|The Gentleman's Alliance Cross|
To me a good story is one that allows the reader to use their brain, and forces them to assemble the scenes and the construct of the story with their own imagination; a good writer will elaborate just enough to allow a reader to do this, a bad writer will over-elaborate, and thus turn a good story into a quagmire of swampy rhetoric and a book that doesn't know when to quit.
Now, with regard to manga, I encounter the same thing. This time however it's a matter of the actual drawings on the page. Too much to look at has a sort of sickening effect for me, it's as if the writer isn't trusting me to use my own brain to fill in the missing gaps of the story, and takes it upon themselves to turn a blank canvas into a cluster of images that swim and multiply and generally make me swoon with visual overload.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have mangaka that put so little into the pages that it might as well look like stick figures, because then you are left wishing you had a reference to use for your missing parts.
In reality, there is an even finer line between too much, and not enough with regards to how much can be placed in a single page of manga. Too little imagery, and the reader is left unfulfilled; too much, and the reader wants to barf from motion sickness.
Another really annoying thing, that can cause me much distress is the habit of character recycling. A somewhat common practice among new and fresh mangaka. This is where the artist uses the same character model, with just subtle changes for every other character in every other manga that they create. So when we look at the manga, we don't know which person is which. Unless we go by the hair, and that isn't always enough to really clue us in.
Now if we take all those things: too much art on the page, and characters too similarly drawn; we end up with a swirling mess that would do better if it were simply a visual novel. Now there is one last thing that will kill a story, and that is convoluted plot.
It isn't enough that we have to see this smörgåsbord of images, and characters that resemble each other, but on top of all of that we have manga that have some of the most intricately woven and complicated plots imaginable. This would be fine, if we were reading a novel, but we are looking at pictures people! PICTURES!
So you are probably by now wondering what all this has to do with The Gentleman's Alliance Cross? It's because of nearly all the manga that I've read, aside from Akamatsu's stuff; I find the works of Arina Tanemura the most culpable for practicing and using every single one of the problematic elements for creating a manga, and The Gentleman's Alliance Cross is just the frosting on the cake.
I would like to think that I am pretty quick on the up-take, but despite my best efforts, reading through this Manga has become more of a chore than it's worth. It has so much on the page visually, it's like a Where's Waldo instead of a simple scene; combined with similarly drawn characters, and odd placed dialog bubbles, it takes me three or four passes per page just to figure out what the crap I'm looking at, and who the crap is saying what!
I bought The Gentleman's Alliance Cross on pure whim. At the time, I was just looking for decent romantic non-shonen manga that I could laze away reading, and maybe get some titles under my belt. But what was supposed to be a brisk jaunt through a lovey-dovey romance has quickly turned into a complex spider's web of unimaginable nonsense. After the second volume, I went in search of other Tanemura works to see for myself if this was just a stand alone case, and discovered the one-shot ION that was a much earlier title.
What did I find?
Not only did the main character look strikingly familiar to Haine from The Gentleman's Alliance Cross, but once again we have a case of too much art on the pages. It isn't a matter of showing off how talented a person is at making a beautiful scene, it's a matter of over-kill, and Arina Tanemura obviously didn't know when to quit with the image padding.
The best thing about ION was that it was such a short read, so that there wasn't time to bog down in complicated plot devices, and unexpected twists and turns. In fact it was somewhat enjoyable, and despite the similarity in character, it was not bad.
On the other hand, the more of The Gentleman's Alliance Cross that I read, the deeper the complications, and the harder it became to follow. On top of all the mess with mega-detailed image overload, and similarly drawn characters, we now have the beginnings of vague-plot. This is a nasty little difficult thing to wield, and for a novelist it can be a story killer. It can take hundreds of pages, and thousands of words to develop a vague plot, using subtlety and deliberation; not just anyone can pull this off. It takes serious dedication to the story to weave such intricacies, and Tanemura had started using this approach to the plot early on.
First we have the revelation that one of Haine's friends -- a girl -- is actually a cross dressing boy. Not to mention this character blends so well into the other characters that it's hard to tell he/she apart sometimes, so this is a nice complication. Then we have the main love interest, is actually a twin, and not the actual boy that the main character is in love with, so when we bounce between them we have a hell of a time trying to figure out if we are looking at the nice twin, or the ass hole.
Then we have the complication of Haine's past. The fact that she was sold to a family, and has some real blood-relatives that make appearances, which once again look so familiar, it's hard to tell if they are people we have already seen before, or if they are new. Several times, I got so confused by who the hell I was looking at, that I had to walk away from the book and just clear my thoughts.
Not only this, but there are so many characters that play double roles, that it's hard to keep up with them. Not only is this a visual cluster-frag, not only have I been lost in the dialog bubbles wondering who said what; but now Tanemura has started playing musical chairs with the characters, and I'm the last one to find a seat!
How in the name of Zeus's butt-hole is this supposed to be entertainment? How can frustrating your readers be satisfying in the least? I like the story, at least what I can understand, but why does it have to be so complicated to the point that I want to cry from frustration at rying to get through a single damn page of it? This is not fun, or entertaining, I don't feel good after reading a volume, and I sure don't want to have to have a freaking wiki page open on my computer to figure out who all the characters are.
In all truth, I think I lost much of my respect for manga in general after the forth volume of this series. I lost a lot of respect for mangaka as well. Instead of making a series that was enjoyable, it became a monster of unimaginable proportions. A monster that is best left to nerds with more time on their hands to figure out.
I don't like wasting away valuable entertainment time on something that requires the Rosetta Stone to read. I enjoy a smooth narrative. If this were a novel, it wouldn't be so bad, because at least then, I could fill in the gaps, I could make the assertions, and I could at least know who was saying what. With this, I just fail. And I feel strongly that this isn't because I'm stupid, or ignorant; it's because the artist wanted me to fail.