Kenrantaru Grande Scène

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Just a word before everything: I love ballet.

Seriously. Similar to yuri, if it is ballet then I am already interested in it. I’ve always wanted to do ballet but never manned up and said so as a young boy, nor had the money to engage in the endeavor in the first place (though in my adulthood I’m still considering it). I’m always deeply absorbed in ballet performances, movies, anime, whatever. I think it’s an incredible mix of grace, skill, and strength and it’s beautiful and amazing. So, I have a bias for the art and thus find it somewhat difficult to be more objective in my judgment of stories based around it. So, keep that in mind while I praise this wonderful manga.

Kenrantaru Grande Scène (絢爛たるグランドセーヌ, En scène!, La Magnifique Grande Scène, Lit. “On Stage!”, “The Magnificent Grand Stage”) is a ballet manga by artist Cuvie (キュービー) who I suppose I should note is mostly an H mangaka. She draws pornography. She still draws pornography, and never changed her pen name for her big break into safe for work manga. Thus when looking her and her works up, don’t be surprised when you find a lot of porn. That said unlike Shimimaru, her non-H manga don’t reflect her pornographic work, so I’m really only mentioning this as a “warning”, I suppose. There is more non-H work in her portfolio, but the vast majority isn’t like Kenrantaru if that’s what you’re looking for. So yeah, although I’m a fan of ballerinas and leotards, that’s beside the point; don’t expect any fanservice here.

Now with all the top-level details out of the way, what is this manga really about…? …Uh, ballet. Like really, it’s a ballet manga. There’s hardly any slice of life, genuine drama is low, to date there’s no romance (or any foreshadowing of such), characters unrelated to ballet rarely appear and if they do there’s some connection to ballet, it’s just 100% ballet. Learning ballet, ballet practice, ballet performance, proving ballet’s legitimacy as a career path, teaching ballet, ballet competitions… Ballet. And of course I love it; it does everything it sets out to do well.

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The manga is following the life of Kanade Ariya, beginning with her early childhood infatuation with ballet (and to date (in volumes at least, I don’t know about unbound chapters), she’s only just about a teenager). The series opens with something we’re going to see a lot: Kanada becoming so enthralled by a dance/dancer that she becomes entranced.

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This first chapter and the second are quite interesting, almost like a short story, but because of that a lot happens that would take a while for me to explain (you’re better off just reading the manga for a bit for all the details). Basically, Kanade childishly requests ballet lessons, her parents allow it, she sucks.

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However, her idol and older neighbor, Risa, gives her a lesson and some good advice and she demonstrates dramatic improvement. Though she’d been wavering from ballet’s difficulty and her lack of beauty, her passion reignites and never wavers from that point on (not that she never becomes sad or frustrated again). We then witness a kind of “tale of what could be” that ends in a rather bad way. I was quite surprised with this direction. Basically, near the end of chapter 1, we switch narrative focus to Risa (who Kanade could not possibly have a higher opinion of) going to do a competition, and she screws up. She screws up bad.

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And in chapter 2, she quits ballet.

From this point on, rather than being a role model Kanade can always look up to, Risa comes out and says that she recognizes she can’t be a professional ballerina, without the incentive of winning prizes from competitions she can’t make a case for following through on it, and, well, seriously she’s done. And she is! That’s it for her ballet dancing, though not it for her as a character in this series. Kanade does manage to convince her to perform one last time so that the young girl can have a chance to dance on the same stage as her idol, but it is the last time, making the opening of this manga somewhat somber rather than triumphant and hopeful (which would be the usual for a “sports” story). It’s not even a passing of the torch, it’s simply witnessing the end of a dream before it could truly begin.

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With the prologue over, Kanade ages up, though not by much, and she’s become noticeably improved at ballet. This has only happened twice in the manga so far (the manga started in 2013, it’s almost 2018, and there are 9 volumes out). Still, I imagine this will continue into Kanade’s adulthood.

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This first true part of the manga serves as a proper introduction to most of the (very small) core cast and serves to give our main characters some actual goals rather than “hey, ballet’s pretty cool”.

Ah, right, “main characters“; I’d say there are three (you can make an argument for four, but the fourth takes a while to show and feels more like an important side character) — it’s more than just Kanade, though she’s undoubtedly the protagonist.

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Kanade’s best friend, partner, and rival is Shouko Itou. I’ll talk about Kanade herself in a bit, but Shouko…Shouko is Shouko. I find it difficult to say what “kind” of personality she has. She isn’t focused on as much as other characters, I feel — not that that’s a bad thing. She’s almost a year older than Kanade and about neck and neck with her when it comes to ballet (although or perhaps because Kanade is younger, she’s always trying her hardest to keep up and learn from others). She likes to keep to herself, be serious, and stay quiet but she’s not what I’d call reticent. Actually frequently she seems more full of fire than Kanade.

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A mild example, as I don’t want to spoil any major ones (they’re usually surprising given her ordinary quietness).

Shouko carries grudges and starts feuds and has strong convictions. She’s not necessarily strong-willed, though, as she’s pretty self-conscious and can get incredibly nervous before performing (whereas Kanade simply gets hyped). She’s…fun to watch, and a very good counterbalance for Kanade. I worry that inevitably they’ll have to take different life directions though, probably, due to how becoming a professional ballerina works. That makes me pretty sad. Undoubtedly, part of this sadness is that the infrequent yuri teasing at play did not escape my notice.

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So let’s talk about Kanade.

