As Applause Volume 4 opens, “Modern Dancer,” the hit Broadway show starring Shelle and Shara, is a mega-hit. With every performance, they pour their heart and emotions out onto the stage, captivating audiences. But afterwards, their relationship is building to a crisis. Shara cannot stand the double life that Shelle wants. Isn’t enough, Shelle asks, to have our life together in our house on the beach, and be the professionals everyone expects on stage? NO, Shara emphatically says.
Georges appears to “congratulate” Shara with a kiss, but is slapped and sent packing.
At the shore house, Shara asks a question of her own of Shelle – why can’t you just be the Junaque I fell in love with? But Shelle yells at her to shut up – she hates “that woman” and in her mind, the person who was Junaque is dead.
And every night, Shara and Shelle work out their emotions through their dance.
While Shelle’s mother shows up, invited by Georges, to pressure her to marry him, Shara talks to John about his lover Chris’s illness, which is clearly AIDS. Georges tries to force Shelle to sleep with him. She goes completely passive and refuses to look at him. He stops himself before it becomes rape and leaves Shelle, telling her that any next move has to come from her.
Shelle and her mother have a knockdown, dragout fight about her future. As Shelle wrestles with a complete breakdown, Shara appears. They embrace each other desperately in front of Shelle’s mother, who is not pleased at all when she realizes the truth. Shara tells everyone to get out of her way, then leads Shelle out of the house. Their performance that night is spectacular.
Alfie tries to reach Shara, but she and Shelle are spending the night in the shore house. They wake to find the sun rising, and they express their love for one another as the sun greets them. Later that day, Georges goes looking for them – they can’t be found anywhere. Terrified, he heads out to the marina where he takes a speedboat out to look for them. Sure enough, he finds his sailboat adrift on the water and neither Shara nor Shelle to be found anywhere.
Georges accepts the Tony Award on behalf of Shelle, and (though obviously in pain) tells the audience that the show will go on. He flies back to Belgium immediately.
Alfie and Fred attend Chris’s funeral and wonder what happened to Shara.
Our last image is that of a rowboat, with unattributed conversation around it. Shelle says that she has been waiting for Shara since graduation. Shara says that it would be nice to buy a little house, wouldn’t it? And Shelle says that would be lovely.
The volume is completed with two stories of Junaque and Shara as students. The first is a fascinating little ghost story about a dead student who is haunting a teacher. The teacher, when she was a student was in love with the girl who them subsequently died. As background to that story, we see Junaque’s tempestuous family relationships. The second story is a very shoujo and fluffy piece about Shara’s early days with Junaque.
So…the main story ends in the most ambiguous possible way. If you prefer it to be a tragic love, then drowning seems the most likely option. However, nothing in Shara’s personality has ever lead me to believe that she would accept death as a viable alternative to life. While Junaque/Shelle’s life has been one of avoidance and denial, Shara’s has been of acceptance and striving. Also, several times she has suggested that they simply leave Manhattan – run away and start a new life together. It seems obvious to me that the sailboat was a red herring and the two escaped what had become an intolerable situation.
And I can’t help but wonder if the ending would have been different at all, should the story have been written ten years later. Personally, I think not.
Was this a *good* series – yes, it definitely was.
It was certainly melodramatic, and soapy, full of tears and angst and beat-you-over-the-head intensity, but that was the story. I did think Shelle’s hatred of her younger self was much of a muchness, but she was pretty far gone into nervous breakdown-land then, and probably hardly knew what she was saying. In any case it was not inconsistent with her self-absorbed personality.
Would I suggest it? If you like romance, melodrama, stories about performers, josei or shoujo work that steps above and beyond the crowd, yes. If you are a moe fan, prefer your heroines to look six rather than twenty, really prefer action to drama, or can’t stand endings that are not overtly happy (which leaves you with darn little anime or manga that will satisfy you, really,) then no.
But as an example of an excellently drawn, well-written and captivating old-school Yuri, then I do definitely recommend Applause.
Art – 8
Story – 7
Characters – 7
Yuri – 8
Service – 3
Overall – 8
The art, especially, just got better and better as the volumes went on. Both Shelle and Shara come from a world of art that has just about completely disappeared these days, where characters looked their age and more ethereally beautiful than possible. It’s obvious that the current trend of youthifying and simplifying anime and manga art makes it easier to draw and easier to crank out, but I so much prefer this.