Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Salia is the crown princess of Steliol, a fictional European country. Ever since her mother's death, Salia has handled most of the political issues, including negotiating peace with other nations, along with playing mother to her two younger brothers. Now Salia wants a break, so she decides to go study abroad in Japan. But her motives may not be quite so apolitical and her aides and allies have no intention of letting her run off to any sort of “normal” school life on her own…
Gleam is the second manga release from e-publisher Cross Infinite World (the first being Little Hero), and a totally different bird from their usual fare. Where before all of their series featured ordinary girls being transported to otherworlds, Gleam's heroine is the princess of a fictional European nation, Steliol. An active participant in Steliol's politics, the manga opens with Salia declaring her intention to take a break and study abroad like an ordinary girl. She chooses Japan as her location and sets off.
It's clear that Salia has some reservations about leaving. Not only has she served as a substitute mother for her two younger brothers, she's also deeply involved in Steliol's international affairs. It's mentioned several times before we even meet Salia that she's single-handedly ended wars and negotiated major international deals, so this is not someone who is likely to just go skipping off. Ostensibly Salia wants to just be a “normal” girl and has simply chosen the country the farthest away from her own (or she has a samurai obsession, which also seems possible). That holds water for roughly one chapter before we realize that Salia's playing a much deeper game that just brushing up on her Japanese.
In part this is indicated by the other students at her new school. While Salia had intended to enroll in a regular school, her aide overruled her (without her knowledge) and set her up at a private academy for the children of nobility, politicians, and foreign dignitaries. Included among the student body is Lei, an undercover CIA operative; another is teaching her class. Salia's aide (or her father the king; it's unclear) has contracted with the US to have these two G-men keep an eye on Salia in the name of security; whose security seems uncertain. In fact, the addition of two other foreign princes to the class roster makes the entire thing feel extremely shady, as does the arrival of a Steliol noble's son. What has Salia gotten herself caught up in?
That's a question that will have to wait for other volumes to answer. Gleam is clearly going to take its time to develop the plot, although hopefully it will do so with more clarity than it has thus far. In large part this is because Salia herself is withholding a lot of information. Since the story is not narrated in first person (i.e. we aren't privy to her inner thoughts, even in speech bubbles), we only know as much as Salia is willing to tell her male companions and her trusted maid – and that isn't much. It's also clear that each of the princes and the CIA agents have their own secrets and goals that they're working towards, and the likelihood that all of them align with Salia's is not high. We do know that the Steliol noble's son is very interested in marrying Salia and that his family may be involved in her mother's death. Does this mean that the other two princes are also interested in Salia's hand? Does the US government want to push one of these potential matches? Or are they just aiming to keep a potentially powerful ally close?
The political intrigue is the backbone of the story, and it's done fairly well. While we don't get to know Salia as a person, we do very quickly realize that she's an incredibly strong young woman, adept at negotiation and thinking for herself. Her decision to keep her problems to herself instead of embroiling other members of her family or her political aides is both foolish and intelligent – foolish because she's playing deep here and could get herself (and her country) in a lot of trouble if she doesn't have backup, but smart because if anyone takes the fall, it won't be anyone other than herself. Her father, the current king, wouldn't be implicated, and with two brothers, Salia herself is somewhat expendable, or at least sees herself that way. In terms of shoujo manga norms, Salia's decision to keep herself to herself is also unusual enough that it's worth noting. She's no damsel or reverse harem queen – her life is her own and she actively resents her aide's interference.
Aya Shirosaki's art is best with faces, all of which are expressive and attractive. Salia's clothing is also worth noting, as it is very well drawn with intricate details that bespeak her status as a princess; no overblown ballgowns and tiaras for her. Male bodies seem to present the most difficulties for Shirosaki, and there are several scenes where arms and hands specifically do not match up proportionally. Layouts at times can be confusing, with a couple of pages not flowing logically in terms of the placement of panels and speech bubbles. Cross Infinite World's translation is not quite as smooth as their previous releases, but still good. Largely the dialogue sounds a little stiff; possibly this is the result of attempting to make Salia's speech sound formal.
Gleam's first volume presents an interesting heroine who is more concerned with the political fate of her country than in finding Mr. Right. Although the story takes a bit to get going, it is showing definite promise. If you've been missing the political shoujo of Story of Saiunkoku, this is worth checking out. It isn't up to the former's standard yet, but if given time to work out its kinks, it could move in that direction.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : B-
+ Strong heroine, interesting political story, art can be very attractive
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