Archive for the Applause Category


Yuri Manga: Applause, Volume 4

January 27th, 2008

Applause is, you may remember, an old-school Yuri manga from the 90s. I have reviewed volumes 1, 2 and 3 previously, so to catch up the story, go back and scan those.

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.

Ratings:

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.

Send to Kindle




Yuri Manga: Applause, Volume 3 (Japanese)

October 10th, 2007

For previously published summaries and reviews of Volume 1 and Volume 2, click the respective links. Now here we are, at Applause, Volume 3.

Applause began its life as a very shoujo manga, but once it hit New York grew up into something thoroughly josei. Both Shara and Shelle, aka Junaque, have left their childhood behind them and so has the artist. Art, story and sensibility have all moved on from the world of the ridiculously privileged atmosphere of a European girl’s school into a still somewhat enchanted, but more realistic look at show business in New York City. (Back to that “practicing ’til you puke” thing. I don’t mind watching people becoming the best of the best – as long as they work for it. No idiot savants with magically appearing mad skillz need apply.)

Shara, having decided to never again wait for Shelle, moves in with a gay couple, Jon and Chris, and their dog Oscar. She returns to the dance studio at which she previously studied and her life, which had been a storm of emotional upheaval, calms down again into something she can live with and in. To add to her happiness, she meets a man, Shalat, who is perfectly compatible with her as a dancer, as a friend and eventually, as a lover. Shalat is part Asian Indian, and he loves his heritage. His apartment is decorated to reflect this, and Shara loves how he is an amalgam of places, times and dreams. The two of them are extremely happy together.

When an open audition announcement goes out for brand new Broadway show, Shalat and Shara vow to train and audition together, which they do. And together they make the final round. As the final auditions begin, it is announced that, yes, the auditions are partly to fill background dancers, but one role will be a lead role. To judge who is most suitable for the role, the show’s other lead actress is brought in. As Shalat watches, Shara goes pale, and seems to become completely paralyzed. The lead actress, of course, is to be Shelle Bejart.

When Shara’s name is called, Shalat calls her name too, trying to keep her by his side. Shara completely breaks down, as Shalat tries to coax her into telling him what is wrong. With tears streaming down her face she apologizes and leaves him, to follow Shelle after all, hating her own weakness the whole time.

Shortly thereafter, it is announced that Shelle and Shara will be starring in the most anticipated new Broadway show, “Modern Dancer.”

The story of “Modern Dancer” is about a former dancer Maria, played by Shelle, who has become crippled (emotionally and physically). Another dancer, Tracy, tries to convince Maria that she can still dance. In the climactic scene, Tracy takes Maria into her arms and they dance, even though Maria cannot stand. It’s pretty great melodrama and the art for this scene is awesome and over-the-top every time we see it (and we’ll see this scene *a lot.*)

At first, it’s a terrible fit. Shara and Shelle aren’t speaking and they don’t gel well at all. The media starts to report how they think Shara is a bad choice for the role of Tracy. Whether to provoke Shelle or Shara or just to cover his ass, Georges brings in a young male dancer, Fred – who is instantly irritating – to potentially take over the part of Tracy, if Shara can’t get it together.

Shara takes some time to visit Alphie and Gerald and the gang and get her head on straight.

The media uncovers the fact that Shelle and Shara went to school together. Shelle says that Shara was just another underclassman, that they had no special relationship. Shara, on the other hand, when questioned about Shelle, comments on camera that she never knew anyone with the name “Shelle Bejart” at school.

The two of them continue to breakdown in pieces and the show starts to fall apart too. One day, just as in the last volume, Georges takes Shara out on his yacht. This time, she’s also accompanied by Oscar the dog and when he jumps into the water, so does she. Georges also dives in and again, kisses her, but this time, she doesn’t seem to be affected by it at all. When they arrive back at the marina, soaked to the skin, Shelle is there. She gives them both the cold shoulder.

Georges continues the losing battle of wooing an increasingly frigid Shelle. He holds a big birthday party for her, which Shara attends, but can’t stand to watch the circus that Shelle’s life has become. She leaves, but Shelle follows her in her car.

Shelle confronts Shara and they lose it completely at one another. Shara runs off in anger. Shelle, trying to catch up to her, gets into an accident, which Shara witnesses. Forgetting her anger at Shelle, she goes running over, screaming Junaque’s name, and drags a semi-conscious Junaque from the car. Junaque/Shelle and she cry together. That night they end up back in Shelle’s shore house and once again, they have a few days of bliss together.

