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The Spring 2022 Manga Guide

What's It About? 

Kaboku has always just gone with the flow, marching in step to the drumbeat of the expectations of those around him: parents, school, plans for the future. It feels predictable, safe, and… empty. But one night, Kaboku's at school late, and he happens on a girl alone, moving wildly, turning a blank space of concrete into a canvas. This is Hikari Wanda, a member of the hip-hop dance club. Kaboku is immediately smitten, but the road to stepping out of his shell is a long one. The club is almost entirely girls, and they're all, well, way better than him. What's ahead is unknown, and that's terrifying, but it also means, for the first time in Kaboku's life… a taste of freedom.

Wandance has story and art by Coffee and English translation by Kevin Steinbach. Kodansha Comics will release its first volume on June 28.

Is It Worth Reading?

Rebecca Silverman


For many years, I would sooner hide under the nearest table rather than open my mouth in front of other people. (In fact, I absolutely did that rather than give an oral report in the ninth grade.) But I would happily and comfortably throw on a leotard and tights and dance in front of any crowd. Dance, as protagonist Kabo-kun learns, is a way to communicate without language, a form of expression that sometimes comes out so much easier than words. That's important for him, because while my issue was intense anxiety, Kabo-kun has a stutter, and speaking isn't always something that comes easily to him, nor are his peers always understanding about it. In fact, within days of starting high school we see girls treating it like some sort of cute affectation, while boys tease him about it. Kabo-kun doesn't seem all that upset by it, but it's also clear that he could really use a new peer group.

He finds that when he decides to check out his school's dance club. In part this is because he's noticed classmate Hikari Wanda dancing outside and he's fascinated by it, but there's also a sense that Kabo-kun has wanted to dance himself but was put off by a terrible experience in middle school gym class. Then when he realizes that he's basically the only boy in the club, we can see him having to really think about whether or not he wants to continue. This is where his dual relationship with Wanda and dance becomes the meat of the story – she's nothing but encouraging, battling her own anxiety issues, and even if she doesn't come out and say that he ought to keep dancing, she's supportive of him. Their relationship develops organically over the course of the volume, much as Kubo-kun's dancing does. He's got a real feel for music and the way it goes together with movement, and with Wanda's support, he begins to blossom as a person and a dancer.

The dance is street dance with an infusion of hip hop, and creator Coffee uses exaggeration well to imply flexibility and movement. At times the angles look very off, but for the most part we get a real feel for the earthier aspects of the dancing and the speed of the movements. They make good use of grey tones and white silhouettes as well, and the use of real songs (and I'm not sure if the original Japanese also uses Bruno Mars and Ed Sheeran or if that's adjusted so that English-speaking audiences can hear the songs easily in their heads) gives us a good idea of tempo and beat. It's very well thought out, right down to that one girl in the club whose ideas of “proper” dance scream that she's probably got a background in classical ballet.

Kodansha's generally done a good job bringing over solid dance manga, like 10 Dance and Welcome to the Ballroom. It's exciting to see them branch into a new dance category, and I can't wait to read more of this series.

Christopher Farris


Some of the beats behind Wandance can feel familiar enough. Say hello to another story of a sensitive, awkward guy meeting a cool, talented girl, who draws him into an activity not traditionally considered 'masculine'. But as exemplified by advice from the dance club's extremely cool president later in this volume, you don't always need to come out with the most surprising, original moves to impress; strong fundamentals can be enough for anyone to take note of, and Wandance has that in spades. Seriously, it's hard not to spend the whole of this write-up extolling the virtues of Coffee's presentation here. The introductory, albeit lengthy, chapters cover a ton of ground, weaving in characterization with naturalistic pacing of events, as well as effective explanations of the technical aspects of many of the dance moves (little diagrams for some bits are even included, alongside more artsy flourishes). Things like Wanda's hand just barely extending past a panel-line for a 3D POV effect, or the way characters' body language explodes once the dancing starts. By the time we've hit the big audition scene from the very beginning with its stunning water effects around the characters, I felt like they were just showing off.

That's also appropriate for a story like this. Wandance takes the advice of "dance like nobody's watching" and uses it as a through-line for main boy Kaboku's journey of overcoming his anxiety. His struggles with his stutter, and his reflection on a relatively simple instance of childhood embarrassment, they're fairly realistic issues for a big shy guy for him to grapple with, and it's to the book's benefit that it's actually free from any drastic drops of melodrama. The connection between Kaboku and Wanda is a slow burn, to the point that I could barely even call the developing relationship a 'romance' at this point. Rather, it's just a case of two people finding each other who, as their audition in the third chapter demonstrates, grow complementary to one another. It's another aspect enhanced by the intricate art, as Wanda's constant playing around with her various facial expressions orbits Kaboku's understandable understatedness.

In fact, if there was a shortcoming to this volume, it's that we haven't yet gotten to know Wanda herself as much as I'd like. Her overall attitude that leads Kaboku to his "I am cringe but I am free" approach to dancing is understandable, and we get plenty of analysis of Kaboku through her eyes. However, she hasn't come off as much of a person on her own besides being an adorable bundle of motivation for Kaboku. Yes her whole thing is not noticing or caring what others think about her, but that also means she's shown hardly any interiority so far even to the readers. She is nice, and cool, and as mentioned has terrific chemistry with Kaboku, but I think they definitely need to play on some particular trajectory with her before this series gets too far along.

That honestly feels like kind of a reach, seeing that we are still at the beginning of this story with this first volume. There's so much more I could gush about with regards to the artistic ability on display in Wandance, but that art doesn't feel like it's holding up an otherwise-standard club-activity story; instead, it's firmly part of a confidently-presented whole package. As the president lays out in her instructions in one chapter, it's the kind of skill that even those unfamiliar with all the technical aspects can still pick up on.

Jean-Karlo Lemus


Wandance does a lot of things amazingly well. To get the obvious out of the way: it conveys movement and dance perfectly. Wild brush strokes accent body curves, translating passion and rhythm to what is otherwise a static medium. The freedom of the characters and their motions is perfectly captured in each panel. It's a feast for the eyes, and liberating to witness. The story is also great: protagonist Kaboku Kotani is an introvert with a stutter who mostly goes along with his friends. Meeting his new classmate Wanda and watching her practice dancing alone encourages him to try something new purely for the sake of his own enjoyment, and he soars as a person for it. Credit is due for emphasizing how new this all is to Kaboku: the uncertainty of what to do when in a big group of people dancing, the subtle way you learn how best to move your body, even the awkward moment when you realize you're one of only a handful of men in the room. But as mentioned earlier, the moments where Kaboku allows himself to feel the music are simply liberating to see.

There are plenty of other strong moments throughout, like Kaboku standing up to his friends when they share candid photos of Wanda, or Kaboku watching Scatman John's famous “I'm The Scatman” video on YouTube (also, Kaboku has good taste in manga, between Slam Dunk and Maison Ikkoku). Ultimately, Wandance is a must-read, plain and simple.

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