Viz’s Shoujo Beat label brings the work of shoujo newcomer Ishihara Keiko to the page with her debut work, The Heiress and the Chauffeur (Ojou-sama no Utenshu). Originally published in Hakusensha’s quarterly shoujo magazine, Lala, the series is translated by pinkie-chan, another new name to the field.
In the Taisho Era, finishing schools are a place where young ladies of wealthy standing go to learn what it takes to be a proper mother and wife befitting of their station. Yoshimura Sayaka, the daughter of an upstart shipping magnate, is no exception. Adored and questionably beloved by her classmates, Sayaka works hard to distinguish herself as the crimson lily of her academy.
Yet there’s one thing that might tarnish her otherwise spotless reputation: her chauffeur and longtime family servant Narutaki Shinobu. Both her classmates and the academy’s administration suspect there’s more than meets the eye with the casual way that Sayaka and Narutaki interact. Narutaki’s unkempt appearance and willingness to intrude on school grounds to defend Sayaka in the face of ridicule by her classmates certainly don’t quell those rumors. For Sayaka, whose mother died in an accident that left her with a lame foot and whose father is often away on business, Narutaki is a bastion of support her times of need. Yet her naive approach and unawareness of the implications of the divide between their classes wind up getting her into difficult situations with classmates and teachers alike. And that’s not to mention Narutaki’s own feelings towards Sayaka…
A two-volume series, The Heiress and the Chauffeur presents a lighthearted slice-of-life period piece. Ishihara’s characters are expressive and lively on the page, with the costumes and settings of the work easily invoking the spirit of the Taisho Era. The romantic nature of the manga is somewhat confused at times, especially with the way that Narutaki’s love confession in the first chapter is summarily ignored for the rest of the volume. Ishihara also seems to forget her own characters with the constant references that Narutaki makes to his work serving a family before the Yoshimuras even though we’re shown him and Sayaka interacting at a young age. However, it’s clear that Ishihara’s aim is to highlight the ways that Sayaka and Narutaki bridge the class gap that divides them through their interaction with a varied and vibrant cast of side characters.
It’s these side characters and simple, episodic chapters that really lend the manga its strength. Despite the confusing nature of the first chapter’s love confession, subsequent chapters show Sayaka aiding a classmate involved in a relationship with a teacher, confronting the stigma attached to her family as “new money” in an aristocratic soiree, and learning more about Narutaki’s past as the two of them are enlisted to help a friend of Narutaki’s with a bar she runs. In each step, we see a little more of how Sayaka’s privilege and the intimacy of her relationship with Narutaki influences the way that she views the world. However, while Narutaki proves to be a support for Sayaka in each of these instances, it’s Sayaka’s own determination and willingness to confront the situation that prevails. In a series that could easily be framed in the context of Narutaki’s own forbidden love, it’s refreshing to see that it’s Sayaka’s autonomy and willingness to stand up for what she believes in that drives the story forward.
The translation on the page also does an exceptional job of capturing the voice and cadence of the period without going over the top. Sayaka speaks as you would expect from a young aristocratic lady of the early 20s. Particularly commendable is pinkie-chan’s skill at translating the dialect of Narutaki’s old friend, Mishima Fumi, who appears in the last chapter of the volume. However, as a period piece, it is a little bit disappointing that the volume lacks any translation notes to provide further context for the story’s setting.
With genuine chemistry between Narutaki and Sayaka’s characters on the page, The Heiress and The Chauffeur is an enjoyable, light read for any fans of the shoujo genre. It’s nice to see the romance take a back seat while the heroine drives the story.