The Heiress and the Chauffeur
お嬢様の運転手 (Ojou-sama no Untenshu)
Shoujo – Drama, historical, romance
2 Volumes (complete)
Japan, early 1900s. Sayaka is the top student at her all-girls school, but rumors swirl about her and her chauffeur. Sayaka dismisses the gossip, as she considers Shinobu like her brother. Besides, a relationship between a noble and a servant could never work… right?
First, we have a guest:
Thank you, Captain Obvious! Your words have helped manga readers all over the globe!
They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but can you judge it by its title? Because this is one of the most “what you see is what you get” descriptions I’ve seen in a long time. You might expect Sailor Moon to be about a ship captain who navigates to the moon or Bleach to feature chemicals, but The Heiress and the Chauffeur is all about a young female lady and the person who drives her around town.
While Captain Obvious so succinctly summarized the manga, I can add two more details to elaborate on the manga. First, this is Ishihara’s first published volume, an expansion of a one-shot. Second, the story features an actual conclusion and not a sudden, abrupt ending.
Well, between Captain Obvious and myself, you probably have a pretty good picture of what The Heiress and the Chauffeur is like. Sayaka is the “Crimson Lily” of her school, but people view her relationship with her trusted driver as borderline scandalous. With her mother deceased and her father a workaholic, it’s Shinobu whom Sayaka has relied on for all these years, and she has no desire to dismiss him. Shinobu keeps dropping hints he sees his Mistress as more than just his employer, but these comments fly right over Sayaka’s head. But even the dense Sayaka can’t keep adverting her eyes from the truth, as she is already of marriageable age.
Thus sets the stage for The Heiress and the Chauffeur. You’ve no doubt read or seen some version of this story before and will again, so does the manga stand out enough from the crowd?
Perhaps the most significant aspect where Ishihara tries to break the mold is Sayaka’s foot. Due to an accident, Sayaka has difficulty walking. While I applaud Ishihara’s attempts to have a heroine with a disability, I don’t know if this was reflected well in the story. Sayaka jumps off a bridge in the second volume, but she needs help to get on a small, rotting dock a chapter later. I know a lot of pains and illnesses can fluctuate and she has worked hard to learn to walk again, but sometimes her foot seems like a convenient excuse for her to trip rather than being an actual injury. Regardless, I believe we need more heroes and heroines with physical (and psychological) problems, especially since Sayaka doesn’t spend the entire story sulking about the fact she’s not physically perfect. Instead, she spends much of her time focusing about her father, not her foot.
For me, the biggest disappointment of the manga is how long it takes for the heroine to realize she’s in love with Shinobu. A lot of manga end with love finally being requited, but this is a historical piece between two parties of different social classes. I wish we could have spent more time with the main couple as a couple, when the rumors stop being just rumors. The manga’s second volume spends far too long on Shinobu’s rival, a character who changes so much even the author admits it’s like he was abducted by aliens. He, of course, was the catalyst to awaken Sayaka’s feelings toward Shinobu, but the intrigue of the series is whether the heiress and the chauffeur can overcome societal boundaries to be together, not whether the heiress and the chauffeur want to be together.
The author mentions she was disappointed she didn’t get to cover some minor plot details and give background information on a supporting character. I think a third volume could have helped bridge the sudden shift from “we’re siblings” to “I want to be with you”. It would be like discovering who the true villain is in an RPG and then immediately entering the final battles of the game. Sure, the story would still make sense, but shouldn’t we see them wreck a little havoc first? Have an opportunity to let this new knowledge sink in?
A lot of my grievances are pretty typical of short manga and/or early works of artists. Not everything has to be the next The Rose of Versailles or Sailor Moon. If you or somebody you know just wants a short, cute story, The Heiress and the Chauffeur will fit the bill. Shinobu is completely dedicated to his Mistress Sayaka, a far cry from the dominating type found in many stories. I also enjoyed seeing a noble x servant relationship where one is not a maid or a butler. The romance feels a bit fresh without having a butler as a lead trying to train Sayaka into being the perfect lady or cater to her every whim. Sayaka herself also has more pride than most heroines, and her polite mode turns her into a bit of a ladykiller. When Sayaka makes a stand, I can feel her determination, her noblesse oblige. Schoolmate Kazuko appears to be a snob and bully, but I enjoyed the scenes where she blushed from Sayaka’s compliments and her strict-but-practical reminders of Shinobu’s and Sayaka’s stations in life.
On a side note, I also enjoyed the unrelated one-shot and the short epilogue. Both shouldn’t be factors in your decision, but I found both of these stories better than the extra ones found in most short manga series.
The Heiress and the Chauffeur may sound like a title for the latest Harlequin novel, but the story is kept pretty clean. It’s a period piece, so the age gap shouldn’t be an issue for most readers. The only part that might bother some readers is the fact that whipping was considered an acceptable way to punish servants. While the lashes aren’t nearly as severe as, say, the scene from the second The Hunger Games movie, I’m sure the fact that people’s hands and faces could be whipped by their bosses will bother some people.
I had a hard time describing the art. Then it came to me: visual novel. The Heiress and the Chauffeur sometimes looks as if it’s drawn by several similar but still different artists. Plus, a lot of the images look as if they could have been directly lifted from sprites. Take a look at Sayaka in the first chapter:
Again, they all look very similar, but between the auras and the angles, Sayaka goes from a sharp-eyed mature young woman to a more modern teenager to having a short face. The layout can also be a bit of a mess at times. This isn’t an action manga, and it’s not set too far in the past that readers need a lot of explanations. Yet The Heiress and the Chauffeur is still a historical work, and ambience is important.
This is Ishihara’s first serialized work, but she has been working for three years and drawing for at least a decade. So while I do seem to be complaining, this definitely isn’t a rough piece of work. The outfits are beautiful, and the car actually looks like a car. (But is it just me, or did it seem a little too nice for a 1910s vehicle?) Although she may have overused them at points, the screentones and the various butterflies and flowers in background add a lot of elegance to Ishikawa’s work. All in all, if you can live with the various bumps along the way, I think the art is nice.
Honorifics like “-sama” are replaced with typical English equivalents like “Miss”. Shinobu’s “Ojou-san” is “Mistress” here. “Taisho Era” is used with a footnote to explain the years.
Yeah… I’m done.
I may have been a bit harsh on it, but there’s nothing about The Heiress and the Chauffeur that makes this a poor piece of work. I don’t usually do ratings, but I’d put it about 3, 3.5
stars diamonds out of five. For some, that’s worth reading, and others, that means pass. If you find there’s one aspect of the series that captures your attention, I don’t think you’ll be too disappointed.