Sunday, April 10, 2011

One of Ikeda Riyoko's more obscure titles: Claudine...!

A cold, blustery day in early 20th century Paris.

A psychologist waiting in an office for his patient.

The patient, 10 year old Claudine de Montesse, arrives along with Mme Montesse, who worries about her youngest child- specifically, that Claudine "started saying that she was really a boy." The Doctor takes a liking to Claudine, "Both as a patient...and as a person" and they become friends.

It turns out that Claudine is part of a wealthy family that lives on a country estate in Vernon, a little northwest of Paris. A girl named Rosemarie is in love with Claudine, even telling her friends that she and Claudine are an item, but it's one-sided. ("You don't understand at all...a lot of girls may make a fuss over you, but I'm the only one who really understands you." In response, Claudine turns and thinks, "Will I come to look at someone that way one day? If I were to fall in love...I wonder if there would be no escaping it...that I would look at someone with such sadness in my eyes...")

Claudine's family hires a new servant named Maura, and she and Claudine hit it off pretty quickly.

Rosemarie doesn't take Maura seriously at first, but grows jealous when she sees how happy and relaxed Claudine is around her.

She does something spiteful to Maura (Maura doesn't realize that it was intentional), but it winds up bringing Maura and Claudine closer together. Claudine kisses Maura that night. Mme Montesse catches them and sends Maura away. It takes a while, but Claudine begins to move on from Maura and falls in love with a librarian, a beautiful woman named Cecilia.

Claudine eventually kisses Cecilia, but Cecilia slaps Claudine away. It later turns out that Claudine's dad is not only having an affair with Cecilia's brother Louis (which Claudine already knows about), but also Cecilia. (Uh-oh.) Louis finds out and burns down the cabin where M Montesse and Cecilia meet up, with them inside of it. Rosemarie, who's involved in the whole mess, gets her face partially burned in the fire.

To get away from Vernon, Claudine attends a university in Paris and becomes one of the most popular students there. At a party, Claudine meets a ballerina named Sirene and becomes infatuated with with her. They start dating, move in together, and tell people they're "roommates." Things are going fine and dandy for a while.


But Claudine loses Sirene in a way that makes Maura being sent away look downright pleasant. Long story short, Claudine commits suicide after speaking with the Doctor one last time. We see Rosemarie visiting Claudine's grave, and the Doctor narrates that no man could love a woman as deeply as Claudine did and, "At any rate, I was unable to save a wonderful friend from a tragic end."

Cheerful story, isn't it? While it is tragic, with characters who are more articulate and mature than the norm, a messy web of relationships, and a lovingly drawn historical setting, it still has its own appeal. Even though it is depressing, there are many moments of beauty and even a little humor sprinkled in, especially during Maura's arc. I actually thought of her as Claudine's true love instead of Sirene.

Claudine is an interesting protagonist, in appearing to be strong while really being very vulnerable to being elated (or hurt) by love. Most of the characters appear to be larger than life in one sense, while being vulnerable or deeply flawed in another sense- especially when it comes to impulsiveness.

And obviously, this came out when there was hardly any yuri or transgender-themed manga out. (There isn't even much transgender-themed manga out today, unless you count the gajillion Ranma-like "guy turns into a hot girl, hijinx ensue"-type stories.)

If you can look past the tragedy and appreciate the numerous good things about Claudine, or you're in the mood for something tragic that's good, it's worth reading.

Story: B
Art: A-
Overall: B

NOTE: My reading of Claudine...! has shifted in a significant way, and you should read about it here. Even though I wouldn't recommend it as a yuri title and it is tragic, it is still a damn good lgbtq title.

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