi having run away with Nozomu. She pretty much begins to have second thoughts IMMEDIATELY, worrying what Soichiro will think, and she also begins to notice that her special guy is perhaps not the sanest of men. Which is only confirmed when he ties her to a post and puts his best crazy face on. (Ueda-san, btw, really knows how to draw a good crazy face. It's not over the top in the way Higurashi popularized, but the eyes and smile are just wide enough so that you know this person is disturbed.)
Soichiro is bound to come to the rescue, of course, and he does. One other thing that I noticed might help my reading of this manga is that it was in Margaret rather than Betsuma, and so its page count is not as high per chapter (there's 6 in this book, as opposed to the usual shoujo chapter count of 4 from the Betsu titles). This actually helps to keep things pacey - everything at the start moves at a breakneck speed, and even when things calm down in the 2nd half there are no pauses or lulls. It's as if the artist knows the moment things slow down, people might start thinking about how ridiculous this all is.
Soichiro in this book has pretty much completed his switch from complete jerk to a mere male tsundere. His frustration with Sumi for just being sweet and loving and so gosh-darned-sexy is amusing, but not half as amusing as when he finds out that Sumi, due to her brother's hideous past gambling, is a shogi master! Not only is this terrific characterization for Sumi, showing how much of her so-called 'dumb' is a result of her environment and lack of resources, but hey, smart girls are that much sexier. Look at his face when she clobbers the shogi expert at the end. It's a wonder he waited till they were in the hall before he kissed her.
I was asking on Twitter for suggestions as to why I like this story, and someone mentioned the art. It really is well-done, showing that Ueda-san is not just another newbie artist. The guys are handsome, the girls are pretty, the action scenes don't look hideously unrealistic... the art attracts you to the story, as opposed to simply being the vehicle by which it is told. Speaking of the art, I laughed seeing one of the sidebars where Ueda shows us a rough draft of a cover page, featuring Sumi completely naked (with hair covering appropriately, of course) bound by rose vines (I note the sketch is ridiculously sexy, despite the bondage theme). She notes she suspected Margaret's editors would balk. Ya think? You want Sho-Comi, honey, it's next door.
So yes, that might be the reason why I find Stepping on Roses to be addicting rather than off-putting. The art, the pacing, the heroine's characterization... all of them are just that much better than the other examples of this form that I've read. Put it together, and it's the difference between a manga that's just good, and one that's very good.