Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The Magnificent Grand Scene
GN 1 & 2
When Kanade is in elementary school, she saw her older neighbor Risa perform onstage in a classical ballet recital and was instantly bitten by the dance bug. She begged her parents to let her take lessons, and despite some early setbacks continues to dance and improve, dreaming of the day when she and Risa will dance on the same stage. An injury, along with the high cost of dancing, sidelines Risa before Kaname is even in pointe shoes, but the younger girl persists, finally garnering a solo role in her school's recital of Don Quixote. But another girl from a different dance studio is watching, and her words to Kanade infuriate her, forcing her to think about what she wants from dancing and driving her to take the next step towards a career as a professional ballerina.
If you love Princess Tutu and miss CMX's release of Swan, you owe it to yourself to pick up MediaDo's digital-only release of Cuvie's The Magnificent Grand Scene (also known as La Magnifique Grande Scène). While it does err more on the Swan side of things as it follows the nitty-gritty of dancing rather than the fanciful magical girl side shown by Princess Tutu, creator Cuvie (whose medieval fantasy Dorothea was previously released in English by CMX) has clearly done her research, and both the pain and beauty of the performing art shine through, along with the physical demands ballet makes on its dancers' bodies.
That last point is one of the most striking features of the manga. Anyone can draw strained faces and sweat, but Cuvie gives a real sense of the weight and muscles of each movement alongside the idea that these motions are meant to look light and effortless to the audience. You can feel the stretch and pull of each attempt to get a higher extension, the tension of the arms as they're held above the head, and the taut sensation of a toe pointed to just the right shape so as to make each movement beautiful. While this sensation is likely to be more pronounced for readers who have danced before, the lines are so cleanly drawn that it is evident even if you've never had to get your foot at the right height for a pirouette. Likewise in the second volume, when Sakura, Kanade's rival from another studio, shows up with her letter-perfect dancing, readers can see immediately what's lacking in her dance that isn't in Kanade's, which is not an easy feat in the still medium of manga.
In part this command of body language may come from Cuvie's work in hentai, before she broke into more mainstream manga. While it isn't necessarily true of all hentai artists, Cuvie at least has a good grasp of the physicality of the human body and its weight. All of the dancers also retain their dance body language in their everyday lives – toes are always pointed and turned out, girls sit in stretches casually, and anytime Kaname is in a chair, she has her toes curled against the floor in a strengthening exercise. Cuvie does mention in the afterword to volume two that she's done a lot of studying for this series, specifically that she as an artist needed to learn the basic foundations of dance so that she could draw the more complex movements more clearly and properly; this is also doubtless part of what makes the art work so well even when it is no more realistic than the average manga.
The story thus far has seen Kanade remain in elementary school, although in the U.S. I suspect she'd be in middle school – that is, in sixth grade – in the final chapter. Despite covering a fairly short amount of time, we do get a good idea of how Kanade is developing as a dancer and working through the setbacks she encounters. Unlike some of the other girls in her class (her studio divides students by gender, which isn't all that uncommon), Kanade isn't a naturally talented dancer. She has to work hard to get to where she wants to be, and that's something that not only doesn't intimidate her, but thrives on. Kanade genuinely loves dancing, and that comes across clearly in her everyday activities even outside the studio. She's constantly asking to borrow her dad's tablet so that she can look up dance videos online, she doesn't appear to be sorry that she can't see her school friends much because of classes, and she's always doing research on her own into the finer points of what she needs to know to succeed. While she does get depressed when it takes her longer to go into toe shoes (or en pointe) than some of her classmates, she finds ways to make her dancing work for her, most notably when she gets the solo part of Cupid in her studio's recital performance of Don Quixote. The head teacher remarks that Kanade has a talent for learning and mimicking what she needs to improve her dance, and the Cupid storyline is an example of that: because she won't be wearing pointe shoes, she studies male dancers and modern ballet in order to get an idea of how to achieve the same dynamism in her off-the-floor work, gaining a new appreciation for other forms of ballet in the process.
Volume two throws a roadblock in Kanade's way in the form of Sakura, a snooty dancer from another studio. Sakura is that kid anyone in performing arts has run across: technically perfect, a legacy dancer drilled in all things ballet by her dancer mother, and absolutely convinced that it's her way or the highway and that she's the best of the best in all things. She immediately gets on Kanade's bad side with her withering remarks about Don Quixote and things only get worse when a school friend shows up at Kanade's studio in tears because of how she was treated by Sakura's studio. What this pushes Kanade to do is in no way surprising in manga, but it also definitely raises the stakes in a concerning way. It is not, however, as irritating as rival storylines can often be – at least so far. But even if Kanade doesn't come out on top this time, we're assured that she has a strong support system to help her through it, because another highlight of the series is how loving and supportive her parents are. We're privy to their private conversations discussing how they understand how important dance is to their daughter and that they'll keep supporting her dream of being a professional if that's what she wants, and they reaffirm this to her several times across these two books. They're side characters, but they're not disposable background characters, and that's both important and nice to see.
The Magnificent Grand Scene is a ballet manga, and yes, it has a certain special appeal for those who dance(d). But it's also a good story that happens to revolve around ballet, not quite in a sports manga way (Kanade's teacher very clearly says that even competitions are not a sport; this is a performing art), but more in the sense that this is what Kanade lives and breathes. It may hold more immediate appeal for ballet fans, but it's still absolutely worth giving a chance even if that's not your thing, because a well-done story can make you care about almost anything.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : A
+ Real sense of the physicality of ballet, story and characters are interesting. Covers a lot of ground about dance culture.
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