Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Swan, vol. 1

The story: Masumi is a teenage girl who loves ballet dancing. In the opening chapter, she busts into a professional production of Swan Lake because she wants to meet two of its famous stars. When she meets them, she loses her voice and "dances" her feelings instead. After that, she's asked to head to Tokyo (she's from Hokkaido in the north) for a national ballet competition. Once there, she meets elite ballet students from throughout Japan and international instructors. Given the opportunity to learn from the best, will Masumi rise to the occasion?

Reaction: I really, really wanted to like this book, but I had a hard time getting into it. Masumi is flaky, flighty, impulsive and so naive. For a protagonist, I just found her unlikable. Then again, I think it might have to do with the truly "teenage" personality she has. Otherwise, I found the premise interesting and the other characters quite enjoyable. While the explanation of various ballets and moves got a little long and broke up the pacing of the story, I really did benefit from them because I have zero background in ballet.

Deep thoughts: Even though this manga was originally published in Japan in the 1970s, it was still odd to see the Soviet Union mentioned. I guess my brain is so used to the dissolution of the former U.S.S.R. that it took me a second to register the old name. Granted, its placement makes sense considering the popularity of ballet in Russia.

Artwork: This is another place where the manga dates itself -- from the fashion to the hair to the comedic panels -- you could really tell that this was made in the '70s. It was pretty funny to see what passed as "fashion" back then (suspenders, anyone?).

Also, it seems that the super-deformed style, or chibi, is a more recent art style used for comedic relief. Here Ariyoshi Kyoko uses big, goofy eyes and a wagging tongue to indicate humor. While the art style isn't bad or ugly, it took a little while to get used to it. My only complaints are the ill-proportioned limbs in a two-page spread where Masumi and another dancer are jumping across the pages, the pointy noses used in character profiles and the use of literally blank eyes to indicate surprise (no pupil or iris whatsoever). It's fairly spooky looking!

The verdict: If only... Again, I tried hard to like this manga, especially since it's considered such a classic. Maybe it was the exposition, or just Masumi, but I had a difficult time "feeling" for her. But, the other characters and, again, the plot helped elevate this from "meh" territory for me. Because of its revered status, I'll definitely check out the next few volumes to see if this story gets moving. Swan is available in the U.S. from CMX.

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