Saturday, August 1, 2009

Swan, vol. 4

The story: Masumi faces tough personal challenges in this fourth volume. From learning how to be an independently creative dancer to understanding personal sacrifice, like usual, she's a whirlwind of emotions. But, her tireless focus on ballet is what gets her through these rough times. For the first time in this classic shojo series, love is introduced via Sidney Eglund, Masumi's roommate in London. While Masumi is initially confused by the state of Sydney's on-again, off-again relationship, she comes to realize her feelings for Kusakabe and returns to Moscow for the Bolshoi auditions.

Reaction: Ah, Masumi has grown so much in just four volumes! I really loved her determination and drive; I also liked the source of it -- her friends. While Masumi has learned so much from her friends in London, she refocuses her efforts on ballet, vowing to not be left behind by them. And Masumi's ability to learn from whomever she dances with or for is amazing, not because of her technical prowess, but because of how she simply absorbs it and then seamlessly incorporates it into her own dancing.

Deep thoughts: The concept of sacrifice for art is something Masumi learns from Sidney, but it is by no means a new concept. Many artists -- from painters to writers to actors -- have suffered for their art. And many find their inspiration in the sacrifice, helping them to create a new masterpiece. By mining their sometimes dark emotions, many have been able to produce even more compelling art. According to some, in order to create true masterpieces, one must suffer one way or another. Of course, this focus brings to mind one question: just what will Masumi have to sacrifice for her art?

Artwork: Oh, the '70s truly come alive in the artwork here -- from Margaret Fonteyn's mid-volume outfit (a head wrap and a big, floppy hat) to the disco scene -- there's no mistaking this series' era of origin! While I assume that the costumes, when designed, were not meant to be comical, I couldn't help but giggle from time to time. Otherwise, as I've mentioned before, Ariyoshi Kyoko has a deft hand at showing movement and dance, as well as visualizing Masumi's emotions through other ways than a facial reaction. In a physical, and often visceral, manner, Masumi goes through the spectrum of emotion, which is to be expected of this rather dramatic shojo series.

The verdict: Highly recommended. I'm surprised by how much this story has continued to pull me in, especially considering my reaction to the first volume. I'm absorbed in Masumi's journey and want to see what her future holds. Will she become an international star, or will she simply languish as she's left behind by her peers? Swan is available in the U.S. from CMX.

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