Let’s Dance a Waltz
ワルツのお時間 (Waltz no Ojikan)
Shoujo – Romance, sports, drama
3 Volumes (complete)
Kodansha Comics USA
Tango is one of the coolest kids at his middle school. However, he doesn’t want anyone to know his family runs a dance school. Meanwhile, shy, overweight Hime wants to change. Her first step: dance lessons! Will Tango’s image be ruined? Will Hime change? And why does Tango refuse to go back to the world of dancesport?
(Note that the characters’ names tend to have accent marks, but I’m dropping them for simplicity.)
Take the time and/or money you would have spent to read this manga and instead request Kodansha Comics USA bring over Ballroom e Youkoso for an excellent dance manga or something like The Cherry Project for a short romance series between potential sports partners.
Seriously, there’s not much more to say. But I’ll try anyway.
So I’ll first start with the biggest “elephant in the room” with this manga: Hime’s weight loss. While Hime’s starting weight is never given, she does state she loses 20 kilograms (44 pounds) in a little over two weeks. As most people know, this is quite unrealistic if not almost impossible. While plump protagonists are pretty uncommon (especially in visual media), it’s disappointing to see a visually unique heroine quickly become a typical one. I’m typically not big on beauty transformation manga because of the all-too-common “remove your glasses and you too can stop guys in the streets”-type antics, but it’s almost worse here when a huge struggle for many people is just dismissed in a couple of panels of “oh, it happened, not important”. If Ando was just going to make her lose so much weight in basically one chapter, she should have just made Hime shoujo skinny to start with. Some have argued that showing weight-loss is a good thing. Of course it is! What’s not good is treating like 2-3 pounds a day is simple and natural.
But moving on.
Let’s Dance a Waltz is rated T, pretty typical for a Nakayoshi series in the US. Unfortunately, by the time readers get to this age, they will have a lot more options — better options. The fact this is rated T just shows how sensitive companies (not just manga companies) are over ratings nowadays. They’d rather rate it higher to avoid some parents throwing a fit. Seriously, Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame would never be rated G in today’s environment. And in comparison, this is far more suited to be G than that movie. No swearing, no violence, and no sexual situations (not even a kiss). I guess the most objectionable scenes are one “drop dead” early in the manga and a few quick shots of Hime being touched/squeezed by Sumire. If I had kids, I wouldn’t blink twice about one of them reading this several years below the “recommended” age of 13+.
Now on to the actual story. As this is a three-volume series, Let’s Dance a Waltz goes through the usual sports manga arcs in quick fashion: the discovery of the sport, meet the rivals, and the official “team up”. Of course, since this is a shoujo, there’s the love square that shapes all of these events. The second volume features an eye-rolling scene that is supposed to show Hime’s dedication to Tango and does little to add to the story, but the third volume is the weakest. The big twist is likely to be the least surprising reveal ever to older readers, and the second half of the book is dominated by a dance camp arc with very little dancing. The romance is left open. This is a nice change of pace from manga where people meet their soul mate in school, but Let’s Dance a Waltz is likely going to disappoint readers looking for a cute love story. The destiny aspect is far more important for the dancesport aspect rather than the romance angle.
However, while I may seem very hard on this series, there is a bright spot: the characters, especially Yusei and Sumire. These two are Tango (the male lead’s) childhood friends, and while they act as rivals, they are perhaps the nicest sports rivals ever. Yusei wants nothing more than to have Tango back in the world of competitive dance. Sumire is very supportive of Hime and is thrilled to finally have a female dancing friend her age. Both carry complicated feelings (realistic for children at that age), but neither try to sabotage or interfere with the strange love triangle/square they find themselves in. Tango is also very relatable, as tweens and teens are constantly worrying about being cool. He (as well as Yusei and Sumire) never once negatively comment on Hime’s appearance. Hime still has her self-esteem issues, but she does take steps forward. I found her feelings for Tango a little rushed, but this is happening a lot in shoujo manga.
Let’s Dance a Waltz is done in Ando’s typical style. Her art is very clean, crisp, and light. Screentones are used effectively, but neither they nor inking never dampen the manga’s cheerful tone. The character designs are, of course, similar to Ando’s characters from Kitchen Princess, Arisa, and her other series, but fortunately they all still look unique and not just clones. The author’s notes show Ando did a lot of research into dancing, and this shows in all the ballroom sequences. The characters all enjoy dancing, and it really shows through the happy and satisfied expressions in their faces.
Honorifics are used. No guide is given, which is a little surprising considering this the young target demographic. Accent marks are used to help in pronunciation. For instance, the main character’s name is written as “Himé”. I am usually not a fan of this practice because it affects the lettering. Since the font is on all capitals, the accent marks in Hime’s and Sumire’s names often have to be moved or adjusted in order to not mix with other text. This results in the letter “e” often looking like it has some weird-looking horn. Sometimes it looks like the text directly above has an extra comma. Translation notes are included in the first two volumes (nothing is needed in the third). The notes included are pretty detailed, even suggesting reasons why a certain dance is considered harder for Japanese people. Otherwise, since the main characters in this manga are all middle schoolers and, more importantly, around the age of the target audience, this is a pretty straightforward adaptation.
Seriously, Ballroom e Youkoso shows the awesomeness of ballroom dancing. The Cherry Project‘s story isn’t the strongest, but at least there’s a more satisfying romance along with beautiful art. If you are looking for manga for younger readers, try something like Chi’s Sweet Home, Strobe Edge, or books in the Viz Kids or Udon Kids lines (Choco Mimi, Fairy Idol Kanon, etc.). For older readers looking for sweet or cute reads, there’s plenty out there from major titles like Cardcaptor Sakura down to hidden gems like old Tokyopop title Saint Tail.
Tokyopop released Ando’s series Zodiac PI while Del Rey (now Kodansha) released Wild @ Heart. Kodansha USA has released her titles Arisa and Kitchen Princess.