The Gentlemen’s Alliance †
紳士同盟＋(クロス) (Shinshi Doumei † [Cross])
Shoujo – Comedy, drama, reverse harem, romance
11 Volumes (complete)
Haine is at the bottom caste of her school thanks to her adopted family’s finances, but that’s not the only reason people tend to ignore her: she’s a former gang member. It’s a far cry from the position of Emperor, aka the student body president. Like many of her schoolmates, she’s in love with the Emperor, and when she hears he’s kidnapped, this may be her chance to tell him of her feelings! But Shizumasa has his own secrets…
I know I’ve mentioned this before: Tanemura is an artist where there is no consensus on what her best work is. Gather a bunch of her fans, and they’d probably divide into several groups. The Gentlemen’s Alliance † (pronounced “Cross”) would almost certainly be one of the top contenders. I remember when fans were clamoring for each new chapter of this series, but does it still hold up today?
I think a lot of readers were drawn for this because, while the actual set-up is very Japanese-y, the overall idea of adolescence being a messy time is one that has worldwide appeal. Across this extended cast, we also see things in childhood that still leave scars and even mistakes in high school that mess up characters’ lives as adults. The most important lesson that readers should take away from all this is that talking about things is important, because otherwise, lies, secrets, and misunderstandings will just snowball.
But enough about that. What about the story?
Imperial Academy is divided into three ranks: bronze, silver, and gold. However, only one person can be gold, and most families just donate enough money to make their kids silver rank. We learn right away that Haine is an adopted child, and while her father runs a company, it’s not exactly in great financial shape. That doesn’t sound too unusual, especially considering her father married a woman with a child of her own.
But later, we start learning the full story: the Otomiya family business was once in much better shape. It was the Kamiya family who was in dire straits — the family Haine was born into. The family Haine lived with until she was 10 years old and was sold to (then bachelor) Itsuki to be his company’s heir.
But when Haine was young (and still a Kamiya), she adored a certain picture book and met its author: a child and heir to the illustrious Togu family, Shizumasa. She met him again as a teenager, when she was hanging out and fighting in the streets as a delinquent. His words touched her, and now she’s on the straight and narrow.
Haine and Shizumasa now attend the same school, but since he’s the elite Emperor (student body president), approaching him is nearly impossible. But even from a distance, Haine can tell Shizumasa seems more sullen than before. When she finds him alone (at first, believing he was kidnapped), Haine ends up blurting out that he should fall in love with her if he’s lonely. Long story short, one member of the student council, the cheerful, girly Maora, convinces Shizumasa to let Haine join as sort of an errand girl and bodyguard. Haine is eventually given the special title of Platinum, the Emperor’s lover, in order to drive away all the girls who want to get near him. This is over the objections of Maguri, the guy who had been pretending to be Shizumasa’s lover. Ushio, a beautiful girl who treasures Haine dearly, joins the student council because Haine did.
If you’re a bit overwhelmed, sorry, but the cast only grows bigger from here. The short summary is:
Haine (center) – an idiot
The Emperor (upper left) – just tolerates Haine at first but falls in love with her, is keeping secrets
Maora (lower left) – adores Haine, is keeping secrets
Ushio (lower right) – adores Haine, is keeping secrets
Maguri (upper right) – an idiot
Everyone else revolves around these five teenagers. We have Haine’s birth and adopted families, the Togu family and the people who work for them, Haine’s friends, Maguri’s older brother, and various other minor characters. And a majority of them either have a crush on somebody and/or get a small arc involving their love story. With so many characters, it’s hard not to find someone that you look forward to seeing. But as you can tell from the short summary above and my earlier comments, lots of them either actively keep things hidden or outright suck at communication. Lots of shoujo manga thrive on miscommunication or missed opportunities, but as I mentioned earlier, even many of the adults have issues, so it isn’t surprising that the teenagers follow in their footsteps.
