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The Gentlemen’s Alliance Cross by Arina Tanemura

Arina Tanemura is a mangaka that has always been dear to my heart. Her series Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne/Phantom Thief Jeanne is my favorite magical girl manga of all time. She has a way of combining common shoujo tropes and cliches and twisting them into something fun and refreshing. Her artwork is the pinnacle of “shoujo” — large expressive eyes, cute and unique fashion, details upon details in the artwork from the characters to the backgrounds — you can look at any drawing of hers isolated and the first thing you will think of is “shoujo”

The Gentlemen’s Alliance Cross, or Shinshi Doumei Cross, ran in Ribon monthly magazine for almost four years, from Sept. 2004 to June 2008. The 47 chapters were divided into 11 volumes for release.

Rather than do volume by volume, I’m going to cover the entire series in this post.

Umm…. That’s a lot of material to cover. I’m not going to cover the plot specifics too much, mostly because I just finished reading all eleven and there’s bound to be things I’ll forget.

This manga is full of melodrama. It’s nothing that would be out of place in a soap opera. You have exclusive private schools divided by class, literally “gold, silver, bronze” based on how rich your parents are. A student council with as much power as administration. An ex-gang member trying to return to good. Mysterious helpers that come at the right moment and leave in the same heartbeat. Secret identities ranging from benign consequences to deadly. Past lies catching up a generation later.

And that’s just the first couple of volumes.

The heart of the story is Haine, the lead. The story starts when she’s entering Imperial Academy. She is in love with Shizumasa, the student council president, dubbed “Emperor” by the students. Just in case the “gold/silver/bronze” categorizations didn’t tip you off, the Emperor title sure will. In any case, thanks to some hijinks she ends up on the student council, named “Platinum”, a special class only the girlfriend of the Emperor can have. The main chunk of the manga revolves around her relationships with the members of the student council.

Haine is outwardly cheerful and spunky, but she holds a lot of pain in her heart. Her father sold her for 50 million yen to the Otomiya family. The Otomiya family treats Haine well, just like a real daughter. Thankfully, at that. I don’t think I could handle an “evil stepmother” situation. But the sale was done when Haine was old enough to understand, and old enough to know that the 50 million he sold her for was a paltry sum compared to the money he needed (which was in the billions, iirc). That need for money was supposedly the reason he sold her.There’s more reasons behind the sale, and there’s moments that get really odd, but it sort of fits in that sense of high society running on different rules than the rest of us normal folk. The image I’m speaking of specifically is the gilded cage built for a [spoiler] character. It’s literally a large locked room with a garden, a man-made lake/pool thing with a central walkway leading to a large staircase, which at the head is a pedestal the character is seated? laying down? There’s not chair, she’s just… there. Visually striking, not so much sense in the realism department.

The entire concept of that spoiler character is something that is quite common in anime/manga and I’m not too fond of it. It never comes across well. I can’t think of a single instance where it was executed well. I feel like it hampered the story quite a bit, though the big reveal when it came to the truth of that character’s trauma was the start of an exciting arc.

Haine helps the side characters work through their problems before the story shifts to hers. The side characters are well developed and the brunt of many of the best jokes in the series. The tone will shift from serious to joking at a whim, and it works to help cut the thick tension of the melodramatic moments. Especially in the final chapters, where it’s basically tragedy upon tragedy upon tragedy, you need those little moments of comedic reprieve to give you a chance to recover emotionally. Usually melodrama is meant in a negative sense, but in this case if you allow your brain to be turned off (it has to be turned off or else you will scream from the ridiculousness of it) you’ll get caught up in the intrigue and take the ride for what it is, a rollercoaster of improbable commotion.

Am I letting my love of Tanemura’s works cloud my judgement? Perhaps. I will always have a soft side for her works. But the main key is that she’s good at keeping the rules of her world stable. Yes, it’s melodramatic, but in the world it’s set it, it’s all perfectly logical. That’s the main key to pulling off something like this. I’ve raged at my share of melodramatic works before, but the difference between those and this one is that those tried to make it realistic. Tanemura knows this is a fantasy and doesn’t try to hide it.

