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Manga / Stepping on Roses

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"Back then I never knew what this flower was called... all I wanted was to get a closer look. But this flower would never let me get close to it..."

Stepping On Roses (Hadashi De Bara Wo Fume, literally translated as "Stepping On Roses Barefoot") is a romance drama manga written and illustrated by Rinko Ueda. Originally serialized in the Shoujo manga magazine Margaret from 2007 to 2012, the series received an English language release starting in April of 2010 by publisher Viz Media.

Fifteen-year-old Sumi Kitamura is the eldest girl in a family of six orphaned children living in Japan during the Meiji era. She spends her days with her younger adopted siblings, doing what she can to care for them in a household with little food and less money to buy it with. Making matters worse is her elder brother Eisuke, a playboy who not only gambles away what little money he manages to earn, but also has a habit of bringing home any abandoned young children he can find. With an ever increasing burden and a family spiraling deeper into debt that she has no means of repaying, Sumi is left with little hope for the future.

These last shreds of hope are quickly dashed when an enraged debt collector bursts into their home one night demanding to find Eisuke, who the man had just caught attempting to seduce his wife. Seeing that Eisuke is nowhere to be found, the man kidnaps Sumi’s younger siblings, declaring that she can have them back when she repays Eisuke’s debt of two thousand yen (the equivalent of three million yen in modern times.) In desperation Sumi decides to sell her body, though she quickly finds that no one is willing to pay such a price. Then she meets a well-dressed and obviously wealthy stranger by the name of Soichiro Ashida, who makes an unusual offer: he will pay her any amount of money she wishes, but in return she must agree to leave her old family behind to become his wife. And most important of all, she'll be entering a marriage of convenience in which love will not be part of the bargain.

What is Soichiro truly after? Will Sumi be able to leave her siblings behind for the new life that he offers? And will she be able to give up on the hope of ever finding true love to ensure the safety of her family?

This manga provides examples of:

  • Arranged Marriage: Between Nozomu and Miu.
  • Ax-Crazy:
    • Miu destroys Nozomu's painting of Sumi with a knife. Later at a party, after Nozomu announces to all the guest that he and Miu are getting divorced (and not telling Miu about it), Miu blames Sumi for it and tries to stab Sumi herself.
    • It looks like Miu matches Nozomu quite well, as Nozomu himself later picks up an ax and starts breaking down doors while screaming Sumi's name, trying to catch her "cheating on" him. To his credit, she really was being banged by Soichiro at that moment.
  • Berserk Button:
    • The series is named after Sumi's loathing of roses. Offering her one can bring reactions ranging from mild discomfort to an Heroic BSoD.
    • Soichiro himself has another: he totally freaks out at the mere sight of fire because of his Dark and Troubled Past.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Miu's knife. See Ax Crazy above.
  • Cranky Landlord: Sumi's former landlady, who is fed up with Sumi's noisy siblings and the fact that she hasn't been paid for their rent. When she learns that they are up to their ears in debt, Eisuke's charm is the only thing that keeps her from kicking them out on the spot.
  • Culture Clash: Sumi is poor and is more familiar to Japanese values. Soichiro is rich and very Westernised. Of course they clash on behavior codes and stuff like that.
  • Evil Debt Collector: The thuggish debtor in the first chapter initially offers to let Sumi pay off what her brother owed with her body, later kidnapping Sumi's other siblings and threatening to sell them off to another country unless he had the cash in hand by the next day.
  • Family Theme Naming: Eisuke the gambling addict names his adoptive siblings after what he hopes to gain; the eldest boy Atari means a winning move or hit against one's opponent in a game, the second oldest boy, Fuku, means fortune, and the only girl, Tomi, means wealth.
  • Foreshadowing: Throughout the manga, there have been a few obvious hints that Sumi and Nozomu are siblings:
    • On some front covers of the manga, both Sumi and Nozomu have the same eye and hair colour.
    • Nozomu commented to Sumi that she looked like his deceased mother, and an ill Mr. Ijuuin once mistook Sumi for her as well.
    • In baby pictures, baby Aiko wore a cross around her neck. In the shack where Sumi and Eisuke live, Sumi owns the same cross, which she keeps in a drawer.
      • There is also a hint that Nozomu is really a crazy Yandere, when he comes to Sumi and Soichiro's house with roses and spys them walking in, acting happy together. He gets so angry that he twists his hands around the roses, cutting them open on the thorns. The look on his face says everything.
  • Hypocrite: Almost everyone except Sumi and the children. Soichiro orders Sumi not to love him...then gets possessive of her. Eisuke demands that Sumi make sacrifices for their family...while frittering away their income and making everyone's life as difficult as possible. Nozumu calls Soichiro out on his treatment of Sumi...then attempts to murder her. Even Komai, who initially seemed to be the Only Sane Man, viciously blames Sumi's "fickleness" for an attack on Soichiro made by Miu...and Miu was aiming for Sumi herself before Soichiro jumped in, causing her to feel worthless and guilty... but at this point, Komai's just after throwing a hissy fit at Soichiro himself and quitting his job as butler.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Miu and her family.
  • Is It Something You Eat?: Sumi's adopted little brother Atari asked this when he heard the word "education."
  • Lost Wedding Ring: Nozomu cruelly takes Sumi's wedding ring away from her.
  • Love Confession: Between Sumi and Soichiro in chapter 52 when they consummate their marriage.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: The drama of the series, in a nutshell.
  • Love Triangle:
    • Soichiro, Sumi, and Nozomu.
    • Sumi, Nozomu, and Miu.
  • Nobility Marries Money: Nozomu, the heir to a banking fortune has a arranged marriage to Impoverished Patrician Miu. When she asks about divorcing Nozumu, her father says that they need his money.
  • Of Corsets Sexy: Sumi's first time wearing a corset was on the day of her wedding with Soichiro.
  • Only in It for the Money: Similarly, the basis for Sumi and Souichirou's marriage was money: Sumi needed it to save her family from destitution, while Souichirou needed a wife to inherit his wealth and to have said wife as a Honey Trap for Nozomu. Both of them are very clear that there's no love in the deal. At least at first.
  • The Reveal:
    • Sumi and Eisuke are not related at all. He found her as a baby, abandoned in a rose garden, and raised her like a sister. This abandonment also explains her dislike of roses.
    • In chapter 55, it is revealed by Eisuke and Nozomu's father that Nozomu and Sumi are brother and sister!
  • Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace: In the last manga chapter, Souichirou manages to pull it against Nozomu when Nozomu is about to force Sumi into marrying him. This is eagerly followed by Mr. Ijuuin and Eisuke revealing the Brother–Sister Incest to everyone in the church.
  • Strictly Formula: The author remarks in the notes that this is a "cliche" romance.
  • Surprisingly Happy Ending: Souichirou crashes Sumi's forced wedding to Nozomu and takes her away, while Eisuke and Mr. Ijuuin explain the Brother–Sister Incest deal in public, destroying Nozomu's intentions. Souichirou and Sumi re-declare their mutual love, and they get together again. In a not-so Distant Finale they're still together, Sumi works as a teacher while Souichirou is starting to rebuild his company (with Eisuke taking care of Souichirou and Sumi's child alongside their adoptive siblings), and a back-to-sanity Nozomu has gotten back with Miu, who are now both expecting a child of their own.