Again, since I’m avoiding spoilers, it’s hard to explain, but in short, nobody’s feelings are as they first appear. Even the opening chapter when Haine goes to meet Shizumasa for the first time at school is later revisited with a different perspective. Untwisting these pretzels is what makes this manga a solid read, but it can and will be frustrating. Some of the adults in particular could use a swift kick in the rear. By the end, it’s debatable as to whether the characters are a little too hunky-dory about forgiving each other for their past behavior.
That’s why much of The Gentlemen’s Alliance † is focused on the student council members working through their issues. As the protagonist, of course Haine’s situation is given the most attention, with the Emperor coming in close second as the manga explains his sullen and often short-tempered behavior. Haine, however, was a fan-favorite character, and the normally cool, aloof girl engages in some unhealthy behaviors even as she pines for the one she likes. Maora’s behavior is rather…unique, but Maguri is probably the most straightforward.
Still, the five of them (along with the extended cast) end up in some interest love polygons. Some feelings end up as crushes that were used to avert their eyes from the truth; others truly love someone but have rivals or are torn between two people. The various love polygons criss-cross each other, sometimes going across age and gender. Tanemura admits the latter was a new field for her to explore, and at least she followed through with it.
Meanwhile, while I classify this as a reverse harem, it’s a bit more complicated than at first glance. While some put up a fight for Haine, again, several people are confused and just flock to the kind, cheerful, and often hilarious Haine. Most of you can just about guess who Haine falls in love with in the end, but there’s a twist that’s revealed quite early that changes the dynamic between the fake Platinum and the Emperor quite a bit. So it’s not as simple as a pretend couple becoming a real one. Even when you get to the ending, there’s a bit of a window left open for an alternative relationship, so it may not be as satisfying a romance compared to some other series.
Tanemura no doubt has some beautiful artwork in this series. If you’ve never read one of her works, be aware that the manga rather busy: lots of side comments, characters popping up in SD form, and mysterious, often poetic dialogue. Her manga can be fast paced and high energy (with lots of greyscales), so while there are some gorgeous spreads, it also is a slower read compared to similar titles. I don’t mean this as a negative, but it’s just a different style compared to the usual shoujo manga. While the students are all from upper class families, we don’t see a lot of super-fancy outfits or unbelievably posh buildings. Much of the story is relegated to the student council room, but combined with the fact that most of the council is lazy and/or incompetent, it’s more or less a hangout place while the Emperor does most of the work. Some of the characters Tanemura herself admits are basically clones/reincarnations of previous characters in her other works, so if you’ve read her previous manga, you’ll see some heavy influences. But in short, this is a fun, nice-looking series.
Honorifics are mostly used. Terms like “nee-sama” are also kept. “Yanki” is also used, but because of the English language, there’s limited ways to show the yakuza/delinquent-style speech she sometimes slips into. Translation notes are included in each volume, rather numerous and detailed ones to boot. They cover everything from the original puns in the Japanese script to references about the games Tanemura is playing. Most of the puns are rewritten, others adapted, and one incloving kimchi/kimochi is skipped. Either way, the notes explain the original. However, there are some minor errors. At one point, the adaptation incorrectly interprets a line to have Haine referring to herself and Komaki rather than herself and Kusame. This one is noticeable because the flow is slightly interrupted. The postman’s cat’s name is written as both “Paru” and “Pal” in the same volume. Nothing major, but I had to note them.
The Gentlemen’s Alliance † is full of complicated relationships, which makes it addicting and yet frustrating. Many readers will relate to the characters’ twisted-in-knots emotions, but maybe too much is overcome neatly. Some behaviors shown here are acts that readers won’t want to model, so this isn’t a manga for younger audiences. Those also looking for a fluffy and/or sweet romance will probably also be a bit restless in the end even though their preferred couple wins in the end.
VIZ Media has released The Gentlemen’s Alliance Cross: Arina Tanemura Illustrations, the artbook for the manga, along with most of Tanemura’s manga.