Gentlemen’s Alliance † 11

Arina Tanemura – Viz – 2010 – 11 volumes

It’s good to know that Viz will be releasing the new volumes by Arina Tanemura. Sakura Hime Kaden and Mistress Fortune were both announced over the weekend. If I’m remembering right, one is a one-shot and the other is her new series, but I can’t remember which is which. I’ll probably be picking up both, since Tanemura is quite fluffy and addictive. The announcement made me realize I hadn’t written up the finale for The Gentlemen’s Alliance yet, so here we are.

The thing about the endings to Tanemura series… yeah, they’re not good. Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne is still my absolute favorite, and the only one I forgave for its convenient happy ending. At the worst, we have Full Moon, which threw all story logic out the window to keep the characters around and happy past the ending of the series. This series… well, it was all about convenient happy endings too, and while it doesn’t make for good storytelling, it’s hard to fault a series like this, which has been sugary sweet all the way through.

The reconciliation between the Togu siblings is taken care of immediately, and lasts all of about three pages. Similarly, in one chapter, Haine busts into the mansion to talk to the Togu elder, then does his challenge and gets her hands on the happy ending in about one chapter. Everyone is okay with this, and… again, even though it’s rushed and extremely unlikely, this is at its heart a happy series, and I think I’ve had about enough drama from it.

I nearly threw the book across the room when Haine said that she was marrying both Togu siblings, which really would have been the Full Moon route, meaning she didn’t have to choose between the boys. That doesn’t happen, thankfully, but bizarrely, neither Haine nor the other characters dwell on this melodrama-filled question. The decision is made for her, and the rest of the book contains the wedding and other wacky character hijinx that were completely in the spirit of things.

Haine is a great main character, and although it doesn’t really break any new ground, there’s something completely addictive and fun about this series. It’s a good mix of drama, humor, and romance, and although the characters sometimes wallow a little too much in self-pity and everyone has their own set of scarring problems, the story manages to handle this well enough to keep you coming back volume after volume. I wouldn’t say it was one of the best of its type, but with its beautiful artwork and perfect formula, there’s enough here to keep any shoujo reader looking for a little fluff satisfied and happy, I think.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Gentlemen’s Alliance † 10

Arina Tanemura – Viz – 2009 – 11 volumes

Okay.  So the chapter called “Epilogue” wasn’t even close to an epilogue.  It was just a name.  I suppose I should have expected as much in a series with chapter titles like “Left Behind and Torn Like a Leaf” and “A Kingdom of Stars With No Place to Go” might not have the most descriptive chapter titles.

I always laugh at the chapter titles in this series, but I rarely mention them.  Making fun of Gentlemen’s Alliance † for being super girly seems about as constructive as making fun of a clown, though.

And, as I mentioned last time, Haine has to choose between Takanari and Shizumasa.  I should have expected she’d choose the one with the most dramatic possible outcome.  I mean, if she’d chosen the actual heir, there would be no problem, so that couldn’t happen.

Strangely, everyone in the family seems to be on Haine’s side, which is rather sad when you look at it from the perspective of the boy she didn’t choose.  He is being a big jerk by forcing himself on her, but to have nobody rooting for you, especially when all his circumstances are revealed, is just sad.

And there is no villain at the end of the story.  On one hand, I would like a partially sad outcome next volume, but on the other hand, I know this is a Ribon series and that will never happen.  Whatever the outcome is, I’m sure I’ll love it, because I am hopelessly addicted to the characters in this series.

Also… is Tanemura’s newest series really the one she teased in the back of this volume?  It sounds super-generic and very much like something she may have already written.  I’ll read it and love it to pieces anyway.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Gentlemen’s Alliance † 9

Arina Tanemura – Viz – 2009 – 11 volumes

I was very shocked when I got to the “Epilogue” in this book.  I assumed that the story kept going through the last two volumes, but when everything wrapped up so well in that chapter, I figured they must be side stories.

Then, while I was writing this up, I realized the Togu question hadn’t been answered.  I mean… this is a shoujo manga, so we have to know which boy Haine ends up with in the end, right?

This did wrap up Haine’s family story much neater than I expected.  Haine went from being a total delinquent to a loving and accepted member of her family in about 100 pages.  She is much happier in the end, but delinquent Haine is one of my greatest joys in this series, and she’s also quite scary, so I was a little sad that didn’t go on for longer.

Even creeper was her delinquent friend, who kept all the teeth she beat out of Haine’s mouth when she gave up the gang years ago.  I mean… there wasn’t even a point to her showing off the teeth.  She could’ve told the story without a visual aid.  But she just had to show them off.  I’ve got nothing to add to that.