The main twist of the manga is something I can’t go into without spoiling it. The initial twist was executed well. The final twist, at the second-to-last chapter, not so much. I felt the last chapters were rushed, especially the transition between the last two chapters. It ends with a happy ending for all parties, which is all we can ask for after eleven volumes of increasing stakes drama. It’s also ran in a children’s magazine, so there isn’t quite as much… hmm, how to say, consequence for the mistakes as there should have been, but I’ll have to let it slide. It’d be like complaining YA novels aren’t realistic in consequences. You have to take the age of the intended audience into account.

The big reveals are something I have a problem with. For a series so entrenched in secrets (ever single character has a big secret. Every. Single. One. Even those side characters you think are there for comedy? No, they have a dark secret too) a lot of the big reveals are done poorly. Several are done by letter. A letter. You literally read a letter written to the character with the twist plainly stated out.

It cheapens the effect when it’s done like that. There was one instance where the character was handed an envelope and I prepared myself for another letter, but no, it wasn’t another letter, it was a photo. And that photo spoke so much more than that mere letter could. There’s also parts where it just becomes too much. Especially when the light/dark comparisons are practically the entire dialogue for the chapter. It’s personal, but I can’t handle people talking too much about “the light” or being trapped in “darkness”. Chalk it up to years of reading it. It never changes. If it’s characters, it ends up being some twisted form of idol worship.

As for the romance aspect, I feel like this was handled poorly. And really, it’s not that poor until the very end. The last few chapters, very end. I enjoyed the romance up to that point. But there’s a certain scene where it all crumbles apart for me. It’s mended, somewhat, in the final chapter. But I’m not a big fan of the trope, and to have it broadcast plainly “OKAY NOW IT IS THE TIME TO CHOOSE BETWEEN THE TWO MEN”, literally, that’s like what they said. I was just…. It didn’t feel organic anymore after that point.

Arina is fond of putting gay characters and relationships in her story, and I thought the main one was well done, if not a bit… I feel like in shoujo all males are required to express interest in the heroine at one point, and this was also the case in this one. But I feel it was resolved well. “He doesn’t really like me, he likes me because my personality is the same as yours” Later the reverse is done where one of the characters thinks a girl is pretty and is confused by it because he’s never thought a girl was pretty, but it was used as a jealousy trope which was a little weird. Perhaps both of them are actually bisexual, but it’s not gotten deep enough into thought that it matters, because they’re a canon couple and they’re going to stay that way for the entirety of the story.

The good, though, is that the fact they’re gay is never touched upon or talked about. The characters love each other, the other characters acknowledge it just as they would a straight relationship. There is a man who identifies as female and dresses like a girl. All the characters acknowledge her as a female, she is considered one of the girls and is invited to female-only parties and the like, ect. It’s all really nice to read that it’s just normal and a part of their world, and it’s never questioned.

All in all, it was a fun ride for what it was, but I can’t say that I can freely recommend it to anyone other than fans of shoujo manga, and even shoujo manga fans may have reservations about the series due to the severe amounts of melodrama found in it. But if you’ll allow yourself to get caught up in the lives of the wealthy and their secrets, you’re going to have fun. Just don’t think about it too much.

heartglowheartglowheartglow

holllywhatMy heart scale is defined as follows – 5 hearts = a story everyone will fall in love with, regardless of preferences; 4 hearts = a well-done story that people who love the concept will adore, and people who don’t may end up liking it; 3 hearts = if you like this type of story or this type of hero, then you will enjoy this, but those who do not like either of those things will probably not; 2 hearts = it had potential, it squandered it; 1 heart = just a waste of time from the get-go; 0 hearts = why was this made?

 

 

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