Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Manga-- Le Masque

I was fiddling around on the internet one day, trying to find ballet movies, when I came across a Japanese dance movie. The movie was Dance, Subaru! and was based on a Japanese manga (similar to a comic). When I was in junior high, I read lots of manga. When I think ballet manga, I think Princess Tutu or even a bit of Tokyo Mew Mew. So that got me wondering what other ballet manga was out there. So I looked it up and found quite a few series featuring ballet, but the one I first chose to read was one called Le Masque.

The series is not available/licensed in the United States. It only has two volumes with only a couple chapters each, so it's pretty short. This particular manga was released in 1994. As you can sort of guess from the title, this is a spin-off of The Phantom of the Opera. It's also mostly based on Andrew Lloyd Webber's stage version, not the original novel by Gaston Leroux.

The story (as in many manga I've read, unfortunately) feels like the writer just made it up as they went along. I've had better story games with my friends (you know the game, say three words and the next person continues the story by adding their three words). Seriously, it's so disjointed and convoluted. I'll do my best to summarize it, but I will say that I'll be less than complimentary.

*spoilers ahead*
A girl named Rina moves to a prestigious, art and drama school so that she can pursue a career in dancing. She moves in with her childhood friends, Ren and Yurij. The school is rumored to have a phantom that grants wishes, and it is also said that this phantom granted the wish of a singer, named Christine Daae, and made her a star.

The three friends are curious and go sneaking about to look for this ghost. Rina--if she does happen to find a wish-granting ghost--wants to ask the ghost to make her a ballet star. At first they find nothing, but Rina notices that her ribbon is missing. We see a cut of the Phantom tasting the "lost" ribbon or some bull like that.

Anyway, Rina wakes up and talks to some friends we won't ever see again after the first volume. They gossip about the Phantom. There's an attempt at character building with the friends. One's a non-conformist (she doesn't wear proper uniform! le gasp!), but seriously, what's the point. I'm not kidding when I say they magically disappear. After practice they gossip more about the Phantom and then hit the sack.
"This is no dream! This is really happening!"
Rina has this Roman Polanski dream sequence. I'm really confused. The Phantom summons her? There are lines blatantly stolen from ALW's POTO. The Phantom promises to teach her how to dance. But then she's in the mirror? Or her reflection starts moving on its own and it's confusing. Rina's confused. I'm confused. We're all confused. The Phantom pretty much kisses her the whole time and then......leaves.

The next day, her friends are worried about her since she's really tired. Why? Don't ask. All they did was kiss. Rina ponders if that really was the Phantom or just some strange dream. Meanwhile, we are introduced to the antagonist, Michel. Michel is a girl who is a wonderful dancer with blond hair. She's introduced early, but we don't see her for a long time. Hell, we don't even get her name yet, but here you go.
Rina is awake now? She goes to the mirror. The Phantom grabs her. They dance. They kiss. Then she's suddenly underground. The Phantom tells her his story, which has something to do with him slitting his wrists to gain the mask? He does this to seek revenge against somebody trying to take over the castle, the same one that the boarding school is now. He tells her his name is Lord Andrew. I'm saying this now because it gets damn right confusing later with the names and different Phantoms and.... something. IDK.

Why are their feet not on the same level?
Anyway, in return for making her a star, he demands blood. The mask he wears demands it. When she fights back, he tries to drag her into the mirror, but she is saved by her guy friend, Ren. The mirror shatters and Rina is safe again.

Meanwhile, the school goes on a break. Ren and Yurij say behind since Rina stays behind. Ren and Yurij have a penis envy fight and have some gay moments despite the fact they've been established as straight men. Well... for the most part. The penis envy battle goes too far when Ren threatens to break Yurij's fingers so he can't play the piano anymore. Rina intrudes and stops him, but then a nun comes and then everything is just magically all better. The nun also drops a hint that a door in the basement has been broken and warns them to be careful. For some reason, Yurij immediately connects this broken door to Rina and starts worrying about her safety.
Remember to read right to left. Click any picture for a larger image.
Suddenly we learn about this red moon mumbo-jumbo. Ren gets his period... I mean...turns into a werewolf... I mean... turns into a total ass apparently when it's his time of the month. Yurij and Ren still hit on each other and worry about each others' safety even though one just threatened to smash the other's fingers. Yurij also notices that Ren will slip out in the night and not come back until late. Gee... I wonder.

The next day, Rina meets Yurij in his piano practice room and confesses that she likes him. Ren overhears from outside the door and gets SUPER JEALOUS. But of who, I don't know. I totally thought him and Yurij were going to hook up at this point, but nope. Ren is jealous of Yurij because Ren likes Rina. They have another penis-envy battle and then the plot quickly moves along.

