Forewarning: This post does contain spoilers regarding characterization and dynamics in Wondance. Please read at your own discretion.
Lately, I have been on a roll with new favorites. It might be more accurate to say currently serializing favorites like Oshi no Ko, Sign of Affection, etc. Wondance is another addition to this consistently growing list.
I feel like I write this more regularly then I should, but whatever. I fell hard for this series. Like worse then other’s I’ve mentioned. Even with forcing myself to read each chapter slowly, looking up words and checking grammar to be sure I understood the subtleties of what was being said, implied, etc – I still read the first seven volumes in about two days. Granted, I had more time then usual to just sit and read summertime downtime + waiting to be seen by a doctor will do that. That rate of consumption for me is still unusual.
Now that Wondance is being published in English, thanks Kodansha – I should talk a bit about what the story is all about. Kaboku Kotani is a high school freshmen, whose looking to keep his head down as much as his height will allow. I mean, coupled with a notable stutter at a delicate age – understandable. All seems to be going well, until he sees Hikari Wanda dancing like no one is watching, without a care who does see her. Kaboku is struck by her – she’s truly embodying freedom of expression without words. Compelled by Wanda’s unique charms and personality, as well of her love of dance Kaboku joins the dance team. Which is mostly filled with girls, and certainly going against his idea of keeping a low profile… but as Kaboku builds his skills in a variety of styles he begins to sink further into the world of dance.
Well, the first reason is pretty self referential and obvious but here we go. It’s because it’s centered on dance. Not ballet mind you, but street styles of dance. Which yes, I do have a very shallow pool of experiance with in my past. Within the first eight volumes (what’s available in Japanese so far) Wandance has made mention of Hip-Hop, House, Breaking, Wack, B-boying, Jazz, Top Rock, Poppin’ and more.
A lot of non-dancers tend to cluster these styles, specifically Breaking and B-Boying, as the same, or all these minus Jazz as generic “Hip-Hop” dances. Which just isn’t true. While a lot of these styles can be blended together genre-wise, especially during a real dance battle, they each have distinct characterizations and moves. It’s just really pleasent to see such research and distinctions given to all these styles. Even with my background in dance, I still found myself learning a bit more about each style. It helps that Coffee-Sensei does directly thank various dancers for their input at the end of most chapters.
Second, is the art style and direction. There’s such a sense of style to the dance sequences. I’m a sucker for manga that manage to replicate the real feelings of a dance sequence. Especially since I don’t expect most mangaka’s to specialize in the genres of dance they write about, so when they get it right they it’s incredibly impressive to me. Coffee-Sensei has such a way of encapsulating the energy of a specific style of dance in a single still image. They don’t always read clearly, and that’s actually preferred here. Words don’t do it justice so here’s some of my absolutely favorite panels out of context for you to understand.
Third is the dancers personalities, dance styles, and relationships. I’m not talking about the typical stereotypes either. Coffee-Sensei, intentionally or not, makes several digs at Tik-Tok ‘dances’ in comparison to what Ichirin High School’s Dance Team does. Specifically, we can take a look at On, Ichirin’s Dance Team leader. On looks exactly like the girl who would specialize in ‘girlie’ genres like Jazz or Girls’ Hip Hop, or do Tik-Tok dances (in fact she does join a few girls in doing so in a chapter of the manga). As the Dance Team leader, she does in fact want dance to be approachable and fun for all members regardless of experiance.
However, between her looks and personality that reads incredibly feminine… her specialities are Poppin’ and Wack. Genres that aren’t exclusive to men, but certainly aren’t incredibly common for women to do. This isn’t done in a malicious way demonizing other styles either: On during competitions regularly remarks on the technical skills of other dancers specializing in other genres being more skilled at it then her. She has incredible respect and admiration for them as well. On also has an incredibly competitive side to her – the dance team is split via auditions for competition groups and non-competing members. That’s a little controversial in the world of competitive dance on a high school level. Similarly, she holds herself to high standards when competing solo as well.
I have the urge to talk about a lot of other dancers and their relationships – specifically Iori at length but for the sake of spoilers I will resist the urge. Wondance has a very wide cast of characters who specialize in a lot of different genres of dance of course. Just know that most of these characters subvert your expectations of them, more often then not and regardless of your background in dance. They have some amazing character dynamics framed within dance and it’s truly been a pleasure to be introduced to and see them unfold within the pages of the story.
Lastly, is the man of the hour Kaboku. His story as a dancer is nearly the polar opposite of my own experiences, mostly since I started way earlier then him and in a different genre. A lot of his fears and concerns are relatable, but once again the difference between me facing them as a grade schooler, verses him in high school is no joke.
What makes him relatable though is of all things, his stammer. In Japan stammers can be really hard for people to wrap their heads around since there is very little education done about speech impediments in general. Therefore, this constantly creates conflict about Kaboku trying to communicate his thoughts to friends, Dance Club members, and even just doing the usual of reading aloud in class. It’s rough to read especially when you see how dismissive his ‘friends’ are of it, and how much Kaboku personally struggles with it, despite his practice and trainings to reduce it’s impact. More and more people who interact with him become aware of it though, and work to change their conversations so it’s easier for him. It’s particularly noticeable with Hikari, but On, Iori and even rival school crews make efforts in their own ways to accommodate him. It’s really touching.
It reminds me a lot of my lisp. We’re getting a bit off topic and personal here today. Now, it’s no where near as impactful on my life as Kaboku’s stammer, but it’s still something I regularly ‘train’ myself out of. The tongue twister “Sally sell sea shells”? One of my worst memories when I was younger getting a speech therapy evaluation. While my lisp isn’t particularly strong, it does come out more when I layer sounds in Japanese particularly of the “さ、し、す、せ、そ” variety. Again, it doesn’t help that most average folks in Japan, even teachers, have no idea what a lisp is, let alone how it impacts those who have it. My speech, despite my efforts just becomes an incomprehensible slurry at times. It’s frustrating as it is embarrassing. Much like Kaboku – I know what I want to say, how to say it (in theory), but conversational speeds, plus this limitation doesn’t make for the best results. Seeing Kaboku struggle with that, but also be seen because he can express himself fully in dance, is a difficult to read, but reassuring in many ways.
So yeah, I found a new dance manga to gush over that’s currently serializing. I know dance isn’t exactly at the top of most manga reader’s additional hobbies, but I promise Wandance will have you begging for more by the end of the first volume. I know even with eight volumes out, I’m already wondering when I can expect the next volume. So drop me a comment below if you’ve heard of this one, or if you’re going to check it out. I would love to have more people to talk to about this series!
Wow, the artwork looks amazing and this sounds really interesting too! I love the movement shown in the artwork! You can really tell what the dance is supposed to look like!
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This sounds great – I’ll try to find it!
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