Back at rehearsal, no one can figure out why, but suddenly, they work perfectly together. The climax of the play is climactic and breathtaking. Fred is defeated – Shara owns the role of Tracy – sadly, he sticks around anyway.

Meanwhile, back at home, Chris has collapsed. No one knows why, but he is in the hospital.

Then the media attacks again – this time with a call to Shelle. Is it true, she’s asked, that you are Shara were lovers in school? Poor, fragile, confused and weak Shelle, lies. Then tells Shara to stay away – she doesn’t want the media to know about them. Rejected for the third time, Shara falls apart. Again. (It’s true – she was the first to reject Junaque, but I think she’s paid the price, really…)

But the show must go on – and it does. In the last chapter we see the whole of “Modern Dancer,” but it’s almost a reflection of Junaque and Shara’s lives so far. And together they dance their feelings out in a beautiful final scene. “Modern Dancer” will obviously be a success.

End of Volume

So, yes, heaps of melodrama. I feel bad for Shalat, personally, because he was a nice guy and didn’t deserve the drama. Shelle and Shara clearly do deserve one another. Oh, and don’t feel *too* bad for Georges – there’s a sense I get that he and Fred were very close. ^_^

Technically, the artist clearly hit her peak here. There’s none of the crowded panels and confusion of the first volume here. The only thing – and this is me being picky – is that the dance moves look dorky a lot of the time. OTOH, modern dance looks dorky a lot of the time. So there you go.

Ratings:

Art – 8
Story – 7
Characters – 7
Yuri – 8
Service – 3
Overall – 7

Volume 4 – anyone want to place bets on the ending? I bet you’ll never guess what happens. Seriously – go ahead and guess in the comments. (No cheating if you know. Only if you’re guessing!)

Send to Kindle




Yuri Manga: Applause, Volume 2

July 10th, 2007

Applause, Volume 2 picks up just where we left off at the end of Volume 1, with Shara in New York studying dance and her “show business” friends trying to start up a new show.

While Shara glows with effort, our attention is turned to the hottest new producer on Broadway, one Georges Bejart. Yes, the very same Georges who was Shara’s old flame Junaque’s fiancee’. Small world, neh? Unbeknowst to Shara, Junaque and Georges have come to New York. Georges puts himself in Shara’s way. They reunite – somewhat ambiguously. Georges invites Shara to come out with him on his yacht. They reminisce about life in Belgium, talk about Junaque and in a weak moment, they kiss. Shara takes herself off alone after the date, obviously regretting that kiss.

Walking alone at night, we follow Shara’s long shadow as she returns home. Her steps slow down, stop, and we see her face in stunned horror. But what she is gazing on is not a stalker or rapist – we look past her shoulder to see huge posters of Broadway’s newest star, Shelle Bejart about whom we have heard so much. To Shara’s shock, there, staring down at her, is Junaque.

This was absolutely the BEST moment of the entire series. Great visual, great spin on what was a sort of tired scene. I recommend reading this volume just for this moment.

Shara returns to her apartment, surprising her friends with the statement that she will, after all, return to the stage. Immediately, their play, “Success,” becomes a success.

Georges is still being rebuffed by Junaque/Shelle, who has taken up drinking, as well as becoming unpalatably spoiled. But we can see that it’s all because of her breakup with Shara. Georges can too and it isn’t making him happy. He pays a visit to Shara after her show to give her flowers, but she’s more interested in what he can tell her of Junaque than in his good wishes.

Quite accidentally, Junaque learns of Shara’s “Success” and is just as shocked as Shara was to find that she is in New York. She goes on stage that night, acting with all her heart – not for the audience, but for her lost love. (One of the charming things about Applause is that we get to watch the actual plays. This becomes more important to the plot as time goes on.)

Georges talks to Shara’s friends Alfie and Gerald, about producing a play with Shara in it. Alfie is asked to write the script. Georges also starts putting pressure on Junaque/Shelle to marry him, since that was a condition of him bringing her to New York.

Now that she knows that Shelle, nee’ Junaque is in the city, Shara tries to see her and bring her flowers after her show, but she can’t face Junaque, so she runs away.