We learn from a random character that Ren has been going underground to meet with the Phantom, and that's where he's been going at night. Why? I don't know. But finally after learning Rina likes Yurij, he goes down there (again???) and wishes that he become Rina's Phantom and teach her how to dance....because he clearly has much more experience than her... So the Phantom, even though he expressed some interest in Rina earlier, thinks that's just fine and dandy and possesses Ren's body.

Hahaha, then, get this, Rina just gets kidnapped by some student at the school. Out of nowhere. The student brings her underground so the Phantom can sacrifice her. In return the student will get a wish granted, I guess. Unfortunately, Ren has just replaced the Phantom and doesn't exactly care to see Rina kidnapped and thrown on the cold floor. Ren slashes the guy's legs and permanently makes it so the student will never be able to dance again.

The next day, Rina awakes in her bed and cannot remember anything about the last night, but does remember that the Phantom gave her a black rose. The black rose can be used to summon him whenever she needs him.

HEY! Remember those friends from earlier? Yeah, they're still not here. Don't act surprised. Anyway, Michel makes the scene. She's pretty much just thrown on us and speaks to Rina like they are acquaintances. Michel is suspicious of Rina since she saw the kidnapper/student just before he was gruesomely injured. He told Michel that he was about to go on a date with Rina, and immediately afterward, he was injured. Michel, understandably, connects Rina to this...but then she brings up some legend about a Black-Haired Princess or something. Dear god this is when it gets really confusing.

So there are these two paintings the school has, but they've been hidden from the public as to not start an uproar or scare the students. One of the subjects is a woman with black hair, and the other is of the Phantom. Supposedly, black hair is rare in this area, and since Rina is half-Japanese, Michel jumps the gun and assumes she and this Black-Haired Princess are related. Whatever.
Rina gets upset from this encounter with Michel. Runs outside...blahblahblah. Wishes her Phantom would appear, using her black rose. They dance. Yay.

On the side, Michel does some digging and finds the paintings. She also finds the Phantom.... another one. This one has a black mask, which is, like, totally different!!!!!!!!! She makes a deal to find this new Phantom a body plus find the Black-Haired Princess. In return, she'll be turned into a boy since her father always wanted one and she wishes to please him. As Michel digs around for information, we find out that the Black-Haired Princess was apparently some sister of the Phantom (incest?) and was locked away. She's was also the twin of a blond-haired princess. Something about using her as sacrifice. Why lock her up though if you're just taking over the estate? Why is a sacrifice needed?
Somewhere in La-La Land, Ren/Phantom and Rina have a moment. It leads nowhere.

Then Michel starts telling Yurij that he is the Black Masked Phantom or something. Ends up he is, even though I feel like this black phantom just came out of nowhere. Nowhere...that's a word I've been using a lot, hasn't it? We also learn that the Black Phantom is related to the White Phantom in some way? I'm so confused; I'm not going to even bother anymore. There are two phantoms even though their personalities have changed and they now possess two boys.... oh god this is complicated.

I'm getting sick of this so let's wrap this up. If you've read this far, kudos to you. So Yurij ends up being this Black-Masked Phantom. Why? I DON'T KNOW. He's got the girl, so he shouldn't have to wish for her!!! Anyway, he and Ren/White Phantom duel. They stop fighting for a bit and agree to meet the next night to finish the fight.

Rina learns she's an incarnation of this princess?????? I don't know! She was supposed to be used as a sacrifice, but I think she was spared because she was pure of heart or something.

Next day, they duel. Rina is taken underground and used as a sacrifice. They stab her. Her blood becomes a sword. They start dueling again. The room starts to crumble. Ren brings Rina to safety, but the two phantoms die in the collapse.
The story ends with Rina forgetting everything that happened. She even forgets her friends and only has fragments of her memories with them. She decides to return to the castle to continue her career as a professional ballet dancer.

So... yeah. This wasn't bad. Oh who am I kidding... this was terrible. It was confusing and had a crap storyline. Ballet had little to nothing to do with it. I think it was only there so people wouldn't call it a retelling of POTO or something. Why did all the boys have to turn into Phantoms? What happened to the first one? If the first one liked Rina, then why did he let Ren have her? What's with this Black-Haired Princess deal? It doesn't even need to be in there! It's complex enough already!

If I haven't scared you off and you're still interested in this manga, you can't buy a translated version since this isn't serialized in the United States. Instead, you can download a fan translated version here.

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