One of the series that I’ll miss the most with the passing of CMX is not being able to read the end of Swan. I remember being at ALA shortly after CMX launched and they were giving out copies of Swan and From Eroica With Love. I remember reading and liking both first volumes in a lukewarm sort of way, but I didn’t really get into these series until several years later, when I read some of the subsequent volumes. I think both series really hit their stride in their second volumes. Swan’s relentless girlishness might take a bit of getting used to, but the struggles of a novice ballerina who refuses to give up has more in common with the traditional shonen sports story than you might think. I always find Ariyoshi’s layouts and art inspiring.
Swan Volume 12
Masumi has her final dance of the Tokyo Ballet Competition and she’s entered into a fugue-like state. Utterly unaware of what she’s doing, she gives a performance of a lifetime, but she loses the gold medal to her Russian rival Lilliana.
Leon wins the gold for the men, and the Japanese dances are disheartened that they ranked second in the first international ballet competition held in Tokyo. The end of this competition signals a time of transition. Masumi is invited to dance in New York with Leon or go to Russia to train with Lilliana’s father. Although he loves her, Aoi knows that Leon is the best partner for Masumi now and he leaves to go to Morocco. Leon corners Masumi to talk about their future together. While he’s infuriating, Masumi’s also drawn towards him and she knows that her dancing reaches another level when he partners her. Here’s Leon engaging in one of his favorite hobbies: armchair psychoanalysis of Masumi:
Ariyoshi is fond of using collage with different perspectives in her work. Leon and Masumi are seated across from each other at a table but all the details disappear in order to show Leon seated against the reaction shots of the couple’s faces. Leon looks mischevious and slightly smug, and Masumi is reacting in disbelief that he’s actually talking to her in this manner. I like how Leon’s hair sort of looks like what would happen if a Ken doll wore a wig made out of cotton candy. That’s how you can tell he’s Masumi’s ideal man, even if she doesn’t know it yet. Masumi is torn about the idea of going to New York and leaving her beloved teacher Sergeiev behind. She asks her sensei to dance Swan Lake with her one last time.
Swan Volume 13
Masumi travels to New York with Leon and finds a set of new challenges. She can’t adjust to the style of modern ballet. Everywhere she goes she seems to be the subject of gossip. She dances with Leon in the classical style and her new instructor is underwhelmed:
She finds out that Leon refused to dance in New York unless she was asked to accompany him. Masumi’s always had problems with self-confidence, but even though she’s shaken by this revelation she tries to understand why she feels disconnected from modern ballet. Masumi meets a number of Leon’s friends, and one who is most supportive of her is the self-destructive male soloist Luci. Luci’s dismayed that Leon is letting Masumi struggle on her own to grasp the essence of modern ballet but he has his own problems as he barely completes a performance before collapsing due to the effects of dancing with a hangover. One of the more admirable aspects of Masumi’s character is that she refuses to give up, even if the situation she’s in is impossible. Her new instructor may replace her as Leon’s partner, but she still practices as much as ever.