The next chapter opens up – as the next several will – with newspaper and magazine articles on the two women, to show their parallel path to stardom. So close, they all seem to say, but so far.

It has been decided, the two will star in a play together, produced by Georges. They are invited to be on a TV gala affair hosted by an incredibly talented and beloved older actress, Katherine Reed, (who apparently has been searching for a woman who is very important to her for many years.) As part of the show, they’re given a basic plot and a setting and asked to quick read a script, then ad lib the rest of the scene. The scene appears to be about two jealous lovers….their performance is unsettingly realistic. Everyone watching it flipped out – it’s like they *were* jealous lovers. But that can’t be – this is the first time Kisaragi Shara and Shelle Bejart have ever met!

The show ends with Reed singing a few songs and bidding show business goodbye. It’s a huge hit. Shara watches as Junaque and Georges drive off together. In the car, Junaque opens a book that Shara has given her – it’s the script from Manon Lescaut, the play they had performed together in school. Inside is a note…

Junaque tells the driver to stop then, despite Georges protests, gets out of the car and runs back and into Shara’s arms. Without a word to her friends, Shara and Junaque hop into a cab and take off. They run, as they did when they were young, to the shore. After many a confession, of love, of loss, of forgiveness, they spend the night together in a house by the ocean that Junaque has conveniently bought.

But. Georges finds them there, and tells Junaque to return with him, she has a show to do. Junaque writes Shara a note to wait for her and leaves. When she wakes up alone, Shara rejects the note – and with it, Junaque, vowing to never wait another second for her. Junaque calls the house, but no one answers. Shara is gone.

Meanwhile, the older actress who hosted the TV show, Katherine Reed, gets news of the woman she has been searching for for years, her beloved Maggie….who died three years ago.

The books ends with Broadway at 8PM, when fortunes and careers end and begin.

While not a happy little volume, this volume is *good*. Art, story, character, all good. It is admittedly a little high on the melodrama, but it’s a romance manga – it must be forgiven as a handwave. Can anyone say “soap opera?” ^_^ There’s also hardly any sign of the shoujo manga it had been. This manga is all josei. Everyone looks and acts all grown up. Seriously good art – that one scene with the posters is worth the price of admission right there, and Shara and Junaque get one blissful night together. IMHO, all quite excellent.

Ratings:

Art – 8
Story – 7
Characters – 7
Yuri – 9
Service – 3
Overall – 7

Don’t get too weepy yet, there’s even MORE melodrama to come! ^_^

Send to Kindle




Yuri Manga: Applause, Volume 1

June 25th, 2007

This is a title that has been on my “meaning to read” list for *ever*. Last month, completely by coincidence, as I was leaving that haven for used, obscure and hard-to-find manga, Book-Off, the title caught my eye from a shelf I never look at. Lo and behold! They had the complete set in reprint. So today’s review is dedicated to Wendy, who kept ragging on me to read it.

And here we are, at the first volume of classic Yuri manga Applause by Ariyoshi Kyouko. which is still in print and available over at Amazon JP. If you’re really into shoujo manga, you may recognize the mangaka’s name as the author of Swan, which is now out in an English-language edition.

Applause begins at St. Maria’s, a private Catholic school in Belgium. The two stars of the school are Junaque, a relative of the Belgian royal family and Shara, a Japanese transfer student. Shara is tall, athletic, boyish; while Junaque, two years her elder, is sensual and attractive. Both are tops in their classes in studies and both are a little bit mischievous. They are roommates despite the differences in their ages and it is widely known that they share a bed much of the time. They are also about to star in the school play which is supposed to be the typical annual Christmas pageant, but in secret (along with all the rest of the girls) they have been preparing another, scandalously racy play. It is the tragic love story of Manon Lescaut. It’s a pretty shocking play and all of the school, sans the teachers who are out of the loop, is excited and titillated about the kiss scenes between the two school stars.

Early on, their relationship comes under fire; from jealous schoolmates, teachers and administration. When challenged to kiss in front of everyone, Junaque launches into her lines as Manon and she and Shara, as the Chevalier Grieux, kiss. But where for Junaque it appears to be all in a day’s work, for Shara, it is clearly more.

