Sumi tries to get Soichiro’s company back for him, but she doesn’t realize that he’s about to embark on a life-changing opportunity. Meanwhile, Nozomu is hellbent on marrying Sumi regardless of any consequences. Can anything stop Nozomu at this point? Or will Sumi and Soichiro find a way to be together? (Source: Goodreads/Viz Media)
Spoiler warning: Review contains spoilers for the entire Stepping On Roses/Hadashi de Bara wo Fume manga series.
It's the end of Stepping On Roses, one of Shojo Beat's most entertaining series to date, and it's an ending well earned. Despite being melodramatic soap opera shojo, Rinko Ueda's Edo-era romance series has gotten plenty of dedicated fans - myself included - who have been waiting forever to see if Sumi and Soichiro's relationship will win out in the end. Will this be a happily ever after or a doomed love affair?
In this volume, Sumi schemes to bring back Ashida Products, enlisting the company's former employees as well as Soichiro's ex-butler, Komai, who now works for the slimy Nozomu. Yes, Nozomu is still hellbent on making Sumi his, despite still being married to Miu. Fate ends up playing a hand in crossing Sumi and Soichiro's paths yet again, much to the growing ire of Nozomu - someone who is getting worse and worse at containing his anger issues.
Nozomu continues to be a terrible human being but in this volume, he goes from plain terrible to dangerous. He nearly kills Soichiro, fires everyone that Sumi is close to and keeps her confined to the house, and even goes so far as to attack her with the intent of rape. Yup, Nozomu has graduated to attempted rapist - and I shudder to think of what would have happened if Sumi had not been able to knock him upside his head with a lamp and run for it.
As usual, Sumi runs right into the arms of Soichiro. Soichiro, for her, has come to represent a safe place, a place of comfort and unconditional love. After fighting hard to an unlikely relationship, their love for each other is mutual, consensual, and rock solid. Some might question having Sumi consummate her relationship with Soichiro right after being near assaulted by Nozomu, but it makes sense to me. She's scared, she doesn't want Nozomu to take her virginity, and she doesn't know how long she can stand up against his advances - so the very least that could happen is that Soichiro, the man she actually loves, take it for her (although I'm trying not to think too hard about someone 'taking' anyone's virginity, with or without permission). (And don't worry, it's not an explicit lovemaking scene. I think Hot Gimmick, another Shojo Beat title, had more racy sex scenes than this does.)
Of course, there can't be a shojo series finale without a big plot twist, revealed during a forced marriage of course, and it all has to do with the truth of Sumi's birth parents and how she came to be found among the roses as a baby. And it comes straight out of left field and it's kind of silly but gosh darn it, I was flipping out when I read it - which is what I'm sure Rinko Ueda wanted readers to do. At the very least, it isn't completely pushed aside by the one person it affects the most, which surprisingly is Nozomu. Definitely have to read it to believe it!
As for Nozomu, being the villain of the piece, he definitely gets off easy in the end. I don't feel like he's been punished appropriately for his actions, aside from losing Sumi and being publicly humiliated at his sham of a wedding. Miu takes him back; she even ends up becoming pregnant by him. I feel like this series would have benefited from at least one extra chapter of showing how the Sumi-crazed vengeful Nozomu into someone who can accept Sumi as who she really is and actually love his own wife. For me, the jump from psycho to friendly is hard to swallow.
Stepping on Roses has drawn to a close, bringing all open story lines to their natural conclusions. Soichiro and Sumi have gone through all the trials and tribulations that Rinko Ueda can throw at them, and by the grace of the manga gods they have survived. It's sad to say goodbye to this cast of characters, but luckily it got the ending it deserved - and there's always room for a sequel, some day!
Of course, if you're a fan of Rinko Ueda's works, Viz Manga also published the Tail Of The Moon series, a romance series about ninjas during the Tensho Era. The manga is fifteen volumes, and is followed by a prequel called The Other Hanzo.