This is a different OWLS post because in the past, if I did a manga, I’d normally do one that had an anime or one that is officially in English.
Hi. If you’re new, this is Aria (pseudonym) of the Animanga Spellbook. I’m going to focus on a manga that only has a presence in Japanese. It’s so underground at its current amount of chapters (42 as of June 11th 2020, the day I’m writing this), even the scanlation databases don’t have an entry for it!
Update on 20/06/20: …I found it in the scanlation database. It’s still a really obscure series though.
You’re probably here because of OWLS, the group of bloggers who promote diversity regardless of sexual orientation, race, gender or disability. Mindfulness is the name of the game this time:
If we don’t take care of our minds and souls, we will always be in pain. For the past few months, things have been pretty hectic. Everyone’s lives have changed to some degree, and we can’t help but feel anxious, nervous, and overwhelmed. This month we will be focusing on ourselves and keeping a strong peace of mind with our theme, “Mindfulness.” We will be analyzing characters that have crafted and practiced their own philosophy on life and have spread their beliefs to others. We will also be talking about habits, hobbies, and things that are keeping us sane, positive, and peaceful within our souls.
I learnt about this manga, One Dance, through the 2019 Tsugi ni Kuru awards and found it on Magazine Pocket, Kodansha’s Japanese-language app…well, you would have to jump through a hoop or two to get access to the app outside Japan, but the website version is available to everyone (to my knowledge) if you can understand it.
What’s it about? This guy, Kaboku Kotani (commonly “Kabo-kun” due to the pun on the honorific), is kinda ordinary but he has a fairly severe stuttering problem, which means people make fun of him or assume he’s nervous when he’s not. When he sees a girl dancing, he’s entranced by how she doesn’t need words to communicate, so he starts learning how to dance because of her. (This girl, by the way, is Hikari Wanda, hence the Japanese name “Wan Dansu”.)
Sidebar: The creator’s name is Coffee…I kid you not.
The reason I chose this obscure manga, aside from getting people interested in obscure works (as I tend to do), is because this manga is about overcoming things that make you stand out in negative ways. From the description I gave, Kabo-kun is the epitome of this. He’s tall and lanky, so he stands out in a dance club full of girls. (To be fair, he wanted to get into the basketball club before he started bothering with Wanda and there is one other male member, Iori-senpai, but he doesn’t show up until later.)
Wanda herself epitomises something even more important than that in this manga – freedom of expression. She’s drawn small and elegant, with long hair and visual tricks that emphasise smoothness of movement (such as low angles that make her legs look longer than they really are). In contrast, you see Kabo-kun sweating a lot and looking ungainly in contrast to other dancers due to all the visual hints you get. The manga reads easily as a result of all those hints, although it being a manga strongly rooted in real life might help with my reading it.
I’m no dancer so I don’t know how much of this is realistic, but it at least seems realistic if it’s not actually realistic. For instance, the first few chapters are dedicated to Kabo-kun learning to do rhythm training, which is essentially moving individual parts of the body to make the dance movements smoother, and seeing Kabo-kun do them reminds me of piano drills – that is, playing certain progressions of notes for several octaves and doing that up and down the keyboard until you can do it smoothly. It’s monotonous but necessary work on the fundamentals of the craft.
Song titles are mentioned in rectangular frames and because this is a freestyle dance manga, a style that has its origins in the Anglosphere, the songs are in English, so you can easily compile a playlist on Spotify (in fact, that’s what I ended up doing…). To be honest, this also extends into the way teens use dance as a way to get popular, with Wanda’s friends suggesting she upload videos of her dance to TikTok and other social media.
What does this have to do with the “mindfulness” theme? This manga is all about being able to move the way you want and feeling right about what you can do, regardless of what you can’t – you could call that a “philosophy”, in a broad sense. In that sense, it reminds me of Moon Land, which is about the same themes but with competitive gymnastics. From the moment Kabo-kun is entranced by Wanda, you understand people don’t just do this stuff to stay fit (although that is a good reason, especially in COVID-19 circumstances). Aside from that, it is about dancing as a relaxing thing to do, which Moon Land can’t pull off due to its nature…and while I haven’t gotten far with this series yet (I’ve only read chs. 1 – 4 and 41 as I type this), but when chs. 28 – 33 are called “Contest [1st/2nd/3rd part]” and Kabo-kun receives a flyer for a dance convention, you can tell he will get into competitive dancing later.
Sidebar 2: The rhythm training I mentioned? Occasionally it’s referred to as “isolation training” (アイソレーショントレーニングor “isole”/アイソレ for short) in the manga, which takes on a whole new meaning during COVID-19…
To be honest, I’ve fallen in love with this series more than I thought. When I read it, I can even mentally put voices to the characters, which is something I don’t even do for novels! It would make an amazing anime if all the song licensing could be pulled off, but alas…it’s going to be a while before we even get to that stage.
For more OWLS stuff, Takuto is on the 13th and Carla is on the 25th. We’ve got a small set of posts this month because we have big things planned for July, so keep up with OWLS on WordPress, Twitter or Instagram.