Robot 6

Collect This Now | ‘Swan’

LOOK AT THIS:

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AND THIS:

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Those are just two images ganked from the manga Swan by Kyoko Ayoshi. The series was one of the initial launches in DC Comics’ CMX line and ran for about 15 volumes until the company pulled the plug on the imprint in 2010.

One of the original plans for CMX was to focus on older, more renowned (at least in Japan) manga, so as to not compete for licenses against the one-two powerhouses of Viz Media and Tokyopop. Thus, the release of Swan and other, older titles like From Eroica With Love.

Ayoshi is often lumped in as one of the Magnificent Forty-Niners, also known as The Year 24 Group. It’s a loosely affiliated group of female cartoonists that transformed and radicalized the shojo manga industry. “Members” includes such luminary talents as Moto Hagio and Keiko Takemiya.

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Originally serialized in the 1970s, Swan isn’t as emotionally wrenching as Hagio’s Hanshin or as head-spinningly philosophical as Takemiya’s To Terra, at least not at first glance. At its heart it’s a boiler-plate soap opera. The key is the backdrop, the world of professional ballet.

The manga’s central character is Masumi, a young, flighty thing that loves to dance more than anything. After impressing a bunch of important people with her passion, she enters a dance competition and from there ends up traveling across the globe in order to make her dream of becoming a real, honest-to-goodness ballerina come true. Along the way she encounters a seemingly endless succession of dance rivals and potential suitors.

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But it’s not the story that’s the real draw here. What makes Swan so charming, emotional and utterly captivating is its dance sequences. Ayoshi pulls out every trick in the book – and even invents some new ones – in order not just to convey the motion of the human body, but to help the reader fully appreciate the emotion and drama involved in each and every scene.

So, athletic dancers leaping across double-page spreads as inset panels of onlookers gape in wonder? Check. Overlapped forms of characters performing successive, intricate dance moves in true  Edweard Muybridge fashion? Check. Panels that seam to bend and twist to fit the rhythm of the dancers and (perhaps) the music itself? Double-check. The result is a comic that completely transformed the way I thought about how motion should be depicted in comics. I’ve often said that many Western artists could be using Swan as a bible, learning from it without once ever having to ape any of the more obvious characteristics of shojo manga (assuming most superhero artists don’t want their protagonists to have big, dewy eyes).

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As I said, CMX released 15 volumes of Swan. The problem is that the series ran to 21 volumes in Japan. That’s six volumes in bad need of translation. Hopefully someone will come to the fore in the near future and release a definitive version of this wonderful series. I’d even re-buy the volumes I have if they use better paper stock this time around.

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Comments

4 Comments

Swan is one of my favorite manga of all time. I scooped up a couple of the later volumes in Japanese, but I would love it if the rest of this series was translated.

This looks amazing! I’m now going to be scouting for the CMX books whenever I’m out hunting comics.

Also, let it be known my love for this column is what keeps me coming back to Robot 6.

Fantastic find. I enjoy reading older manga for these very same reasons: the experimental nature of the medium was so incredibly fierce at times that many of the artist’s formal and structural inventions completely blew by a number of readers while others stuck.

In the first image in this article alone, there are three or four different paths your eyes can take to track the movements of the characters, and each one of them gives you a slightly different perspective of the narrative as it unfolds. Awesome stuff.

Yes, another blogger who loves this series! It’s just the composition of the pages and beautiful artwork that must have needed a team of assistants for the detail! I love sports manga, and the only other ballet one that I can think of is Subaru Dance, which is a bit more on the rougher side of ballet but both main characters displays the same passion for it? I regret that it got dropped and that no one has picked it up. It would go well with the Vertical line when I think of the kind of manga that they license. Luckily, my library has all the books in the series because these books go for high prices for a complete set secondhand!

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