In case you did not know, despite widely being considered as girly girly pretty nonsense, ballet is an incredibly intense discipline. Not only is the training and practice intense, the competition between peers for opportunities is intense. It has only become more demanding as the years have gone on and ballet has become more well known around the world. And further, as we come to learn over time through this manga, Asian dancers have several disadvantages making competition fiercer and opportunities fewer.

Kenrantaru Grande Scene -21So all of that makes Kanade Ariya rather incredible, and incredibly fortunate.

Kanade really loves ballet, like seriously. Like I mentioned earlier, once her hurdle over coming to terms with her faults and working to improve on them has passed, she is unwavering in her direction and dreams, and absolutely undeterred by obstacles before her. Certainly setbacks and failures will upset and frustrate her, but ultimately she just loves to dance and loves to immerse herself in her discipline.

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Probably her most significant trait is her jealousy, which feeds into her desire to improve. Kanade deeply admires her betters, superiors, and contemporaries. She might admire them too much, in fact, as their dancing can have a strong influence on her own. And to speak of flaws her love of dancing, though it makes her a very good dancer, often causes her to neglect the acting aspect of ballet (something she has forever struggled with to date). She isn’t perfect, basically, though her ignorance and thirst for knowledge and improvement do grant a lot of opportunity for readers to learn about all manner of aspects of ballet, from history, to stage productions, costumes, and so on.

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That reminds me, something I find oddly fascinating about the series (aside from how Kanade is REALLY tall and getting taller and that amuses me)? And do note, I don’t use this word very much at all (perhaps have only seriously used it once before): Kanade is truly privileged.

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Kanade has:

  1. Loving and very supportive parents.
  2. A world class teacher.
  3. Friends who help and support her.
  4. Rivals who help and support her.
  5. The eye of professionals from around the world.
  6. A close friend who makes costumes for her at material cost.

While her life isn’t perfect and she has to struggle and fight for certain things, it really can’t be denied just how lucky she is. I find it strangely refreshing to have a main character of a sports story that technically isn’t really a disadvantaged underdog. It’s kind of only her in the series, too. Every other character so far has run into some sort of serious trouble, which brings me to my favorite character in the series. If you know my preferences (click me twice! get the page cached) and have already read this series, you probably know who it is.

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Although I referred to Shouko as Kanade’s “best” rival, her greatest and first is probably Sakura Kurisu, who when she initially appears, appears to be a bitch. This is because she is one, or at least she tries to be.

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In my opinion, Sakura presents the most compelling character arc, and story, in this series. Frequently, she is described as strong and unwavering by other characters, but this isn’t really the case. While she’s certainly very skilled in many ways and often very vocal about her convictions, I would honestly describe her as a weak character (of course, that isn’t a qualitative assessment). Sakura has several surprising emotional outbursts in this series and crises of faith, because although she’s introduced as a simple “I’m better than you and I know it” character, in truth she’s more of a complicated “I need to believe I’m better than you” character. Her dancing and her life’s direction have caused her great stress and worry throughout the series, as well as her standoffish personality that she finds difficult to change. I think it’s a really good thing that Kanade becomes a good friend to her in spite of her making it quite clear she doesn’t want that, because otherwise I’d be genuinely worried about the girl’s future.

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Basically, as becomes fairly obvious very quickly, Sakura is the unfortunate victim of a parent who seeks to live vicariously through their child. While this girl does love ballet, her path through it is strictly regimented by her mother. The more we learn about the two’s relationship, and the more we see of Sakura going forward in life, the more intrigued I become. Sakura’s just great, and I will continue to wish for her happiness.

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Winding down, I believe I’ve covered most of what I wanted to say about this manga. The characters are lovely and it’s a treat to follow their lives, the dances really draw you in despite this being a non-moving medium without any sound, so that’s really great. You may have noticed I haven’t really presented many pages featuring actual dances — this is because they tend to be few and far between with most of the manga focusing on preparing for those dances. I don’t really want to spoil them. Anyway, the only other thing I suppose I can mention would be Shouko and Kanade’s ballet instructor, Takimoto Nobuko.

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But I will really only mention her. It’s not that I don’t like her, FAR from it, but up to even the latest volume we’re still learning about Takimoto-sensei’s past and character. There’s basically a lot to her and part of the manga’s appeal is learning more. As is made clear early on she’s a retired professional ballerina, but it seems she came from France to Japan and changed her name. Mysterious! She’s overall a pretty great teacher but she’s still learning how to improve, being very careful about Kanade in particular due to her failure with Risa’s development. Overall, I really enjoy her as a character.

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I’m also liking this character a lot. Stylish and has a fun personality.

And I think that’ll about do it.

I don’t know who will enjoy this series outside of those with a fondness for ballet to some degree, but I definitely think it’s a really good series. Its total focus on the subject matter of the story is very different from other sports series I’ve seen, at least. Like, I really wasn’t joking at the start of this series when I said it’s “about ballet”. Every scene and character interaction feeds into ballet. The main characters don’t hang out with one another or with friends unless ballet or something that can be connected with ballet is going to be brought up. It’s a pretty interesting direction to take, so it might be worth seeing for that alone. I think it goes without saying, though, that if you like ballet you should read this. You’re lucky, too, since the entire series to date has been translated (and absurdly quickly at that) so the only thing to wait for is new volumes/chapters.

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Another new favorite, and another high recommendation. If you wish to buy this series you may do so through CDJapan, Bookwalker (guideguide), honto (guide), or ebookjapan. Please do, it’s most definitely worth supporting! The omake are very informativevery informative. There are 9 volumes out as of this writing.

Alright, that’ll do it. Next and last is a manga many of you are probably familiar with. It’s gonna be a long article, folks! Thanks for reading. Toodles!

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