I started reading this series out of sequence, so there’s a quick take on Swan #7 here. Basically in volume 7 the feelings the dancers have for each other come out into the open. Aoi’s feelings aren’t returned by Masumi and Kusakabe can’t return Masumi’s feelings. The presence of a mysterious Russian choreographer opens up a new plot possibility and Masumi is determined to throw herself into studying dance more than ever.
Swan Volume 8 by Kyoko Ariyoshi
Masumi prepares for her role as Mavka in a performance from Japan’s National Ballet School. As Masumi performs her role with Kusakabe, Kaoru sits in the audience with her insane stage mother. Kaoru lost the role of Mavka to Masumi in the audition process. Kaoru’s mother is happy at something she’s observed in the pair’s performance. She says if it continues the ballet will be ruined, and she leaves the hall saying that she doesn’t need to watch anymore. The love trio is played out onstage as Kusakabe is the human that the forest spirit falls in love with and Aoi is a spirit in love with Mavka. Kaoru and her mother leave and Kaoru learns what the problem is with the performance. Masumi’s timing with her lifts is off for a fraction of a second. She’s placing too much stress on Kusakabe’s arms and shoulders and his strength will soon give out. Kaoru’s mother is happy about the prospect of Masumi failing because she was never able to beat Masumi’s mother when she was a dancer. Kaoru is horrified and she leaves to go back to the theater. She is determined to help Masumi.
The staging of the ballet is lovely. Some of the panels have a slight art nouveau feel do to the ripples in Masumi’s hair combined with the natural setting. When Kaoru arrives at the theater the final scene has started. She steals a costume from another dancer and goes onstage in her place in order to tell Masumi that she’s tightening her legs too soon. Masumi manages to make the correction just in time to save the performance. After the performance Masumi is confronted by the dancer that Kaoru replaced. Kaoru’s actions have cost the anonymous dancer a treasured performance in order to help Masumi. Masumi realizes again how fortunate she is to be singled out as a solo dancer.
A new competition is announced where the Japanese students will take part in a contest taking place in Tokyo. Masumi will be able to see her fellow dancers from all over the world again. When Masumi goes to high school she’s struck by the presence of an obnoxious Japanese-German gymnast named Leon. When he sees her dancing in the school gym he asks if she’s doing an odd Japanese folk dance. He makes a snide comment about not realizing she was doing ballet. Masumi doesn’t have time to think about him. Sergeiev tells her to win the gold medal in the contest!
Swan Volume 9 by Kyoko Ariyoshi
The structure of the competition allows the reader to revisit many of the people Masumi has encountered in her Ballet journey, as each character dances a performance that reflects their personality. Sydney from England dances a passionate Firebird. Kyogoku and Kusakabe dance a lovely version of the Blue Bird from Sleeping Beauty. The Russians excel, and Masumi partners with Aoi for the Black Swan.
Aoi confronts Kusakabe about his behavior towards Masumi. Aoi says that Kusakabe is acting too nice, which isn’t helping Masumi deal with her own emotions. Aoi wants Masumi to win the gold no matter what, and he doesn’t want her distracted. Masumi is distracted, but it isn’t by Kusakabe. She runs into the new transfer student Leon again at school. He again makes a disparaging comment about ballet. He says that “all the males just try to make the females look good. They never step out; only assisting like they’re taught. It’s all about the women and for the women.” Masumi yells that all the ballet dancers respect each other and help their partners, but Leon just grins and says that everyone has a self-serving ego within them. Leon tells Masumi that she should take a good luck at her own ego, and maybe her dancing will improve. Masumi is completely distressed and runs away.
As Masumi is leaving school, she’s greeted by the mysterious older Russian man that she’s spotted before at her auditions and near her mother’s grave. He offers Masumi and Aoi a ride home in his car and after a discussion about ballet Aoi asks the man if he could coach them in their next dance. The man agrees, and they spend some time discussing interpretation and character motivation. At the competition Masumi is shocked when she sees Leon take the stage to dance the solo from Spartacus. Leon’s dancing is incredibly eye-catching and masculine. Masumi keeps thinking about their earlier conversation while she watches him and she finds herself short of breath. She leaves, only to see Kyogoku and Kusakabe waiting in the wings for their turn. Kusakabe tenderly fixes his chosen partner’s hair. Masumi sees that she never really had a chance with Kusakabe. Kusakabe sees Masumi, but turns away from her. Her heart breaks. She decides that she has to tell Kusakabe how she feels, if only to be formally rejected so she can move on. Kusakabe says that Kyogoku is the only partner for him. Masumi turns and walks away in the rain outside. Leon sees her walking and watches her go with an uncharacteristically soft look on his face. Masumi collapses and Aoi finds her. He grabs her arms and pulls her up, telling her that they have only 10 hours left to prepare for their performance.
Well! The arrival of Leon is very intriguing. One thing that shoujo manga has taught me is that generally when a half-European half-Japanese male appears, he is destined to be a love interest for the heroine. Yet, because he isn’t fully Japanese he will not be the one she ends up with in the end. I am intrigued to see if this is what happens, because Masumi and Leon are clearly destined for romance just because she finds him so irritating. Also, all the other women who see Leon dance think that he’s hot so I am guessing Masumi will not be immune to his charms. One of the things that I enjoy about Swan is the way the characters all care about each other despite Leon’s assertion that everyone is looking out for number one. There’s an element of freshness and innocence in this series that I don’t see very much in more modern manga.