Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Swan, vol. 3

The story: Masumi makes her way to London, stopping in Moscow to see her friends, Sayoko and Kusakabe, perform in a Bolshoi Ballet production. While performing in Sleeping Beauty, Sayoko is severly injured -- enough to end her career as a ballerina. While everyone is understandably devastated, Japan has to save face and so it is suggested that Masumi take her place in an audition against the Russian prodigy, Larissa Maximova. Will Masumi have what it takes to audition and will she win against Russia's best?

Reaction: Watching Sayoko's injury happen and the following aftermath are heartbreaking, since it takes away the one thing she loves. It's additionally sad because she experienced only one day of international fame. What's worse is watching Masumi's reaction to her sempai's injuries. But, once Masumi breaks through her emotional turmoil and focuses on what her competition with Maximova truly means -- recognition of Japanese ballet on the international stage -- it's breathtaking. Masumi is growing and I'm really beginning to enjoy it.

Deep thoughts: At the end of Masumi's competition against Maximova, a young upstart comes into the room, with a commanding presence. Sydney Ecklund believes she should have the opportunity Masumi did and is very pushy about competing for an audition spot. It was off-putting to watch, but it demonstrated something that you don't see very often in manga -- reckless insistence and obvious contrariness. In Japanese culture, as well as other Asian cultures, confrontation is best avoided, so it was surprising to see this level of conflict. It was a quick and simple way of showing the difference in Western and Eastern cultures when it comes to deference to authority figures, and, on a larger scale, shows the larger challenges the Japanese dancers must face in order to be recognized by their Western peers.

Artwork: At times, the pages seem busy with the amount of panelwork and their non-traditional placement. But, it keeps the lively pace of this story chugging along. There are a lot of extremely emotional moments in this volume, but Ariyoshi Kyoko illustrates them well, finding a way to demonstrate the melodramatic inner turmoil of Masumi and Sayoko. Again, the dancing is her strong suit and Kyoko has a deft hand at portraying movement in a sequential form. Lastly, I finally realized that there's a minimal use of screentone. I'm not sure if this is a convention of the 1970s, or if Kyoko simply used it as little as possible. But, it helps set a darker tone for this series, especially at this particular moment.

The verdict: Highly recommended. This series is growing on me, volume by volume. Considering the challenges Masumi faces, she's handling them as best she can and doing fairly well at it. While I couldn't have cared less about her success, I now find myself obsessed with finding out her future in ballet. Since there are a total of 21 volume of Swan, I'm fairly certain I'll be able to find out. Swan is available in the U.S. from CMX.

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