FORBIDDEN DANCE by Hinako Ashihara
– series completed – 4 books
– serialised by Tokyopop
STORY: Aya Fuji, a talented ballet dancer, lost all her will to dance when she fell twice in two consecutive shows due to injury. Already decided that she will stop dancing, she goes on a whim to see an all-male dance troupe COOL perform. She is entranced by the troupe and becomes determined to join it – no matter what the obstacles are. But Aya has no idea what she’s getting herself into…especially when it involves the handsome and charismatic leader of COOL, Akira Hibiya.
The story of Forbidden Dance in simple enough – a girl who will let nothing stop her and will do anything she must at any cost – but the storytelling on Ashihara’s part makes it so beautiful. She avoids making sharp dramatic turns and instead stays focused on the main story and keeping her twists mostly realistic and slow. So, while there are a lot of predictable moments, the unpredictable ones become even more jarring. The relationships between the characters are real and palpable. While it’s obvious from the start who’s going to end up with who in terms of romance, the development is as sweet as anything. It’s Aya’s relationships with her antagonists that really steal the show, however. Like most shoujo heroines, instead of attacking the people who knock her down, she tries to reach a compromise with them, and weirdly enough (because it’s never this easy in real life), it always works. Repetitive, yes, but entertaining and very telltale as well.
The story itself, overall, is rather touching, heartwarming, and inspirational at some points. There’s nothing extreme about it except for some thematic elements and is therefore recommended for anyone that stand a lot of angst and romance.
– Aya Fuji: a very admirable and determined shoujo heroine. She has everyone’s best interests at heart and it puts her in some precarious situations. She doesn’t like when things get in her way, and when they do, she does her best to cope with them. She has a lot of strength and dedication and though she is often pushed down by her peers, she stands strong and is eventually rewarded for her efforts in the end.
– Akira Hibiya: Akira is one confusing guy. In the beginning he’s a total jerk, but his transition from that into a nice guy is very sudden. He has a lot of charisma that is present in his dancing, which everyone notices and admires. Everyone is attracted to him (not in romantic terms though for some, yes) though, inside, he hides a tragic past and scarring trauma.
– Yoshino Fumika: Aya’s “rival”. She’s very cold and isn’t well liked but she brings it upon herself with her bossy and impertinent attitude. In the end, though, after she and Aya teach each other a few lessons, she turns out to be rather supportive and not as bad as she makes herself out to be.
– Nachan: Aya’s sweet best friend who feels like she lives under the shadow of Aya’s talent and harbors a lot more feelings towards Aya than either of them think or realize until too late. Both she and Yoshino kinda disappear after book two.
– Diana Roberts: A world-reknown ballet dancer of extreme level and skill who, as beautifully as she dances onstage, does not have a personality to match. She’s also demanding and manipulative, but it takes humiliation and a save on Aya’s part to open her eyes to what she really wants. Diana and Akira also have a past history.
– Mr. Jones: A seemingly cruel but very knowledgeable man who eventually becomes a close confidant and supporter of Aya’s.
ART: Ashihara’s art is the hardest part of the series to become accustomed to. The figures are not proportional in the least with arms reaching down to the knees, hands and feet that are twice the size of the person’s head, and all over the place there are numerous random scribbly lines that seriously looks like Ashihara just took her pen and swept her arm right over the paper in one sweep without really caring what happened otherwise. Her people are also anorexic and sometimes have eyes that rival those on Koge Donbo’s chibis. But there’s grace in her art. The drawings of people dancing are full of life, energy, and emotion. The facial expressions are accurate and the harshness and competitiveness of the ballet world is reflected in her art, which she doesn’t soap over with peripheral visuals like most other shoujo artists. Eveything is straightforward. And when the eyes finally adjust to her unique style, it’s really quite beautiful.
PERSONAL THOUGHTS (SPOILER-IFIC): Like so many mangas I read, it took me a while to get into the actual pages of this series. It was the artwork. The craggyness and how everything was so gritty just didn’t seem right for 1) a shoujo manga and 2) one about ballet, which, I thought initially, was supposed to be all pretty and fluffy. However, I soon got over that all, I began to focus more on the story and what a story it is. It’s the first manga I’ve ever read where I got chills. When Aya slips off her shirt and says to Diana “I’ll do the second act.” I was knocked over and goosebumps covered me. It’s such a simple gesture but here’s Aya, baring all and willing to suffer public humiliation so that another girl who really hasn’t been the greatest person to her can fulfill her dream.
I liked the ending a lot as well. While the romance between Aya and Akira is obviously unavoidable after they meet, their public declaration of affections through a dance was a brilliant way to end the series, as open as it still kind of is. But I believe that if anyone got to see a performance as personal as Asihara protrays their dance, it would’ve been something quite amazing, touching both heart and soul, as this series really does.
TOKYOPOP EDITION ADDITION: Given that there’s not very much sensitive material that would require censorship of any form, Forbidden Dance doesn’t complain any overly obvious edits except the usual misalingments of pages and cut off frames. For the most part, lines are kept intact and no attempts were made to “modernize” speech. Thankfully.