I can see how people might race through this series, and I have been tempted to, but I feel like I start to grow numb to the relentless drama of the whole thing after a couple volumes, so I am taking my time, letting every incredible detail sink in. I don’t want to miss a thing art- or story-wise. And if you’ve read the series yourself or even my spoilerrific posts on the first five books, you know that Takemiya is no slouch as an artist or a writer and there is a lot to take in. As always, if you don’t want to know anything that happens (I try not to give anything too crucial away) or vague discussion of assaults of the sexual kind don’t sit well with you, jump ship now. Go look at this adorable picture of Shigeru Mizuki with his Eisner Award. (Seriously! How cute is he?!)
Naturally, there’s no way Takemiya is going to let up with the over-the-topness at this late stage. She has staked out her ground and she is going all the way with it. High fives to her! After many, many pages of harrowing back story, Book Six brings us back to the boarding school in the countryside where Gilbert and Serge are still rooming together, and Gilbert is still playing the baddest boy the school has ever seen. And people still are acting shocked whenever Gilbert does something bad, like they still haven’t learned to expect it. Personally, if I didn’t see Gilbert sexing up Breau and drinking hard liquor in the middle of the day, I’d think something was up.
But before going back to school, we see the tragic ending of Serge’s time at his sprawling family home. If you guessed that everyone he ever loved dies or meets face-scarring tragedy, you would be correct. Although he can endure the abuse of the evil aunt, it is the face-scarring tragedy of his beloved that finally forces him out of his estate. It is this final section of back story that caused me to note, “Hmm, I have accepted a lot of ridiculous stuff in this series, but the doctor saying that Serge’s piano playing is an expression of the love he is full of is pretty ridiculous.” Yes, Takemiya has gone so far over the top, she has come back round the bottom. Seriously. There were a few incidents in Book Six that had me raising an eyebrow, and I have been pretty much unconditionally accepting all the drama she has been throwing at me.
But consummate artist that she is, these eyebrow-lifting moments are always nicely balanced by her dollops of humour here and there. She seems to know the exact right moment for a little levity to balance out all the darkness of the story. Like when a group of students watching Serge and Rosmarine grab onto their word balloons to hide behind. And the art as always amazes me. Her depiction of extreme emotions is so perfect. Figurative glass shattering when Serge learns of his mother’s death and collapses while Evil Aunt holds him tightly in the least comforting way possible, Serge seeing the beast-like Auguste as he crouches over a ruined Gilbert.
She does a lot of interesting things artistically in these two books, particularly Book Seven, as Gilbert and Serge have their little summer of love. One thing that was especially interesting to me was how she almost always depicts the two of them in nature, even when they are indoors. There are always tendrils of vines, blossom, tree roots, grass, pushing up from the background or licking around the edges of panels. Obviously, Kaze is part of early shojo tradition, so random flower bursts are to be expected, but I feel like she was using this as a device to implicitly assert the naturalness of their growing love.
Another interesting thing art-wise is the fact that we are frequently treated to Serge with dark skin. We know that he has darker skin, being half-Roma courtesan and half-French nobility, but other than a panel or two in the first book, he is usually shown with the same uncoloured skin as everyone else in the book. The only reminders of his outsider status are the dark curls crowning his head and the racist comments of everyone around him. But at the end of Book Six when Serge is attacked by the Pretty Boy Sexers Club (seriously, did no one in France sleep with women in this time period?), we see him dark-skinned, but it’s hard to say if he is just in the shadows or maybe this is intended to reflect his intense fear. In Book Seven, his dark skin is more clearly dark skin and not fear shadows, and contrasts with Gilbert’s alabaster style as the two of them swim naked together. Like the constant depictions in nature, this seems to be a way to show how very complementary they are together, as if they were destined to be together.
And by the end of Book Seven, we’re really getting into the pure love territory so beloved of so many BL books. All these subtle pushes of how natural they are together, how complementary their love is, and of course, the establishment of one of them as straight with Serge’s love interest/cousin Angeline. He loved her and he would have married her had not horrible tragedy intervened. So he’s not gay, which means his love for Gilbert is because it was destined to be. Their love transcends boundaries!
But this being the festival of tragedy we’ve been enjoying thus far, you know it can’t last. And yes, the increasingly evil-looking Auguste has mucked things up for the young lovers. Will they be able to get past this nightmare?! I’m guessing yes? But it will be tragic?
Also, I feel like I should start tweeting the notes I take while reading this series. For example, in reference to the panels below, I wrote: “And now horses! This is officially the perfect series for stereotypical girls.” To be followed by: “Spanking! Now it is also perfect for SM girls!” Maybe we should start some kind of twitter book club where we can tweet these random observations and entertain each other? We totally should! Tell me what you’re reading and I’ll read it too and then we can stick a hashtag on the whole deal. Unless you’re busy. In which case, I understand.