The story, which is VERY detailed and long and which I am cruelly synopsising here, follows the two as the play approaches. We can see that Shara is very in love with Junaque, and it appears that her feelings are returned but, even though they do have a very close relationship and do share a bed, they never approach the matter that lays so heavily between them. We also learn that Junaque is affianced to her cousin Georges, who we instantly dislike because of his condescending body language, snarky comments and smoking habit.

On the day of the pageant, in front of teachers, administrators, relatives, alumna, they perform the play. Of course there is an immediate outcry, but somehow they are allowed to continue. During the performance, they rewrite the lines to more closely reflect their own true feelings of love, something that thrills and shocks the audience no end. When the play is over, Junaque approaches Shara, confesses her love and kisses her, for the first time as herself. Shara, horrified by her own feelings, rejects Junaque, shutting her friend out completely. It isn’t until Junaque withdraws into herself and stops talking to Shara that she realizes what a horrible mistake she’s made. But it is too late – Junaque won’t talk to her and Shara knows that she’s done something terrible to both of them. Junaque leaves school, and Shara, without a word. Shara sees her beloved play a concert, but can’t approach her. She collapses into hysterics.

To escape from herself and from Junaque’s absence, Shara leaves upon graduation and goes to New York City where she will become a famous dancer. (I have to admit, that seemed really weird to me – she played tennis and acted…you’d think…anyway….)

In New York she ends up with a troupe full of “colorful” people, as they say, complete with gay men Gerald and Alfie, who run a theater. Shara is attending college and dance lessons, but steadfastly refuses to join the actors, even when the leading lady goes missing and they BEG her to. She refuses flatly and the show has to refund the ticket costs and close. At one point, as they beg, she shouts that she’ll never go on stage again! – which comes a total shock to all her friends, who had no idea that she ever acted in the first place. In between many passages where Shara is mistaken for a gay boy, it turns out that someone in the audience claimed that they they didn’t refund the ticket price and the police show up. Gerald resists, and Shara punches a cop which lands them both in jail. She admits that she was on stage previously, but doesn’t tell Gerald why she won’t act anymore.

Because of bail, and the show closing, the theater loses their space and has all their equipment repossessed. They need 5000 dollars to pay it all back. 5000 dollars!?! End of volume

Okay, so bottom line – there’s two completely different stories here. One, the school arc, which ends tragically. The arc that begins in New York is like a completely different manga, with a different art style and a totally different tone. But don’t worry, the two arcs intersect again later. I admit that, when I finished the volume I was bit “huh?” and went back to see if I had missed something. Also, at this point, I was a bit apprehensive that I’d find myself wrapped up in a Claudine-like story, in which Shara goes through tragic affair after tragic affair with women. But no worries on that account – which isn’t to say that there aren’t any worries coming up. ^_^

In terms of art, I think the story suffers a bit from being shoved into A4 format. It’s really too small to make out some of the details and all the dialogue gets squished together on the page. It just tires one’s eyes out. The art is *very* classic shoujo manga, with all that entails, like “shock!!” eyes. Shara is drawn adult, masculine, girly, young, as the scene requires and Junaque is mostly drawn with Miya-sama-esque bearing and expressions. My favorite pieces of art are when they are both drawn like the young women that they are supposed to be. When we reach the end of the school arc, Shara is consistently shown as more grown up, and also more masculine, although she never once tries to “pass.” Nonetheless, as they are clearly in the Village, she ends up being mistaken for a boy all the time. Which pretty much freaks her out every time it happens. You’d think she’d get used to it.

Did I like it? Yeah, I think so. I was concerned that the story would be unremitting tragedy, without the over-the-topness that made Maya’s Funeral Procession work for me, but the story really matures as it goes along. It starts off with that oh-so-stereotypical hothouse of the Catholic school, but moves off after we hit New York into something much hipper, much more adult and more whimsical without losing the sense of drama. This series has enough angst for the emo-est of teens, but also has some moments of genuine fun – and shows some glimpses of good writing from time to time. Unlike Wendy, I don’t consider classic shoujo to be the only worthy genre, but Applause makes a much-appreciated break from the shounen fare I’ve been watching and reading recently.

Ratings:

Art – *so* shoujo – 7
Story – 7
Characters – 6
Yuri – 9
Service – 3
Overall – 7

This story is full of the usual tropes of shoujo and josei storylines and characters. It’s not original (not even for it’s time) but it is a very decent example of the breed.

Send to Kindle