Love is in the Bag is one of the more successful ongoing efforts to create a high profile komiks series. It's been lavishly produced (by local standards) as a set of thick trade paperbacks, and more recently made available as an iTunes download for iOS devices. Launched in 2008, it's also another example of "Pinoy Manga" - a byproduct arising from Filipino fans love for Japanese comics and animation inspiring some younger artists to mimic its visual vocabulary and plot conventions. Written by Ace Vitangcol and drawn by Jed Siroy, Love... is an uneasy mix of shojo and shonen manga elements that, as far as volume one goes, have yet to congeal into a more convincing story.
In any case, Love... starts out as a shojo romance. The main protagonist is Kate Menella, a teenage wallflower who has a crush on star basketball player and big man on campus Calvin Jacobs. The twist is that every time she becomes overly excited, she transforms into a handbag. No explanation is given as to the origin of this condition, and no one seems to even question its existence - it's just another wacky manga premise that everyone within this type of story takes for granted. Everyone except for Calvin himself. That boy can be pretty oblivious at times. Not to worry, Kate's best friend is the brash swimming-team captain Kara Francesco. And for some reason she's hellbent on playing matchmaker with Kate and Calvin.
Unfortunately, this can't disguise the basic dullness of the transformations. Kate turning into an inanimate object whenever she sees Calvin quickly becomes repetitive, and it exposes how flat the characters are without the distraction of romantic complications. When Kate finally builds-up enough nerve to sit and talk to Calvin, the conversation is still mostly occupied by awkward silences and meaningful glances. These two sadly, have nothing in common. Kate is a rather passive presence without the urging of Kara and her cohorts. While I get the impression that Calvin is meant to be seen as likable as many a clueless shonen protagonist, he comes across as just dense. When not around Kate, he's even a tad insensitive to women. At some point a shonen-style rivalry with another talented athlete is introduced, but this doesn't generate as much heat as hoped for. This is mainly because his rival comes across as only a slightly more douchey version of Calvin, who also happens to get along with him.
The derivative nature of the plot is also reflected in the art. All the requisite elements are there from the big hair, sailor uniforms, and the usual zip tone effects. But the anatomy always feels a bit off, the backgrounds are perfunctory, and the page layouts aren't anything special to write home about. If the art is trying to emulate mainstream shonen manga, the linework isn't polished enough to match that standard. While not without its charms, it still looks rough around the edges.
The creators of Love... are in the process of completing volume five, so it's safe to say that the series has a well established fanbase who find the story's cute romance and high school intrigue entertaining enough to keep purchasing it. But judging from the first volume alone, this comic isn't greater than the sum of its parts, nor does it say anything very interesting about the themes and conventions it borrows heavily from.