Good delinquent Haine parts:  She did beat the crap out of another gang nearly singlehanded, apparently.  Also, everyone on the student council crouched around her in a moment of sukeban worship.  I may only be getting a kick out of these bancho parts because I played Kenka Bancho recently, but all the same, they put a smile on my face.

I’m… just going to keep reading, because since the side characters have all their major issues resolved (save for the Togu twins), I’m not quite sure what those last two volumes have in them, and I feel I should reserve judgment on the story until I’ve read them.

So more later.

Gentlemen’s Alliance † 8

Arina Tanemura – Viz – 2008 – 11 volumes

Don’t you just hate it when you get a volume of shoujo manga that’s full of short stories?  Arina Tanemura is bad about this, but I imagine fans do want to read her short stories sooner rather than waiting for a collection.  Still.  There’s only three chapters of story in here.  There’s a short chapter about Ushio, a couple gag chapters about the pets, and a longer short story unrelated to the series.  It could be worse, but I really just wanted to press on with the story.

And the story is still addictive.  Ushio works through all her dark personal issues and comes out on the other side, but I’m a little disturbed by the way Haine has to trick her into it by giving her exactly what she wants.  I did like that Ushio wasn’t shy about forcing her feelings on Haine, and that the relationship between them was treated just like any other, but I hated that we saw it for all the wrong reasons.  I know they don’t really exist outside the 70′s and modern moe, but I’d love to see a shoujo manga featuring a nice female couple.  Tanemura seems more than capable, especially after the Maora/Maguri coupling went down with relatively little fuss (aside from Maora) in this series.

With Ushio out of the way, Haine can drama things up again by saying she’s doing all the things she tells Ushio not to, like dwell on the fact she hates herself and letting her past and depressing family history hold her back, et cetera.  Drama like this just does not fit the sunny Haine very well, and I’m sad we’re going through a bunch of non-romantic drama in the near future.  On the plus side, it looks like we’re going to get to see a lot more of sukeban Haine, and that’s my favorite part of her character.  There’s a funny scene where her former gang members try and come back for her, but it looks like not-so-funny stuff will be coming up soon.  I’ll still love it, because there’s just something about Haine dressing as a yanki after seeing her in that super-girly uniform that makes me smile.

Gentlemen’s Alliance † 7

Arina Tanemura – Viz – 2008 – 11 volumes

I hope you like drama, because that’s what you’re going to get here.

The first helping comes courtesy of Haine and Takanari.  At this point in the story, we can pretty well expect that she’s going to have feelings for both of the twins.  So there’s that.  Both Haine and Takanari do something they shouldn’t, and Haine says something hurtful to stop him.  Of course there’s lots of drama, and lots of making up, and everything is super shoujo happy.  There’s not too much to say or analyze in this part, because… well, it could come straight from a shoujo textbook.  It’s still great though, and in the context of the story, it makes for a very compelling read.  Haine makes for a good heroine, which is good news for this story since it needs all the great characters it can get to make the story work.

Speaking of good characters, Mao-chan is spectacular.  He doesn’t even have much of a role, but in order to get information out of Maguri at one point, he transforms into the Postman, then gets angry when Maguri is lovestruck.  This was funny for all sorts of reasons I won’t explain for fear of spoiling things, but I love that the story is capable of jokes like this.

But the real meat of the volume was an Ushio story.  The Ushio story.  The one that’s been coming since the beginning of the series.  Ushio is a bit of a martyr, a looming dark presence over the mostly happy characters in this series, and while I do like her, I knew it would be ugly when she finally confronted Haine about her feelings.  This story lasts two chapters, and is carrying over into the next volume.

I like that this series manages to be good at both drama and shoujo fluff.  The dark bits with Ushio and Takanari are very dark, but they don’t take away from the comedic portions, and even during the most depressing stories, most of the characters find time to crack a joke (while being approached by a strangely-dressed Maguri, Haine starts to worry since he’s the only student council member that hasn’t stolen a kiss from her).  Again, it’s just an excellent example of shoujo manga, a series that does everything right and supports itself with great characters.  I’m hoping to polish it off this week.

Gentlemen’s Alliance † 6

Arina Tanemura – Viz – 2008 – 11 volumes

Oh, it’s so girly.  Who loves who, student council overthrows, lots of secret identities, and everyone loves Haine.  Normally the latter plot point makes me hate a series, but man, it works here.  Possibly because this is the absolute most girly series on the planet.

