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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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09/10/2005 Archived Entry: "Manga review: Ecole du Ciel, Vol. 1"

École du Ciel, Vol. 1
by Haruhiko Mikimoto
Translation: Ikoi Hiroe
English Adaptation: Ikoi Hiroe & Paul Morrissey
Published by TOKYOPOP

Review by Tom Good

This story about a military training academy for mech pilots invites comparisons to Top Gun, and because it is set in the Gundam universe, I started to think of it as "Top Gundam." Both stories have main characters who must live with their fathers' bad reputations. In Top Gun, Maverick's father was blamed for causing an accident that killed him and other personnel. Here, the heroine Asuna is the daughter of a former professor at the Zeon national defense academy, who is now wanted for war crimes. Both heroes arrive at a pilot school where the training is demanding and expectations are high. But in many respects, the characters are very different. Unlike the cocky hotshot Maverick, Asuna is a shy waif who is failing her classes at École du Ciel ("school of the sky"), and seems to lack the skills to survive real mech combat.

Some critics including Pauline Kael have claimed that Top Gun had a gay subtext. In this episode, Asuna and her best friend Emilu have a relationship that one could interpret with a lesbian subtext. In one scene, Emilu feels Asuna's breasts, supposedly to judge whether they have gotten bigger. A male student who observes them says, "Don't worry, I have no prejudices. Love is love, right?" The reader is left to decide whether this is purely comedy or something more. Later, in the aftermath of a dangerous battle, Emilu helps Asuna to her feet. In terms of the plot this makes sense as a practical, innocent action, but the style of the drawing makes it resemble a romantic embrace, with Asuna's hand falling (or is it reaching?) to touch Emilu's bare thigh.

Manga artists often use a low angle perspective looking up at characters, either to make them look taller and more imposing, or sometimes to supply the ever-popular "upskirt" shots of female characters. Mikimoto takes the opposite approach here, and frequently draws his characters from a high angle looking down. This makes them appear small and vulnerable, and also saves the low-angle effect for where it is needed most: to emphasize the immense size of the mechs.

Despite its high-tech, military theme, this manga features soft textures and a gentle, dreamy look. This contrast works brilliantly, and helps convey Asuna's perspective and personality. I enjoyed the beautiful charcoal-textured drawings that appear occasionally in the story.

This manga contains 12 pages of bonus materials, including interviews with mobile suit designer Yoshinori Sayama. The Gundam universe uses some special terminology, but new readers can refer to online material that includes an extensive glossary. École du Ciel bills itself as "the perfect series for anyone who hasn't yet been introduced to the wonderful world of mobile suits." I think it delivers on that promise.

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