mō ichido, shōjo. (70s, 80s & 90s shōjo manga retrospective)

Yamagishi Ryōko - Maihime Terpsichore

  • Original publication: Da Vinci, November 2000 - October 2010 (Media Factory)

2013 was the year I went on a spree-reading of Yamagishi Ryoko. I'd read a few of her short story collections (mostly horror) before, and a few volumes of her famous Hiizuru tokoro no tenshi, but she'd never really... clicked with me. I don't remember what it was I read that suddenly made it click and made me crave to read everything by her I could get my hand on, but at some point I'd love to write some comments about all 30-odd volumes I managed to read in the span of a few days.

Maihime is considered Yamagishi's masterpiece along with Hiizuru tokoro no tenshi, and it's truly, honestly, really fucking good. Like her first big popular work, Arabesque (side note: which I hated), it's about ballet. Yuki is an aspiring ballerina who trains every day in her mother's ballet class. She loves to dance and she loves ballet, but because of her more laid-back and non-competitive personality, she has always been considered inferior to her smart, dedicated, and serious older sister, Chika. One day, she meets a transfer student named Kumi -- who can do a perfect 180 degree split, and Yuki is convinced must be an aspiring ballerina, too. Yuki is fascinated by Kumi, but it turns out that Kumi's family lives in squalor, and Kumi's mother is making Kumi star in child pornography in order to support their household.

The story revolves around these three girls and the other aspiring ballet-dancers they meet in class and at competitions, who all go through hardships such as realizing their own physical limitations, serious injury and rehabilitation, broken homes, eating disorders, and so on, until part 1 culminates in a great tragedy brought on by the enormous pressure that aspiring dancers are put under by their teachers and parents -- but also, not least, by themselves. I won't spoil it here, but the way the story builds up to its inevitable conclusion is so incredibly engaging, you can't look away even though the hardship these young people (chiefly girls) face is devastating. You won't be able to put this manga down once you start.

And then there's part 2, which is... an almost completely different manga. I've read a lot of reviewers who thought part 2 was good in its own right, but is so far removed from part 1 and doesn't deal with many of the issues that seem unresolved in part 1, that it's a huge let-down. I guess I agree, but after being destroyed by part 1, part 2 is such a calm, almost kind and funny story, that I think part 2 is the one I'm more likely to re-read in the future. To be honest I don't know or care all that much about ballet, so all through part 1 I was thinking "Why are all these perfectly nice and healthy and awesome girls putting themselves through hell for the sake of ballet?!?!" so having a sequel where no one is permanently damaged (either physically or psychologically), no one forces themselves through a competition while in pain, and where most of the characters end up being able to pursue their dreams in a rational, humane way, is a huge relief. Part 2 is such a pick-me-up after part 1, that I think it's a perfect companion piece.

Not to mention the femslash potential for Yuki/Kumi after the end of part 2 rivals that of Maya/Ayumi (Glass Mask). What can I say, I like it. I would obviously love to read a story where Kumi's life is explored in more detail, as would any other reader, but I fear that would be another devastating story, so I'm happy it might be a while before I have the opportunity to read it.

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