Well, this is a fun one!
This manga is called Sesuji wo Pin! to – Shikakou Kyougi Dance-bu e Youkoso (背すじをピン！と ～鹿高競技ダンス部へようこそ～, Straighten Up! Welcome to Shika High’s Competitive Dance Club), though it’s usually just called Sesuji or Straighten Up!. It’s an award-winning work, and its author is Yokota Takuma (横田卓馬, AKA YOKO), an artist who is rather notable on the Western Internet at the very least. Prior to this series, he worked on several comics as an artist, or adapted stories of authors to comic form. He’s probably best known in the West for drawing Onani Master Kurosawa, AKA Fap Note — an incredibly good series in spite of the ridiculous title. Other “better-known” series he worked on as an artist were Molester Man (a manga based on a 2ch story) and Sentou Hakai Gakuen Dangerous, while another, Tsunbaka, was one he wrote as well as drew. Molester Man was kinda fun, and Dangerous was both hilariously over-the-top and waaayyy too serious, though I haven’t read Tsunbaka…
Anyway. his distinctive art, weird manga choices, and wild sense of humor made him something like a cult favorite artist, so I was shocked to see Sesuji wo Pin! to, a new series in Weekly Shounen Jump (the most well-known manga publication in the world) from a familiar name. What was even stranger: it’s a completely innocent, adorable and passionate dance manga, as opposed to the, uh…rather lewd and raunchy manga he’d worked on before. I can only think of one other dancing manga that people actually talk about and seem to like and that is Ballroom e Youkoso (while another that’s not so known, although I like it, would be this ballet manga called Kenrantaru Grande Scène). To be honest, I didn’t go in with high expectations. This was a solo work from an artist best known for working with other writers, and it featured a subject I didn’t particularly care about. I was also worried about conveying a sport that requires music and a lot of motion in manga form — I figured it wouldn’t work. I will say now, after catching up with volume 8 (the latest as of this writing), the dances work splendidly, and this has turned out to be one of my favorites. It’s basically an unusual sports/”life” series with a lot of cute stuff in it and an emphasis on realism. Actually, it reminds me a lot of O/A in how it handles the sport and the people who participate in it, and that is a very good thing.
This series is about Tsuchiya Masaharu and Watari Eri, a pair of incredibly shy, unconfident, tiny and awkward first year students at Rokumeikan High School. After seeing a strong dancing performance from second years at the start of the year, the two of them find an interest in the sport. Crazy outfits! Intensity! Confidence! All of these things await should you join the school’s dance club (called dancesport, or competition dancing)! The two of them basically meet during the club signup trial period and discover that they have a mutual growing passion for this sport after having a lot of fun in the first practices (and taking interest in one another).
Before anything else, the hero and heroine of this series are great if only because of how nonstandard they are. Shy characters like the two of them tend to firmly stay shy and don’t make great efforts to change until later on, but the end goal of these two is to have fun and improve. Watari is also not what I’d call “beautiful”, and is instead rather plain. I just like to see that once in a while, since realistically a lot of people aren’t GORGEOUS. She really is cute, though, and I like her character trait of *sweat* *sweat* coming from her head most of the time. Oh! And how she’ll tug at Tsucchi’s shirt to get his attention! SO! CUUUUUTE!!
If you’re concerned about the two main characters being too similar, they’re different in some key ways. Watari is more technically proficient and a faster learner, while in a pinch Tsucchi’s oblivious stupidity makes him less likely to choke on the dance floor. They end up giving one another strength and growing in different ways. It’s also nice that they’re kinda bad at dancing, with much of their “strength” coming from raw enthusiasm. Most people start dancing very young, though, so even if their growth is slow any growth at all is impressive. Besides, they’re pretty good at at least ONE dance…
You see, due to their small builds, while slower dancing throws them off, a fast dance like Quick Step…!
Okay, getting ahead of myself. Anyway, these two are a lovely pair of goofballs and are a definite draw of the series.
So, remember how I said there’s an emphasis on realism in this series?
I swear, there is, but there are some rather cartoonish aspects, specifically in design rather than anything else.
A few of the characters in this series just look completely ridiculous, and while other characters are aware they’re ridiculous, that lampshade doesn’t really dilute their strangeness. This fellow is Doigaki Masumi, the senior president of the Shika High dance club and the most outlandish design in the series. Basically, Doigaki is, in his design (and way of talking), a stereotypical gay Japanese flamboyant transvestite. That said, he is not gay nor is he a transvestite (just grew up with 5 older sisters) — instead, he’s basically the most far gone metrosexual I’ve ever seen in fiction or otherwise. I won’t lie, I consider him a hurdle for new readers. He certainly was a hurdle for me. He’s got ridiculous lips, ridiculous posture, a ridiculous outfit, and an absurd afro, after all.
That said, he’s one of my favorite characters, so trust me: you just have to roll with it.
