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Ninja Books

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            Forbidden Dance
            Hinako Ashihara
            Manga (romance/drama/dance)
            Reviewed by: Carrie Byrd
            Review posted: 01/14/05

            Aya loves to dance. It defines her, it challenges her, it is as natural to her as the air she breathes. We meet her when she has fallen and injured herself, the worst nightmare a dancer can face. Although her foot heals, Ayaís mental injuries have given her a case of stage fright that leaves her struggling to return to the life she loved. When she encounters Cool, a dance troupe that raises the bar and inspires her to return to dance, she is determined to join them, and dance with their leader, the handsome, sometimes heartless Akira. The only problem is that Cool is an all male troupe and Aya is very much not a boy.

            And that sums up the plot for all four volumes. It sounds straightforward enough, and in many ways it is. The characters rarely prevaricate, and I appreciate that. Manga, it seems to me, is often filled with twists and turns that could be resolved if character A would just talk to character B. Actually, this is my problem with about 2/3rds of all television shows, books, movies, graphic novels, you name it. Itís drama for the sake of drama. Forbidden Dance sidesteps that particular frustration neatly. The story unfolds at a natural pace. The characters are open with themselves and with each other.

            There are some rough spots, where the story seems to get bogged down in itself, but they are few and far between. The author mentions that this is her longest story to date, and itís clear that at times there are moments that you feel her struggling to fill the space. But those times are few and far between. The art is not as refined as some people might be familiar with. I am a fairly limited reader in regards to manga, and in comparison to the few that I do read, this particular series was much less defined by perfectly drawn lines and instead seemed to flow smoothly together, blending the characters, playing on their similarities and allowing the unpolished feel to bring them to life. I donít think the creator could have chosen a better artistic style for the dancing she depicted. The soft lines and bold expressions made me feel as though the characters were moving in front of me and might leap right off the page. It felt real and graceful and strong.

            The entire story is grounded in reality. The humor, the drama, all of it, seems familiar because itís all things that we struggle with in our own lives. The character of Aya appeals to me because she isnít afraid to really pursue what she wants. She wants to dance, and she finds a way to dance. She struggles with her fears, but in the end, she doesnít let them stop her from pursuing what she really wants. Sheís petty, shallow and self-centered sometimes, but she knows it, she knows when to shake it off, and her flaws make her all the more appealing. Indeed the author did a good job of keeping all the characters just flawed enough to keep the story from becoming saccharine.

            As I mentioned earlier, the author sometimes struggled finding enough space to fill the volumes, so these books are chock full of extras, including two full short stories by the same author, mini comics about her attempts to adopt ballet as a fitness regime and other fun looks into the life of a manga author. She has a good sense of humor about herself, so itís fun to read.

            This short series was excellent. To get the absolute most out of it, you may need to be a fan of dance, but even if you arenít you can still enjoy this as a well written, and beautifully drawn series. And who knows? Maybe it will turn you into a ballet fan.