Can we really…go back to being just friends?
Shinya Suzuki (Latin American star) and Shinya Sugiki (king of ballroom) have broken up. As they return to their dance sessions in preparation – one day, perhaps – for the 10 Dance challenge, relations between them are strained and they feel out of sync with each other. Enter the flamboyant Max E. Muldauer! This loud, ‘vulgar’ and incredibly rich patron has arrived to take ‘Shinya’ under his wing – and assumes it’s Sugiki who needs his patronage, when, in fact, it’s supposed to be Suzuki. This is down to Suzuki’s encounter with the five influential dancers that he met at Blackpool. Suddenly Suzuki’s life is no longer his own: he gets a manager, the buff Saichi, who accompanies him everywhere; a new apartment; designer clothes; a whole building in which his studio merely occupies a single floor…
Meanwhile, Sugiki goes to visit Martha, now a veteran older star of ballroom dancing whom he idolized as a child. He gets to dance with her and tells her that his heart has been broken – and yet he doesn’t know how to let go. “That’s a sign from within yourself. Respect it and pursue it,” she tells him, “until you get what you want.”
It’s been two years since the fifth volume of 10 Dance was published by Kodansha in English translation (we caught up with Japan) so that’s quite a gap for readers to have to bridge. And Volume 5 ended on a terrible cliffhanger too! But the new volume is not quite what I was hoping for after the stormy ending, with both men ‘breaking up’ and many ‘new’ characters crowding into the story. For starters, this is a series that really would benefit from having character bios in each volume (like Yayoi Ogawa’s Knight of the Ice) as, given that it’s also a story about competition, it’s quite confusing trying to remember who all the people are. The mangaka’s comments about her intentions in each chapter that come at the end of the volume are helpful to a certain extent but it shouldn’t be necessary to have to keep referring them to look for clues as to where the story is going.
At its best, 10 Dance sparkles with energy, humour and passion. Inouesatoh’s inspiring art captures the elegance and style of ballroom and Latin dancing at its best when performed by dancers at the height of their powers. The contrasting personalities of its two leads, Suzuki and Sugiki, continue to fascinate (and it would be good to see more of their female partners, Aki and Fusa, here relegated to supporting roles). However… as more new characters are introduced to the mix, the story languishes, having lost much of its forward momentum. There’s too much reliance on ‘memories’ (re-using art from previous volumes in the background as Suzuki and Sugiki dance together one last time in #33 ‘He is Beautiful’). And my heart sank a little when Norman Owen, Sugiki’s replacement and onetime World Champion, arrives to take Suzuki under his wing, and says to him, “For now, forget the dancing you know… and learn my dancing from scratch.” This feels repetitious. It’s true that in any art (or shonen martial art training arc) different teachers will insist that their way is the only way and that new students must unlearn everything they’ve learned before. Maybe that’s the way that Inouesatoh is going to take the story.
The storytelling also suffers from a lack of clear direction. Sugiki’s injury is mentioned – but then brushed aside – and then he’s off to Blackpool. Is the timeline jumping to and fro? What’s going on? It’s not even easy to understand what the two leads feel about each other anymore as they keep thinking one thing on one page and then the opposite on the next. Realistic, maybe? Or just muddled storytelling? Even though the art insists that there is an invisible thread of light that still connects them, we – the readers – need to be thoroughly convinced of that, or all the momentum built up in the earlier volumes is lost. It’s unfair, really, to make comparisons with another work, but Knight of the Ice which also deals with competition at the highest level and also has gorgeous art of the skaters performing their routines, manages to tell its story in a coherent and interesting way with enough sense of forward momentum to sweep the readers along.
For British readers (and Strictly fans) the glimpses of the Blackpool Tower Ballroom and quaint English street scenes are an added bonus again, adding an extra touch of authenticity.
There’s a new translator, Cassiel Maricat (new, as far as one can tell as the original one was Karhys which might be a pseudonym) – and a word of praise here has to said for the letterer Brndn [sic] Blakeslee as the dialogue hops in and out of different languages (presumably mostly English) which have to be expressed differently on the page.
The rating ‘M’ for Mature is also a little puzzling; if anything happens of a sexual nature, it tends to happen between one panel and the next… perhaps looking back to the more spicy Volume 5?
While it’s good to see the flamboyant Suzuki and the cool prince of ballroom Sugiki dancing together once more (as well as with their partners) it’s hard not to feel that the onward momentum of the story (10 Dance!) has been lost under a wealth of details, many of which are, frankly, irrelevant. The mangaka seems to be marking time and not picking up on which storylines need foregrounding. I can only hope that the next volume will get back in the groove and bring us what was promised.
Read an extract from Volume 1 of 10 Dance at the publisher’s website here.