Haine is still conflicted after what she found out about Shizumasa last volume, and the student council president decides he’s going to have to win Haine over from scratch.  She… resists, but not too hard.  There actually is a little bit of mystery about this, because there’s no predetermined suitor.  Childhood love, or current love?  Hmm.  Of course, one of them is a total jerk, so I am leaning heavily one way.

Mostly, the volume is about Maora.  I love Maora.  He decides to be very manly here, and there’s a whole thing about how he wants to date Haine and overthrow Shizumasa as the student council president.  It comes down to a lover’s quarrel between he and Maguri, and Maguri is rather terrified and speechless through the entire volume.  But everything is so serious and sincere, I couldn’t help but be won over in all the theatrics.

It’s just… cute and soapy.  There’s not much to add, since most of the development this time around was for Maora, a secondary character.  He’s a good one, though.  I’m still waiting for more story time for Ushio.

Cute, cute, cute stuff.  Still hasn’t trumped Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne as my favorite Tanemura series, but it’s definitely a close second at this point.  It doesn’t exactly excel at anything,  but it is overwhelmingly girly, and there’s only so much I, a lover of girly manga, can take before I’m totally won over.

Gentlemen’s Alliance † 5

Arina Tanemura – Viz – 2008 – 11 volumes

The chapters started to dip a little into “too many characters with not enough to do” territory when Haine needed rescuing and the entire student council showed up, then stuck around to bum around Ushio’s house.  I do like them all, and it’s not like having five people (plus two) around is a real problem since they all serve their purpose, but why did Maora and Maguri come, aside from the fact they were worried about Haine?  Why did Shizumasa’s sidekick come along?  The teacher/nurse character?  He seems to only show up to send Ushio into a cryptic shower of tears.

I wish Ushio was a little less creepy.  I was hoping she’d come back into the story, since her love for Haine is an interesting relationship dynamic for a series like this, but she’s got all this… other stuff with her.  It’s implied that she’s kind of… well, loose, or as loose as characters in Ribon series can be.  And the whole thing with the teacher is a little… weird.  It doesn’t quite make sense, since she only loves Haine.  She’s clearly got a dark backstory, and I’m waiting for that to be revealed, but I hope she doesn’t… find love elsewhere, as Haine implies she will eventually, because I really do like the fact she’s a love interest of sorts.

But most everything I was expecting to happen transpired in this volume.  Of course we would get an update on Haine’s Platinum status, of course there would be some business with her family, and of course stuff surrounding the two Shizumasa boys would be revealed.  It looks like the story will continue with the Shizumasa story next volume, since the main storyline leaves off on a great cliffhanger, and the book finishes out with a cute story about Haine’s sister and step-brother.

I’m still enjoying it.  It’s a cute romance, though it has yet to do anything incredible.  Again, though, Tanemura’s series usually have a pretty consistent quality, and her art is so good and so classically shoujo that it’s really hard not to enjoy them.

Gentlemen’s Alliance † 4

Arina Tanemura – Viz – 2007 – 11 volumes

So, I think all the cards are on the table, and what we have to look forward to is an interesting tug-of-war between Shizumasa and his shadow.  Well, not all the cards are on the table, because we still have to know Shizumasa’s opinions on everything, but his feelings towards Haine seem to be relatively straightforward.  Maybe.  Not much is as it seems.

If I’m lucky, Ushio will also figure into the tug-of-war, but she’s been pretty quiet the past couple volumes.  I liked her position as Haine’s friend and her secret real crush on Haine, and I’d love to see that come into the story a little more.  Then there’s the fact that Maguri loves Shizumasa and Mao loves Maguri.  I think Maguri is backing off of Shizumasa a little bit, but Mao still has a long way to go.

Me?  I’m rooting for the postman, who also has a big crush on Haine for no real reason.  He’s a sweet guy, though.

If it wasn’t already apparent, this series has entered full romantic drama mode.  Most of this volume is the school festival, but amid all the confusion, there is a Love Confession event, the grand ball, the fact that Shizumasa showed up for one day to throw a wrench in the works, and… something else that knocks Haine back down to private at the end of the book.  I was a little surprised that happened at all, but I’m sure that’s not a real threat and she’ll be back in her position after one more chapter.

I loved the little bonus comics in the back of the book.  Mao’s was my favorite, and among other things, explained why Maguri dyes his hair blonde and wears a headband.  Mao as a little boy is just adorable, too.  I also liked the Toya story, since he doesn’t get a lot of story time otherwise.  There are also a couple pages of 4-panel bonus comics about the characters going to an amusement park that are all pretty funny.

