Thursday, July 23, 2009

Swan, vol. 2

The story: This volume starts off with an audition for Princess Aurora in a production of Sleeping Beauty, as performed by the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet Company in Moscow, Russia. Of course, Masumi and Sayoko are both up for the role and must perform with Sergeiev. Masumi, who has been practicing intensely since learning off her technical errors, dances beautifully and inspires Sayoko to dance even better. Unfortunately, as the judges are still undecided, the two young women must continue to compete against one another. When Masumi becomes depressed after being left behind while her friends study abroad, she learns that she's to go to the Royal Academy in London. What new adventures await Masumi in Europe?

Reaction: I think my dislike of Masumi is beginning to wane. Even though she's still full of self-doubt and is given to bouts of flakiness, she's beginning to focus on her goal of becoming a better dancer. There were some new characters introduced here, too, which I liked. I was surprised to see a Cuban ballet dancer, Fernando. While he is exuberant and flamboyant, it didn't seem out of place, nor distasteful. The Russian characters were different, though, and I liked the physical dichotomy and difference of personality Ariyoshi Kyoko went with in designing the top two Russian ballet dancers, who happen to be related.

Deep thoughts: Developed as part of the story is a latent prejudice against Japanese dancers. It's most pronounced in Russia, of course, but it's still surprising, especially since ballet isn't native to the country. I found the Russian prodigy's backhanded comment to be the worst, ending her compliment with "for a Japanese." For me, a minority, these are exactly the kinds of comments you have to deal with if you're good at something; it's not just that you're simply good at something, but you're good at it "for an X." It's condescending and patronizing, to say the least.

Artwork: I really liked how Kyoko framed the snowfall in Tokyo -- the spacing between panels was filled with the nighttime sky and snowflakes. It really helped create a mood of wintery peacefulness, despite the inner turmoil Masumi is feeling. The costume and the character design and related movement are also beautifully done. Kyoko's art style has really grown on me, now that I've had some time to get used to it.

The verdict: If only... While I liked this volume more than the first, there are still a few things that need to change for me, mostly Masumi as a character. She's still given to naivete and foolishness, but she is beginning to grow. However, I'm sure this will change eventually, given the number of volumes in this series. Swan is available in the U.S. from CMX.

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