Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Shinya Suzuki is a national Latin champion in Japan's ballroom world. Self-conscious about his Cuban mother (and the fact that he was largely raised in Cuba), he's never really thought about taking his career on the international stage until he's approached by Shinya Sugiki, an internationally renowned Standard dancer. Sugiki wants Suzuki to compete with he and his partner in the 10 Dance, a competition requiring dancers to perform ten dances from both the Standard and Latin repertoires. Suzuki eventually agrees, and the two pairs begin teaching each other their specialties. But as the two men practice, there seems to be something more brewing between them. Could Sugiki have a different reason for wanting to get to know Suzuki?
10 Dance stands out from the other two ballroom dance-based manga to be translated into English in a few ways, with two standing out the most. Unlike Welcome to the Ballroom or Let's Dance a Waltz, 10 Dance's protagonists are all professional ballroom dancers, who teach when they're not competing. This means that the barriers to suspension of disbelief are significantly lower from a dance perspective – both Shinyas and their partners aren't overcoming ludicrous odds in order to dance in major competitions; in fact, that they've been doing so is a big piece of the story's set up. That one specializes in Standard (waltz, foxtrot, etc.) while the other specializes in Latin (cha cha cha, samba, etc.) also isn't too out there – as any dancer of any kind can tell you, everyone's got their favorites and talents. Given some of the plot shenanigans that have to happen in both of the other two titles mentioned above, having everyone involved here being a professional adult dancer definitely feels like a good change in terms of narrative acrobatics.
The other major difference 10 Dance has is that it's a BL story. That may be a turn-off for some readers who would otherwise enjoy it, but hopefully it won't be, because while the romance is a large piece of the relationship between Suzuki and Sugiki, the dance plot is equally important, and not just because it brings the two men together. Both of them live and breathe dance, and their own insecurities and personal issues come out through their dancing, either in terms of how they cope with those things or as elements of their dance itself. For Suzuki, the Latin dancer, it's more the latter. Raised primarily in Cuba by his Cuban mother, Suzuki uses the dance as a way to express the person he was growing up; in his day-to-day life, he seems to struggle to maintain his newer Japanese identity. Over the course of both of these books he repeatedly uses the phrase “I grew up Cuban, but now I'm Japanese,” speaking to his difficulties in assimilating to his father's culture and how important it is to him that he's seen as local. Dance is the one place where he can comfortably express himself as a Latino, which makes a statement, albeit a relatively quiet one, about the prejudice he's felt since moving closer to his father.
Sugiki, on the other hand, seems much more repressed. If Suzuki can finally be fully himself on the dance floor, Sugiki has struggled to find just who he is as a person. Volume two implies that he may have been largely abandoned by his parents, at least emotionally, and that ballroom was a way for him to try to get their attention. Over the course of his lengthy career he's switched partners numerous times, indicating that he's looking for something that he has yet to find, and his obsession with becoming number one in a competition he's consistently placed number two in may have less to do with ambition than it seems. All of these things draw him to Suzuki, who has been on his radar for years, something that Inouesatoh skillfully implies through other people's comments and one telling moment where Sugiki gets upset that a DVD of a competition he's not even in is thrown out. (Suzuki, of course, is on the disc.) For his part, Suzuki wasn't terribly aware of Sugiki until the man approached him, although he does become invested in their relationship.
Just what that relationship is at this point is difficult to define. Sugiki asks Suzuki several times if he's gay, to which Suzuki replies in the negative, but never says anything about his own sexuality, although it's implied that he has slept with women. Both men are uncomfortable with the required physical closeness of the waltz, but that seems to be more because of social expectations of male closeness, as well as the fact that many of the Latin dances involve temporary close physical contact before breaking away. That there is an attraction becomes increasingly apparent as the two books go on, and at the close of volume two it seems that Sugiki is ready to admit, if not entirely embrace, what he's feeling. Suzuki is more uneasy, but is also starting to see that he might have feelings that go beyond the bounds of friendship; he's more willing to say that Sugiki is a perfect dance partner, which does make sense in context.
As you may have noticed simply reading this review, Inouesatoh's decision to give both male protagonists similar names can make reading a bit confusing, and that appears to have been deliberate, as a note in the back of volume one mentions that all but two characters in their names (“gi” and “ki”) are the same in Japanese as well. While it isn't too difficult to guess that the authorial intent is to highlight their similarities and a sense of “meant to be” with the names, it's also considered not a great move in creative writing classes, as it can be tricky when it comes to keeping characters straight. Fortunately both writing and art only improve from there, with nice solid dancer bodies, a good sense of movement to the art, and the funny addition of hearts to Suzuki's speech bubbles when he speaks English to indicate his sexy Spanish accent.
10 Dance's first two books only get more enjoyable as they go on and the characters and plot build up. The BL elements are clearly going to get stronger as the series progresses, so it isn't going to be a story for everyone, but if you're looking for a good ballroom manga devoid of some of the issues of others, this is looking like a pretty good bet.
Overall : B+
Story : B
Art : B+
+ Nice art, keeps getting better as the story and characters develop
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