IMG617Finally got my hands on a used copy of Forbidden Dance 4. It’s not that it’s rare, but something else always took priority. Thankfully the used copy’s condition isn’t too bad and it wasn’t expensive. It’s also good to finally finish collecting another of my many in-progress manga.


The anniversary performance for COOL is a day away, but Akira is not back yet. Aya becomes distressed after receiving a cryptic call from Diana, but Tetsuya manages to calm her down. Aya then decides she has to protect COOL for Akira and cuts her hair short to pass as a boy. And since Akira isn’t back for the performance, the members go with this alternative and have Aya dance as one of the guys. Unfortunately, the audience and their sponsor notice Akira is missing and become annoyed, but the COOL members keep dancing hoping to show their talent through their hard work and sweat. Seems it pays off and Akira shows up not long after too! He apologizes and tells Aya to get ready for their solo. Aya is shocked because the solo was suppose to have been removed as the sponsor did not want her dancing with the other COOL members. The solo becomes rather popular and the press announces that COOL has taken their first female member to great success. Bringing the main story to a finish.

After the main story, there is also a side story about Tetsuya and how he joined COOL, as well as an unrelated one-shot by the author called, Land of Happiness. The latter takes place in the Taisho area and is a story about an half-Japanese and half-English girl named Hana, who was “taken in” by a wealthy author after her mom died. She becomes said author’s fiancee, but the man is many years her senior and very possessive of her. Hana is, sufficient to say, not happy about the arrangement, but she keeps living in hope that her English dad will come rescue her.

My Thoughts

I mentioned in my impression of volume 3 that I was wondering if there would be enough time to tie up all the lose ends by this volume. There wasn’t. It definitely felt somewhat rushed. Akira was not given any character development at all. His story was left vague and unexplored and his demons weren’t addressed at all. All we got was Diana talking sense into him by asking him if he was ready to really abandon COOL. And then magically he realizes he isn’t (even though he was in what looked like a major breakdown) and rushed to Japan on the last available plane. The actual ending was well thought out, mind you, but it only really ended Aya’s story well. It did not address Akira at all.

Not to say I disliked the manga, but it was not as well executed as it could have been. Most of the cast remained devoid of any personality. Outside, Aya, Akira, and Tetsuya, no one else really mattered in COOL. Even Diana’s quite major issue was pretty much swept under the rug back in volume 3; and the nasty rival to Aya that set the whole story in motion doesn’t come back at all. There were a lot of missed opportunities as a result. The impression I get from most of this is that this was one of Ms. Ashihara’s earlier manga. In fact, the impression I got from her side notes was that this was her first serialization. So I can understand why it ended up feeling as unpolished as it does. I don’t think it’s a bad series at all. I did quite enjoy it, but I can’t say it’s anything above mediocre.

Even Tetsuya’s story, which added a bit of depth to his character, wasn’t able to change my mind. We knew from prior volumes that his dad wanted him to give up ballet to focus only on studying so he could take over his dad’s hospital, but we didn’t know much beyond that. It was definitely nice to learn how he first met Akira and Aya; and that he actually stumbled a bit before realizing he didn’t want to throw his love of ballet away so easily. But at the same time, I felt this should have been a part of the main story rather than a side story added after the fact. The author’s notes also give me the impression that this short story was only possible because the publication house asked her to do it. The author also admits that she first wanted to do Akira’s past, but that the 40 pages given to her to do the short story was not enough to address Akira. So in short, she confirms, in a way, that Akira’s character wasn’t properly depicted. A shame that the publisher’s cut the series short like that. I mean, even if Ms. Ashihara was fumbling a bit with the story, and as a result the execution wasn’t as polished, I would still have liked to see what she had in store for Akira.

The one-shot included in volume 4, Land of Happiness, was an interesting specimen. The story itself wasn’t all that remarkable; with typical build up and conclusion, but I was pleasantly surprised that a story set in a historic time period didn’t try to hide some of the not so nice aspects of said period. For one, Hana’s biological dad obviously messed around with her mom and took no responsibility for the child he fathered. Second, the set up where an older man takes a much younger woman to be his wife was not uncommon (rather the opposite), so it was nice to get away from some of the usual sparkly rose-tinted historical setups. Also it was nice that Ms. Ashihara did not shy away from depicting him as possessive and abusive.

At first I was a little off put by the message of “wait for someone to save you”, but at the end, it was clear that Ms. Ashihara was going for the opposite message by depicting Hana as realizing she was the one who had to make herself happy. Nonetheless, it still felt a bit fairy tale-like in terms of the heroine getting a happily ever after with her true love with no repercussions for her part in her old fiancee’s death. I am going to cut the story some slack because it was a short one-shot and obviously certain things couldn’t be addressed realistically as that takes pages and volumes, but at the same time, I can’t help but think the general idea was interesting and would make a good 3-4 volume series. All in all, I did like the one-shot. In fact, I think Ms. Ashihara is rather good at making interesting and satisfying one-shots. Most one-shots tend to feel too much like throw away and thoughtless stories. But I guess because the one-shot was made with an interesting premise, I can’t help but think it would have been even better if developed a bit more into a short series. So it’s almost a Morton’s fork in terms of one-shots that go for the plot route over the theme route.1 However, in the end, I’m grateful for having an interesting story to read, so I am willing to accept that good plot-based one-shots are going to have some untapped potential. That is much preferred to the alternative, at least!


1 — I find that there are two broad trends when it comes to one-shots: either they are thematic pieces that explore a theme or concept, or they are plot-based and function much like regular stories. Most of the latter are the ones that either feel like throw away stories, or ones that should have been expanded. Which leads to the almost Morton’s Fork-like situation: either you make only throw away plot-based one-shots, or you leave interesting premises undeveloped; both of which are undesirable results. One more so than the other, which is why the situation isn’t exactly a Morton’s fork, but I digress.