I am still not entirely sold on his design or base concept, but Doigaki is a fantastic character. He’s like, surprisingly a hardass who is less honest with himself than you’d expect. His relationship with his dance partner and other senior of the club, Ayatsujji Rio, is without a doubt my favorite thing from the manga so far and what pushed the series into my “favorites” category once and for all. It made me teary eyed and made me cheer. Doigaki is a very serious character in spite of his joke-character looks, and even his looks improve when he’s dancing for real. I won’t spoil the exact details of his “arc” with his partner, I’ll just say that it’s a very slow build (hints of it are there from about the start) and has a fantastic climax. It’s what really reminded me of O/A (the serious parts of it, that is).
With that out of the way, check out those other two dancers up there.
Yes, the manga references real songs — sometimes by name. I guess this is one way the manga format is better…no licensing issues. Try playing the songs while you read!
Anyway, these two are Yamaki Shou and Tsubaki Akiko, second years at the school’s dance club. They have a great relationship.
Shou and Akiko go to show that although there are subtle romantic tones to the Watari/Tsucchi pair and the Doigaki/Rio pair, a pair != romance. You may be compelled to assume every pair of dancing partners is romantically involved, but this is a sport first so cut that out (for the most part, at least). Shou and Akiko are exemplary of that. They legitimately do not actually get along. They can be friendly, but they are actually at one another’s throats an awful lot, and not at all in a playful way or one that makes it clear they’re close. They’re basically a pair of prodigies that began dancing in their first year and improved dramatically, but only paired with one another due to physical compatibility and pure practicality (there were no other members to pair with). Shou is a ladykiller sort with a big ego and fat ambitions, while Akiko is a firecracker with roughly equal ego and ambitions. I think it’ll be most interesting seeing how these two develop, because although they’re splendid dancers their actual teamwork is lousy.
Other than the dance club, there are quite a few other characters from dance schools/classes rather than school clubs who participate in competitions and become friends with the main characters. There are no actual enemies in the series, and thus the manga has a very unusual vibe for the sports genre. The main characters don’t have super high ambitions or anything and the focus is on internal or interpersonal conflicts for tension rather than outright “us” versus “them” or aiming for the top (though that happens too). Above are Tanya Krylov and Miki Kiyoto, Watari and Tsucchi’s peers in age group although total seniors in dance. Tanya has a great design and is a lovely character, and as a Russian character it’s a nice touch how she mostly speaks in Cyrillic (written Russian language). I can’t be sure about how accurate the language is, though, because although I can read Cyrillic I’ve forgotten an awful lot of Russian in the years since I first learned it…
Anyway, characters tend to mainly develop while out on the dance floor, blending thought and narration and implied communication between partners with flashbacks and beautiful scenes to paint a powerful canvas that’s a swirl of many emotions. There aren’t a huge number of characters in this series, but Yokota-sensei handles the several who are here very well. It’s easy to connect with them, and I can only think of one character that I don’t really like (Hirari, but that’s just personal preference — I don’t think she’s poorly written or anything).
My favorite character is shown early on and referenced regularly throughout the series, but is only properly introduced much later. Sakimoto Jouji is heralded as the best high school dancer in the series, and yeah, he’s worth the wait. Won’t say anything about him other than I love characters like him.
As we near the end of this article, I should also mention that I, at least, experience a sense of nostalgia from this manga. While I did do some dancing in a club at school, that isn’t why. Rather, I played in school bands and as a volunteer horn player in a band for almost my entire educational career (mostly trombone, euphonium for the volunteer band), which required me to go out and about to play at this or that event, travel occasionally a bit around the country to perform in other places, and generally hang with other musical dorks between performances. That atmosphere I felt in those days is clear in Straighten Up!, such that I get a really pleasant feeling from many of the scenes. The series is incredibly down to earth and relatable in that regard, and I quite love it for that. I can’t really think of another series I’ve read (or watched, for that matter — yeah, that includes Hibike! Euphonium) that gave me that feeling, so I really appreciate it.
So, Sesuji is great and it’s great that it’s still going alive and decently strong in Weekly Shounen Jump (I really thought it was gonna die, and am happy it didn’t — hope it still doesn’t (spoke too soon: it did ;_; though it was a natural conclusion…I guess)). It’s also great that someone actually decided to keep translating it. Man, readers at today’s date (January 5th, 2017), look forward to the translated material to come — it’s phenomenal. Really, Yokota-sensei is doing a rather splendid job with this manga. There were a lot of ways it could’ve failed, but it works incredibly well.
Now then, thank you for reading this day-late review. I overestimated my abilities and had to push this back a day. Hopefully that won’t be the case for the next series! Next time I’ll be going over another manga, but saying what it’s about would probably give it away immediately since there’s only two manga of its kind out and notable right now. So, uh…wait for that.