While I was mainly inspired to host a Shojo Beat Manga Moveable feast because I wanted to spark some manga blogger discussion of one of my favorite manga publishing imprints, I have to confess that I was also selfishly motivated by a desire to work through some of my stacks of unread manga. I generally read my manga series volume by volume, without saving up several to enjoy reading all at once. I had so much fun reading large amounts of Real and Slam Dunk for the Inoue Manga Moveable Feast that I wanted an excuse to do it again for the Shojo Beat feast.
It just so happens that one of the titles I’ve stockpiled is Gentlemen’s Alliance +. I have the first eight volumes, but I’m not sure if I’m going to get through them all just because there’s so much I want to write about. I have a great deal of affection for Tanemura’s lone non-Shojo Beat title Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne, due to the sheer amount of craziness packed into a series about a magical girl phantom thief reincarnation of Joan of Arc who goes up to heaven and hangs out with God. It is pretty hard to top that.
Gentlemen’s Alliance + is set in an elite school that is overburdened by the type of complicated class uniforms and political structure that one often sees in shojo manga. Haine, a former juvenile delinquent, attends Imperial Academy. She used to be the daughter of an elite family, but she was sold off for a somewhat inexpensive business debt and now spends her days cheerfully working at part-time jobs, hoping to get a glimpse of the President of the school council Shizumasa, who she has loved since she read a book he wrote as a young boy. The first volume introduces the cast of characters and describes the levels the students find themselves sorted into. Haine is of course a Bronze, while Shizumasa leads an entirely separate existence as the only Gold. Haine’s support system comes from her closest girlfriend the enigmatic Ushio and the Kusame, the younger brother in her adopted family. Shizumasa’s student council is made up of an eccentric bunch of students. There’s Maguri who has a somewhat violent image and poses as Shizumasa’s boyfriend in order to prevent Shizumasa from being ensnared by romantic entanglements while nursing his own secret love for Shizumasa! Maora is friendly to Haine, but he’s also the accountant, cross-dresser, and secretly in love with Maguri! Toya is a family retainer and Shizumasa’s trusted aide.
Of course, Haine doesn’t exist on the outskirts of school life for very long, and after letting out her violent yanki side in fighting an infestation of snakes at the school, she finds herself invited to serve on the student council as Shizumasa’s bodyguard. Ushio immediately joins the school council too, because she is going to go wherever Haine goes. While Haine might finally have the opportunity to get closer to Shizumasa, his difficult personality makes that almost impossible. He seems alternately sympathetic and hostile, leaving Haine feeling somewhat bewildered yet still determined to pursue her love.
One of the things I enjoy so much about Tanemura’s manga is the fact that the pretty art and peppy heroines lure the reader in, then she proceeds to explore some really dark themes while she juggles a plethora of screen tone and fancy hairstyles. Haine’s troubled past as a delinquent and her family history make her a much more interesting protagonist than the usual slightly sweet, not entirely bright shojo heroine. Shizumasa is dealing with struggles of his own, as he has an incredibly dramatic secret that prevents him from really getting close to anyone. There’s more complexity going on in Gentlemen’s Alliance + than the reader might expect, and that keeps this series from becoming too cloying. The darker moments are balanced out with funnier scenes, as when Shizumasa asks Haine if she has a fever and her response is that she’s been that way for several days because “I used my head…to think about a lot of difficult things…”
While Haine has plenty to worry about, she generally faces her challenges with an undiminished spirit. She’s elevated to the position of Shizumasa’s faux girlfriend in addition to bodyguard and has to deal with the sudden pressures of popularity. One of the nice things about this series is that Haine’s interactions are balanced between Shizumasa and the supporting cast. The other members of the student council are all well-portrayed and seeing how they relate to each other as well as the romantic leads of the series keeps things interesting. One of my favorite characters in the series has to be the mysterious Postman, who pops up in uniform at exactly the right moment to help Haine, makes a few comments, then quickly disappears.
After reading the first four volumes, I found myself throughly invested in the series and happy that I have the next four books stockpiled. Gentlemen’s Alliance + is a good example of commercial shojo at its best. The romantic foibles of a slightly ditzy heroine at an improbable high school isn’t a very unexpected situation to find in manga, but Tanemura does such a great job juggling comedy and soap opera as well as delivering some astoundingly pretty and detailed art. Gentlemen’s Alliance + is very consistent for what one would expect from a Tanemura series, and I enjoyed it very much even though it hasn’t yet hit the heights of insanity of Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne.