Swan Vol. #01 - Mania.com

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Mania Grade: B+

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  • Art Rating: B+
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Text/Translatin Rating: A-/B+/A-
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Released By: CMX
  • MSRP: 9.99
  • Pages: 200
  • ISBN: 1-4012-0535-6
  • Size: B6
  • Orientation: Right to Left

Swan Vol. #01

By Julie Rosato     October 22, 2006
Release Date: November 03, 2004

Swan Vol.#01

Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Ariyoshi Kyoko
Translated by:Maya Perry
Adapted by:

What They Say
One of the most famous and lauded shojo manga ever published, Swan is Ariyoshi Kyoko's best-selling classic about a girl who strives to become a great ballerina.

The Review
Swan weaves a classic, layered drama as intricate and beautiful as a ballet.

As with all of CMX's early releases, Swan sports a rather unfortunate branding, with a sort of diagonal/cut-away oval mix, but the richly detailed coverart helps make up for the shortcomings of design. And at least the blue text effects don't clash too horribly, either. The coverart clearly denotes this as vintage shoujo and has vibrant, lovely colors. While not as awful on the front, the spine logo is absolutely uninspiring, however it wasn't long before CMX improved the trade dress for this (and other) series. Inside the printing is decent (better than many books on the market) - crisp and clean with no spotty or fading inks. The bindings are a little tight, an affliction which plagued all of CMX's early volumes, but it isn't as bad as some others had been.

This here is classic shoujo as one would expect. Characters of both sexes are long-limbed, have big, heavily-lashed sparkling eyes, prominent features, and there's lots of curly hair to be had. Facial expressions are often exaggerated for comedic or tragic effect and there is no shortage of linework to make things appear extremely detailed. Character close-ups render backgrounds largely unnecessary, although there is an abundance of sparkles, flowers and tonework to fill in whatever white space is left. The backgrounds are appropriate when present, which is usually out of doors or when changing locales. Page layouts are complex and dramatic; there are no wasted areas here. Even when they're not intricate full- and double-page spreads, they're dynamic, full of movement and filled-to-bursting with panels of all shapes and sizes.

The SFX are a mixed bag. In the first two volumes they are almost completely untranslated, although occasionally one pops up when vitally important to the scene (such as a wobble when attempting to land an important jump) or the "ba-dump" of a heart beat. However there aren't many SFX to begin with and the panels are quite crowded as is -- in many cases I think adding an overlay would have sacrificed the art too much and CMX has probably done the right thing here by translating only certain ones. That said, beginning with volume 3 there is a much higher ratio of translated SFX, all done via the overlay method. Signs and the like are overlaid.

I did spot the occasional typo or text error, but overall things look really good. There is a ton of dialogue here and its adaptation reads well, without feeling stilted or lifeless. There is occasional honorific usage in the first volume, but their occurrences pick up into the second, and the Japanese naming order is maintained. Best of all, however, are the footnotes to explain the myriad ballet terms and people on whatever page they occur. Readers unfamiliar with ballet will find their inclusion enlightening, if not essential.

Contents:(please note the following contains spoilers)
Masumi is a young ballet dancer who dreams of success on the world stage. She has a raw talent with plenty of potential but ballet in Japan is not nearly what it is overseas. In fact, her deceased mother was among only the first generation of dancers in Japan. Alexei Sergeiev, a Russian dancer and instructor of great renown notices her pure passion while at a local performance, and soon after begins a whirlwind of events that lead Masumi into the world of ballet - and her dreams. Is she up to the challenge?

Sergeiev's interest is Masumi wins her a very prestigious entry into Japan's first National Ballet School, where the country's administration rests the very heavy burden of eventual success and renown on the shoulders of only nine young talents. Of course, these young Japanese hopefuls aren't expected to excel on their own, they'll be getting instructions from the elite of the ballet world. It is there, during the entry trials, that Masumi befriends top dancers and idols Sayoko, Kusakabe and Aoi. Once admitted she immediately begins grueling lessons and training regimes, learning quickly what she lacks and what she must strive for. She meets another girl, Yuka, and the two become fast friends, as well as rivals.

Before long there is news that the top dancers will have a chance to study abroad. The first opportunity will be a special performance in Russia, where Sergeiev will return as well. Try-outs (and drama) ensue, eventually leading up to a showdown between Masumi and super-talented Sayoko. Under Sergeiev's private tutelage Masumi blossoms, but eventually Sayoko and Kusakabe are chosen for lead roles. Shortly after, Aoi leaves to study in Monaco and even Yuka heads to London, leaving Masumi alone.

While Masumi trains hard on her own, Sayoko is having her share of difficulties in Moscow, trying hard not to yield to the tremendous pressure of representing Japanese ballet. A genius (but as of yet unveiled) dancer named Larissa is at the center of the worst of it. Sayoko preservers however and things begin to look very bright for her future. As it turns out, Masumi is given the opportunity to see Sayoko's performance while en route to study at London's Royal Academy. Continually awed and inspired by Sayoko and Kusakabe, Masumi is elated to be reunited with her friends, but Masumi soon learns how fragile dreams -- and people -- can be.

Tragedy strikes during Sayoko's second performance, leaving her with a devastating injury to her Achilles tendon. Before she can even make sense of it all, Masumi finds herself being recommended for an audition in Sayoko's place. Hounded by doubts and guilt, Masumi has no choice but to train hard with Sergeiev once more, and eventually manages to show everyone the shine he saw way back in the beginning. Amongst such successes however, one finds more trials (and more rivals) are usually waiting in the wings. But most painful of all, Masumi and her friends are reminded that the worst challenges sometimes happen off the dance floor.

One thing I like about vintage titles like this one is that so much happens in just one book, in contrast to what might take volumes in some of today's series. Another is that the stories are full of real drama, not high drama. (Don't know the difference? Read a vintage title!) It's moving and affecting, the angst inspiring rather than oppressive. There's also a lot more text and dialogue, making the story richer in such details, but even so, the art is never secondary. It, too, is used to convey emotion quite deeply and propel the story forward; as such both aspects work together in a way that feels more earnest than many modern stories do.

Not only is Swan a character-driven shoujo drama, it's also secretly a sports manga! It follows the blueprint all the way up from the untrained-but-talented novice to rivalry, competitions, and power-ups. So naturally the focus is, as it should be, always around ballet. Ariyoshi clearly did her research; this manga is full of terminology, discourse on famous ballets, and the names of major ballet dancers and schools. At times it seems we are being saturated with such in these early volumes, but no doubt it is so that, like Masumi, we are firmly routed in The Basics before moving on.

Ballet isn't the only important thing, though - there are also the characters. Masumi is a likable female protagonist because she's reasonably flawed but fully aware of her shortcomings, both physical and emotional. She struggles, not only with herself, but also her dream, which is perhaps most realistic of all. Likewise the other Japanese dancers, too; Masumi's rivals aren't merely antagonists, but her friends and peers, each with their own feelings and motivations. Each and every character, both the good and bad, shape Masumi's understanding and spur her on.

Swan reminds us that both ballet and life are a sport, its players worth rooting for. Sure it can get a bit syrupy in here, but the rich narrative pulls us in, heart and soul, so that their pain is our pain, their triumphs are our triumphs. This is classic shoujo, and it's fantastic.


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jnager 3/13/2012 9:08:25 AM

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