Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Swan, vol. 5

The story: Masumi is a small-town girl with big ballet dreams. After her successful entry into Japan's National Ballet School and the injury of her talented classmate Sayoko, Masumi is chosen to audition for a special production in Moscow, Russia. In this volume, she's auditioning against the talented Larisa Maximova. In the two-day process, the two dancers each perform the roles of the main characters in Swan Lake. Both girls must interpret Odette, the cursed swan princess, and Odile, the "black swan" and daughter of the villain, von Rothbart. Who will prevail in this contest between our heroine and the Russian prodigy?

Reaction: Watching a ballet in print form, explanatory narration and all, may not sound like an ideal plot. But, this volume had me completely enthralled and I read through it quickly, pausing only to admire the artwork. Again, Masumi is challenged and rises to the occasion (and the competition). It was fascinating to see how these same roles are interpreted by two very different dancers -- and it's lovely to see that Masumi's lack of technical knowledge doesn't necessarily hold her back. While the reaction of the audience seems a bit exaggerated, thanks to Ariyoshi Kyoko, it's easy to see why they would be impressed.

Deep thoughts: Tchaikovsky was commissioned to write the music for Swan Lake in 1875. Interestingly, the Swan Lake that we know today -- and is performed in this volume -- is actually quite different from the original concept and was created after Tchaikovsky's death in 1893. While there is little record of the original ballet, after Tchaikovsky's death, interest in Swan Lake was renewed. The version most popular today was choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov of the Russian Imperial Ballet in 1895.

Artwork: There's some very dynamic and amazingly paced panels here that really showcase ballet. From showing the different positions and movements to the miming and facial expressions, Kyoko really shows why this series is such a classic. Both the imagined backgrounds for the Swan Lake pieces and the studio practices are fairly detailed in comparison to modern-day shojo, dating the series ever-so-slightly. There's some brief comedic moments here, too, and although they are short-lived, they provide a much welcome respite from all of the focus, determination and, at times, despair.

The verdict: Required reading. This volume is a great culmination of everything Masumi's worked up to so far -- despite her limitations as a dancer, she doesn't let that stop her from trying her best. And this volume really shows how far she's come, and hints at how much farther she has to go. Not only that, but there's the thrill of competition, too! Swan is available in the U.S. from CMX.


  1. Glad to see someone else loving Swan! I need to get back to blogging about it.

  2. @Anna Yes, please blog about it again! :) I honestly didn't understand why this was such a popular series at first -- Masumi is so naive and self-involved initially -- but watching her develop into a multi-faceted character has been refreshing to watch.