It was good, but I was still a little lukewarm on the story before this point since it really was… you know, relationships at a rich kid school among a bunch of characters I wasn’t sure I liked.  But it was pretty, and I do like Tanemura.  By this volume, the characters are developed enough that I can care about them, and I’m pretty well caught up in all the drama.

On to the next volume!  I am enjoying the marathon.

Gentlemen’s Alliance † 3

Arina Tanemura – Viz – 2007 – 11 volumes

I switched to the dagger for the title instead of the lazy plus sign.  I feel a little better now.  Plus, it looks swift in an old style font.  See?

I take back some of what I said about the character designs.  I still love them, especially the girls.  And a lot of thought goes into the clothing and backgrounds.  But the male character designs are sometimes hard to tell apart.  Heine’s brother and Shizumasa are in the same place at the same time, and I had a really hard time telling who was who.  Even in the context of the story.

I preferred the first part of the volume, which finishes up Haine’s backstory and wraps up the examination of exactly why it is she likes Shizumasa.  This is followed with a little bit more insight into Shizumasa’s disturbing situation, which still hasn’t been unveiled completely.  I was getting uncomfortable with how Haine was being played (it reminded me a bit of the current problem in Cipher, actually), but it’s clear that she’ll be able to figure out what’s what in the end.  She seems like a smart girl when it counts.

The second half of the volume reconciles Haine with her original family.  She has a younger brother who is a squalling brat and her younger sister seems eager to go against her… but this is a nice and super-sweet shoujo manga.  Not everything is as it seems.  The steps for two more romances move into place, too.

Honestly, I’ve given up on the fantasy elements, which is probably good since Tanemura has said there won’t be any.  The plot and character relationships aren’t the most straightforward, and are pretty hard to follow at times.  But I love the art, and the characters are very likable, so that makes up for any weaknesses at this point.  It’s not at Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne or opening volumes of Full Moon level yet, but it goes on longer than either of those series, so I’m hoping it gets a chance to develop the characters into something far surpassing either of those series.

Gentlemen’s Alliance † 2

Arina Tanemura – Viz – 2007 – 11 volumes

I think I’m still waiting for the other fantasy-themed shoe to drop, but that could have more to do with Tanemura’s spectacular and detailed artwork than anything in the story specifically.  The main reason I’m continually drawn to her series is that her artwork is more or less my ideal for shoujo manga: super-cute, and with lots of little frilly details.  The world the series is set in is embellished with a lot of little fantasy-like details, and the closest comparison I can think of school-wise is with Ohtori Academy in Revolutionary Girl Utena.  Which did have a fantasy tinge to it.  I think the downside to Tanemura’s art is that she has a limited number of character designs in her arsenal, but it’s more a problem of characters looking the same from series to series.  The characters in their respective series are always easily distinguishable from one another.  Sort of.  I mean, you know Ushio because she has a dull look on her face, and sometimes you can see a twist in her hair.

Even without the fantasy elements, lots and lots of exciting stuff happens here.  A couple big twists take place that I don’t want to spoil, but the one at the end of the volume concerning Shizumasa is pretty epic, and goes a long way towards explaining why he’s such a jerk towards Haine.  He has a good reason, to be fair to him.  I am curious as to how that situation will play out.

Another twist comes between Haine and Maora, and while I can’t say I saw it coming, it also wasn’t terribly surprising in the context of a shoujo manga, either.  The two work out their differences during Field Day, and all is well in manga-land.

Another, more disturbing, issue comes up between Haine and Ushio.  I’m growing more and more concerned with Ushio’s role in the story, and it’s becoming more clear to me that her love for Haine is definitely of the yuri variety.  She’s good for Haine and offers her wonderful support, but she’s also capable of pretty terrible acts of sabotage in order to keep Haine to herself.  Haine sees straight through them, which is what makes her more than the typical slightly ditzy and happy-go-lucky shoujo heroine… but so far, Haine is one of my least favorite characters in the series.

Aside from some mildly disturbing goings-on, my other favorite thing so far are some of the insane plot devices that the story uses.  At one point, a rampage is rationalized by the loss of false teeth.  WHAT?!  Seriously?  I mean, who does that?  I also love the unusual, tense relationship between Haine and Maguri for the love of Shizumasa.  You also rarely see the heroine competing with a boy for the hero’s affection.

That big twist at the end of the volume is what I’m most interested in now, though.  I am super-curious about how that will play out.


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