Everyone at the school is ranked from Bronze to Gold, with money being the fastest way to rise in the ranks. Shizumasa, as the president of the student council, is the only Gold ranked student. Haine is a Bronze ranked student who can't afford to pay her way to Silver - she has to work her way up, something that's nearly impossible.
Tanemura crams her art with lines and layers of screentone - it's not a look I liked, at first, but it's grown on me. It must take her and her staff ages to create this manga. It's rare for a panel to have areas of pure white, since Tanemura usually uses some sort of screentone or has drawn something to fill up just about every bit of space. Surprisingly, this doesn't make her story difficult to read. Actually, the biggest complaint I have about Tanemura's art is that Haine and Ushio (Haine's best friend) look a lot alike - the easiest way to tell them apart is by personality, sometimes.
I liked Haine - she's undaunted, even when she believes that the boy she loves is gay. It's not that she's determined to convince him otherwise - she just adores him so much for the way his words affected her in the past. I enjoyed Haine's yanki aspect, once I got used to it - she looks so pretty and perfect that it's hard to believe she used to be a yanki, but when she gets truly angry, Tanemura does such a good job with her expressions that it's suddenly not so hard to believe.
I love the relationships between the characters! Haine and Ushio are very cute together - Ushio is a very serious and unemotional looking girl, but a hug from Haine can make her smile like nothing else. As for Maora (a member of the student council), there's not too much to know about her yet, other than that she's strange, but I think she's trying to match Haine and Shizumasa - that alone makes me like her, at least on a superficial level. Toya (an employee of the Togu family - that's Shizumasa's family, by the way) is also a nice character - he has yet to reveal his exact reasons, but he believes that Shizumasa needs Haine. Toya is so adorable when he tells Haine he's rooting for her! (God, I am such a fangirl.) Shizumasa seems to have a boatload of secrets, which makes him automatically interesting, even if I didn't already like him as Haine's future boyfriend.
I know he's a minor character, and I don't think he's even been given a name yet, but I really liked the postman. He's so cute and cheerful all the time. I wonder if Tanemura is going to reveal that he actually likes Haine? There are hints that he might, but it's unclear whether the occasional ambiguous panel is just due to the fact that he cares for her as a friend or it's really an indication of something more romantic.
I also like Senri Narumiya, the perverted school doctor at the academy - he'd be icky in real life, but in this manga he's funny, and I can't help but imagine that he and Ushio might end up together a few years down the road. He seems to like her and find her interesting. I wonder if Haine knows that Ushio was going to use her body to try to get on the student council (yes, I did say what you think I just said - when the doctor first met Ushio, she and another student had just finished something in the infirmary that had left their clothes in disarray). The doctor teases Ushio a bit (I think - either that, or he really is a pervert), and Ushio eventually gets angry with him - in a romance novel, this would be the perfect setup for a future relationship.
Finally, as far as characters go, I wonder if Tanemura is going to complicate things further by revealing that Kusame (Haine's brother in the Otomiya family, not related to her by blood) is in love with Haine. His objection to her affection for Shizumasa was so strong that I suspect that this is going to be the case. I'm not sure how I feel about that since, even though they're not related by blood, Kusame grew up with Haine and was basically raised to think of her as his sister. They're related by their upbringing, if not by blood, so the idea that he might have romantic feelings for her is kind of... icky.
I like this manga so much so far that I think I could write about it forever, but I think I'll wrap things up for now and get on to read-alikes. As far as extras go, this volume has a decent amount. There's a lot of writings by Tanemura at the beginnings of chapters with notes about those chapters, sidebars with character bios (I think just about every character is covered, including minor ones), and a couple pages at the end talking about how Tanemura created these characters (including what I think might be a few early drawings), the research she did, the Imperial Academy, and the storyline. There's also a short bonus manga at the end, focusing on Ushio and the doctor, with a cute bit between Ushio and Haine - it's nice, but it's not much of a story (it feels more like an outtake, actually). Finally, there are a few 4-panel comics - I have a feeling they're much funnier in the original Japanese, but I did like the image of Maguri giggling over butterflies. There are notes from all of Tanemura's assistants at the end, plus notes from the translator, discussing any translation difficulties and various Japanese cultural notes.
Actually, I guess that's a lot of extras... I'm betting they won't be able to keep that up throughout the entire series, but it's not bad for a manga volume that costs $8.99.
- Wild Ones (manga) by Kiyo Fujiwara - After Sachie's mother dies, the grandfather she never knew takes her in. As if she didn't have to make enough adjustments, Sachie's grandfather turns out to be the boss of a yakuza gang, and he assigns one of the people in his gang, a handsome boy who's about her own age, to be her bodyguard. Those who'd like another romantic manga featuring a teenage heroine who can go from sweet and vulnerable to tough and scary when she needs to might like this series.
- Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya; Fruits Basket (anime TV series) - Tohru had been living with her grandfather after her mother died, but circumstances and Tohru's own desire not to be a burden meant that she ended up living alone in a tent for a while. However, she gets taken in by the Sohma family, who are hiding a secret - certain members of the family turn into animals in the Chinese zodiac when they're weak or hugged by a member of the opposite sex. Both the manga and anime are good - the anime follows the manga pretty closely (except for a few things, and the last episode), but it ends well before the manga does. This is another series with a sweet girl who gets shuffled around by people who should be taking care of her (there's also another character in the series who, like Haine, is basically sold to someone else as a child). Like The Gentlemen's Alliance Cross, this series has romance, comedy, and drama (lots of people have secrets and personal pain that are gradually revealed), and Tohru, like Haine, has a special place in her heart for a boy she met when she was younger. For those who liked the yanki element in The Gentlemen's Alliance Cross, Fruits Basket has a former yanki as well, one of Tohru's friends.
- Gakuen Alice (manga) by Tachibana Higuchi - When Mikan's best friend leaves to attend the mysterious and elite Alice Academy, Mikan goes after her and tries to become a student at the academy herself. Alice Academy turns out to be a special school for children with amazing abilities (like flying, telekinesis, etc.). Once Mikan manages to prove that she belongs at the school, she becomes a student. Unfortunately, students are allowed little contact with the outside world, and there are other secrets the school and its teachers are hiding. Those who'd like another manga set at an elite school with lots of rules and a ranking system that determines what priveleges students get might like this series. The tone of the series is usually light, but several characters have shadowy secrets, much like Shizumasa. This series also has some romantic elements.
- Ouran High School Host Club (manga) by Bisco Hatori; Ouran High School Host Club (anime TV series) - Haruhi, the only scholarship student at an elite school for the rich, is forced to become a host in the Ouran High School Host Club after breaking an expensive vase. Unfortunately, Haruhi is actually a girl - in order to stay in the host club and pay off her debt, Haruhi must make sure that no one outside the host club finds out that she's not a guy. Those who'd like another manga featuring a main female character who doesn't quite fit in at her elite school for the rich might like this series. This series is more heavily comedic than The Gentlemen's Alliance Cross, and, although there are romantic elements, Haruhi is usually too oblivious to notice when guys are interested in her. Personally, I prefer the anime over the manga, but they're both good - FUNimation will finally begin releasing the anime in the US starting in October.