by Kyoko Ariyoshi; adaptation by Maya Lynn Perry
published by DC/CMX Manga; $9.99 US
Review by Rob Vollmar
This volume of Swan continues the international ballet competition begun in volume ten that will, in fact, continue and, no doubt, conclude in volume twelve. With most of the characters already well-developed and the contour of these competitions well-established in earlier volumes, the plot through this section hinges around the introduction of the enigmatic German dancer Leonhardt von Christ and the effect his presence has on the various dancers in the competition.
At eleven volumes into the series, there is little here that feels unfamiliar. Ariyoshi seems well set into her formula of presenting Masumi, the lead character, with some competitive challenge one notch beyond that which she believed herself capable. After nearly suffering an emotional breakdown, she is somehow able to reach into the core of her person and pull out a performance that is technically less impressive than her rival, but possessing some unquantifiable emotive quality that wows the judges enough to hand her a surprising victory.
This one-note samba of a plot line, ever accompanied by sobbing and wailing, would no doubt become unbearably tedious in the hands of a lesser storyteller. What makes Swan one of the best shojo manga to be translated into English, then, is Ariyoshi’s unrelenting excellence in the execution of that story. Freed from elaborate plotting, she focuses her energies on costuming and experimental visual devices designed to suggest the singular qualities of the various ballet and dance styles employed by her players. As always, her layouts positively sing with imagination and amplify the visual impact of the often-wordless dance sequences.
Even with several continuity threads yet unresolved, I don’t get the impression that Swan is likely to veer into unexpected territory before its eventual conclusion. Personally, the process elements of the series (i.e., the dances themselves) that serve as vehicles for Ariyoshi’s stunning artwork are more than enough to sustain my enthusiasm and interest in Swan for as long as CMX continues to publish it. The soap opera plotlines, limited as they are, do little to diminish the undeniable virtuosity on display, even if they add little to its narrative substance. Whatever its weaknesses might be, Swan is one of the few shoujo manga available in English that earns every iota of its status as a classic of the form.