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The cover of Gentleman's Alliance; a brown-haired girl scattering flowers.The Gentleman's Alliance Cross Volume 1 by Arina Tanemura // Published by ShojoBeat (Viz), 2007 // Borrowed from the library // Read and reviewed March 2013

In return for a business loan of 50 million yen, the prestigious Kamiya family gave their daughter Haine away to the Otomiya family. Haine, now an Otomiya, is appointed to the student council of the exclusive Imperial Academy, a private school for the aristocracy. Even though Haine is of proper lineage to be on the council, she finds herself struggling to find her place among the many secrets of its elite members, especially those of the president who holds her heart--Shizumasa Togu, aka "the Emperor."

A girl lying back on a bed in rumpled clothing, with an close-up of her face next to it.The Gentleman's Alliance Cross is very pretty! Whenever I think "shojo art", I think of something like this. (Other options include the art of Skip Beat! or CLAMP; that is what I know! I'm sorry!) All of the main female characters are large-eyed and lovely, with gorgeous costume design and fascinating hair - which has the disadvantage of sometimes making it really hard to tell anyone apart. There are some panels where I've actually had to sit and squint to work out who the hell is talking because I couldn't just couldn't tell, and sometimes the panels feel busy and cluttered. On the whole though: very pretty, and very much my style.

The story... Haine Otomiya is in love with Shizumasa Togo, Emperor of Imperial Academy, and is doing her best to earn her way to a ranking in school that means that she can actually see him. To that end she fights snake-bombing trouble-makers, "rescues" Togo from "kidnappers", joins the student council, attempts to reconcile the boy who convinced her to give up her delinquent lifestyle with the icy Emperor of Imperial Academy and change both him and the way the council operates for the better. I have no problem with the story, in theory - all of these elements can be interesting! It's just that they're put together in a way that I'm really... Not okay with.

For example: the leader of the snake-bombers (they do other things, but what sticks in my mind is that the DROP SNAKES ON AN ASSEMBLY, WHAT THE HELL GUYS.) is a dark-skinned man. Fine, okay - except that when he is reformed and stops raising hell at the school, his skin changes colour. His skin actually changes colour depending on his alignment. What.

As another example: Shizumasa, at the start of the manga, is secretly dating Maguri - one of the male characters. Except that no, actually, this is a one-sided relationship where Maguri is in love with Shizumasa and Shizumasa is using him so that none of the girls in school bother asking Shizumasa out. Okay, fine, that is could also be an interesting plotline - except that no, wait, he dumps Maguri so that the main character can be his fake girlfriend even though that makes no sense and will only cause more problems! Worst of all, the break-up scene is presented as something comedic - the characters are in chibi form, pulling faces. When the manga has an entire plotline about Haine trying to get Shizumasa to take her feelings seriously, this just feels cruel and disrespectful. Doesn't it defeat the point if you're telling your audience to take one character's love and dedication seriously and laugh at another's?

Shizumasa breaking up with Maguri while Haine sticks her tongue at him.

(Plus, the manga somehow manages to make Maguri's relationship all about Haine and her issues! When that happened I did have a moment of "Well that is a sweet scene and in retrospect it makes sense with her issues... But why did the characters even think of that?)

Aside from that... I am bemused by the school's policy of "Boys wear ribbons and girls wear neckties, which they then swap once they start dating" because a) enforced heteronormativy is strange and confusing, and b) why would a school want to encourage dating rather than focusing on work? But then, nothing about the structure of Imperial Academy makes sense, really, especially considering that the student council RULE THE SCHOOL and also the rank system (which allocates students to different social and academics classes based upon, primarily, how much money a student's family donated upon enrollment.).

Moving on to the main point of the manga (at last! I know!): Haine! I find her really interesting in terms of her backstory; it's very rare (in my experience; if anyone has any recommendations please leave them in the comments!) to find a happy!bouncy!protagonist whose backstory is "So I was in a lot of emotional pain and made some stupid life choices because of it" - usually if a character has bad experiences in their backstory, it's not their fault? So this is something I really liked, as well as the fact that Haine owned up to her past and has tried to move past it. She is in the middle-ground of what I like in a shojo protagonist - she is adorable, hard-working, and Doing Her Best, but she's also ABSOLUTELY OBSESSED WITH THAT ONE MALE CHARACTER AND NEARLY EVERYTHING IN HER LIFE IS DEDICATED TO BENEFITING OR GETTING HER CLOSE TO THAT ONE GUY BECAUSE SHE LOVES HIM and if I never have to see that trope again it will be too soon. However, I can live with this, because Haine is not my favourite. USHIO, Ushio is my favourite, even though I'm fairly sure that her story arc is going to make me rage so hard that my head explodes. Ushio is Haine's gorgeously drawn best friend! Who is in love with Haine! And letting male characters use her body because she apparently doesn't care! ... If her story arc ends with any sort of pining forever for Haine, or going "Oh, I guess I'm NOT a lesbian, better settle down with whichever of these male characters has a name!" I will FLIP TABLES. (Seriously, the first picture I used in this post showcases everything that I enjoy and dislike about the way Ushio is treated; lovely artwork, someone skeevy objectification, especially as the POV character for that scene is the apparently obligatory Sexual Harrassment Sense.) I love Ushio and her dedication to Haine, and her deadpan manner, and just everything about her character and costume design.

BASICALLY: My primary interpretation of this manga is that I'm supposed to take away the message that Shizumasa is a terrible person, and the good end is that Haine realises this and starts dating someone nicer. I suspect that I might be wrong on that one. Shizumasa is actually the main reason I wasn't enjoying this manga (I don't like him! But everything and everyone revolves around him!), but I got the second one out of the library at the same time as I got the first one out, so I might as well read that too.

Verdict: The art is good and I like the secondary characters, but the lead male character and the heroine's obsession with him wore on me fast. Wouldn't specifically recommend it, but if it's in the library it's worth flicking through.
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Cirque des Geeks

About Us

Welcome to Cirque Des Geeks! We are a trio of geeks who review books, manga, comics, tv shows, and films as the mood takes us. Our trio comprises Sam (the fez-wearing philosopher), Susan (the book-addled librarian), and Tonks (the shape-changing scientist). Our interests are wide and varied, but generally come back to science fiction and fantasy in all their forms.

Sam and Tonks can also be found working with Black Stump Films (On Vimeo and Youtube) making short films.

We do not have a formal posting schedule, but the current goal is at least two posts per week. If you wish to be kept in the loop of what's happening, please follow us on twitter - [personal profile] cirquedesgeeks.

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