The two ballroom dancing champions – who have acknowledged to themselves, if no one else, how dependent they are on each other – have broken up and gone their separate ways to train with different dancers: Shinya Suzuki with Norman and Shinya Sugiki with Gabriel.
However, the two men’s personal lives are as complicated and messy as usual. Suzuki, who has been working and living with Norman, is there to console him when Norman’s beloved sister and dance partner Angie gets married.
Everything is building to the 39th Japan International Dance Championships. Will the two Shinyas be able to compete or has something irrevocably changed in their attitude to performing?
We’ve just about caught up now with Kodansha bringing us 10 Dance Volume 7 in the same year (2023) that it was published in Japan. Although the ballroom dancing saga may well spark superficial similarities for fans of Strictly Come Dancing, the focus here is still on the professional dancers and their struggles to stay at the top and outdo their own personal bests.
The glittering world of professional competitive ballroom dancing is again brilliantly and effectively evoked by Inouesatoh; the movement and atmosphere on the dancefloor is memorably captured in the art from tiny details like the positioning of a little finger to whole stances. And there’s some fascinating and detailed analysis from the experts and coaches as to what gives Shinya Suzuki the edge when it comes to Latin American dance: an instinctive command of polyrhythms! (The explanation in words and images is perhaps the most surprising and interesting episode in the whole volume).
A major plus with 10 Dance (as I’ve often highlighted before) is that it’s about adults and the interactions between the cast are not – for once – about first romance or starting out as a teenager in a highly competitive field. This is not to criticize dance manga like Welcome to the Ballroom!, Dance, Dance Danseur or Wandance but just to celebrate the existence of a series that’s looking at matters from a more mature perspective with different concerns. Having said that, neither of the two Shinyas can be relied on to behave with maturity when it comes to the way they feel about each other but that’s one of the pleasures of following this complex story.
However, perhaps because of the gap since the last volume, the flaws in the storytelling have become more pronounced. The art is still gorgeous, the men and women dazzle and Inouesatoh’s pen really loves the dancers. Personally, I’m uncomfortable with the way she portrays black characters with white lips which is far too reminiscent of ‘black face’ minstrel show makeup from the last century and even further back. There’s also a most unfortunate image of a Nazi rally acknowledging the Führer which just feels horrendously inappropriate, even as an ironic metaphor.
Inouesatoh also expects a great deal of her readers when it comes to remembering who minor characters are, especially given the gaps between chapters and volumes. Who’s important and who isn’t? It’s sometimes really difficult to tell. Is that throwaway comment of vital importance? Or is it just backstage chitchat? Does this character’s opinion really matter? The story’s onward momentum stutters and stumbles as we wonder what’s really at stake here for the two Shinyas? Coming first in a world-class competition – or recognizing and acknowledging the feelings they have for each other? The layers and layers of commentary provided by the professionals are, I think, meant to build the suspense but there’s so much of the incidental ‘business’ that the focus on the two Shinyas is constantly obscured. We’re promised Volume 8 in 2024 and I think it’s high time to return to and spotlight the original theme: the 10 Dance itself and the two men that plan to excel in performing all ten dances it encompasses together.
Kodansha has a new translator for this volume, Shryke, and they continue the same pattern as established by Cassiel Maricat in Volume 6 and Karhys in Volumes 1-5, translating the mangaka’s helpful explanations about the song titles that are the chapter titles and adding some enlightening (!) translation notes that in this volume are mostly to do with several ribald puns that are quite difficult to render into English. There’s no colour image, sadly, but a two-page fun bonus comic, filled with more of those naughty puns that honestly don’t translate too well. Also, most of the dialogue in this volume is supposed to be in English which letterer Brndn Blakeslee (sic) marks <like this>. I wonder whether that’s really necessary as it’s really distracting, and the issue of characters understanding or not understanding each other doesn’t seem to be a crucial issue in the plot.
10 Dance is quite unique and worth treasuring for that fact alone, worth ‘reading’ just for the art and the mangaka’s illuminating thoughts about what makes a dancer exceptionally gifted when interpreting the music. But the on-off relationship between the two leads will either convince you – or not – and the amount of ‘noise’ (the endless comments from all the other characters, no matter how minor, as they observe or interfere) ultimately acts as a distraction rather than moving the story on.
Our review copy from Kodansha was supplied by Diamond Book Distributors UK.