I think one of the biggest issues in encouraging young boys to get involved with ballet is convincing them that it is ‘cool’. It can be tough for boys starting ballet whilst still at school: they might experience bullying and name calling, or they may feel they have to hide what they do in their spare time. There is also (as always) simply a lack of boys dancing, which is such a shame. I think anything that can help make boys think it’s cool to dance therefore deserves a huge amount of support. Even if only the dancers themselves find it cool, it can be a great way to encourage them to be proud of being a dancer.
So before I go into a review of “Dan’s Adventure: Ballet Hero Fantasy (featuring Steven McRae)” I want to say this. If you are the parent of a young lad who dances, or if you are a boy doing ballet, then buy this! I think it is an absolutely huge step in the right direction of making ballet ‘cool’ and will be of great interest to any guys (and girls) who dance. I’ve put a link to the English translation on Amazon at the end of the post.
So what is Ballet Hero Fantasy? Well it is a ballet-themed manga (Japanese comic book) aimed at boys. There’s been ballet-themed manga in Japan for quite a few years now (check out this awesome piece by The Ballet Bag), including interviews with dancers and features in each issue, but it has been mainly for girls. When Steven McRae was in Japan performing a year or two ago, he was approached by a manga artist, Takafumi Adachi, who asked if he would be interested in working together on a manga for boys. Thus Ballet Hero Fantasy was born!
It was first released in Japan last summer, but has only recently been translated into English, so I pre-ordered a copy from Amazon which arrived a fortnight ago. Like most translations of manga it reads ‘backwards’ – you start at what would usually be the back of the book (that’s where the front cover is) and then read each page from top-right to bottom-left. Don’t worry, you get used to this very quickly!
So what is Ballet Hero Fantasy about? It follows a young boy training at a professional ballet school (the drawing looks a lot like the front of the Royal Ballet Upper School!). The young (age 11) dancer, called Dan, works really hard at all the basics but struggles with a lot of the tricky stuff. He’s picking up some homework from his school one evening when he notices McRae in a studio – before disappearing through the studio mirror! Dan follows him into “Danceworld” – a world being attacked by evil monsters who can only be beaten with awesome ballet moves. This “Act” (as each volume is called) is set in the world of the Nutcracker, and Dan teams up with McRae to rescue Clara. Future Acts will take place in different ballets – I believe the second volume is set around Swan Lake.
The artwork in this manga is truly incredible; I particularly thought the scenes where characters were dancing had so much energy (and were technically correct!), which made it really exciting to read. In fact, according to an interview between McRae and The Ballet Bag, he sent over photos (taken by the talented Andre Uspenski of the Royal Ballet) of him dancing particular moves which Takafumi then used in his drawings, which explains why they’re so realistic. Another great part of the book is that when McRae does a particularly interesting move (such as a coupé jeté en tournant) there is a short explanation under that frame of what the move is and where its name comes from – great for aspiring danseurs!
There are only a couple of downsides to the manga, the first being that it is quite short and certainly older readers will get through it in a flash. But hopefully this will be sorted out by them releasing more Acts regularly (a manga is, after all, a comic book that is meant to be released in small episodes). Also, the dialogue can be a little clunky at times (don’t know if this is the case in the Japanese version or if it is due to English translation) but I’m sure that’ll get smoothed out as more volumes are released and translated. All in all this is a pretty awesome little book that promises to simply get better and better as more issues are released.
In all honesty, I don’t think I should have called this blog post a “review”. Instead it is more of a plea for people to buy this. I think it’s a truly fantastic thing and I can’t recommend it enough. I’m encouraging people as much as I can to check it out, not least so that it gets enough interest to allow for more issues will be released. Who knows, maybe an animated TV series could follow! It was great to see it being featured recently at the Prix de Lausanne, with a poster/stand – hopefully places like the Royal Opera House shop and Bloch will start stocking copies for sale.
If you want to get a copy of Ballet Hero Fantasy from Amazon then you can click on the little widget below. It’s an Amazon affiliate link, which means that it will look just like the regular Amazon site for you (and will cost exactly the same!), but Amazon will give me a small percentage of the sale which I can then put back into this site (I’ve got some exciting plans!). If you would prefer just to buy from the regular Amazon site (that’s totally fine!) I’ve included the link below the widget.
(Regular Amazon Link)
Until next time, keep on dancing!