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Danza Manga Review

4 min read

DanzaThis collection of character-focused stories is a real treat — if you’re into that sort of thing.

Creative Staff:
Story/Art: Natsume Ono
Translation/Adaptation: Mari Morimoto

What They Say:
A collection of six heartwarming short stories, Danza explores friendship, father/son relationships, a bond between brothers, and a rekindling of old acquaintances. Join Ivo as he journeys to Italy to reconnect with his papa. Travel back in time to see Ralph reconnect with his father. Watch as a German-American, Hol, attempts to bond with his Japanese father-in-law, and more!

Content: (please note that the content portion of a review may contain spoilers):
Much like her manga Tesoro, Danza is a collection of unrelated short stories by Natsume Ono. Ono does some globe trotting in these stories, hopping from Italy to America to Japan to give readers quick glances into different characters’ lives. A son shows up to his estranged father’s winery to help with the harvest and struggles to reconnect; a time traveller goes back to fulfill his father’s dying wish; an American strives to become friends with his Japanese father-in-law; an Italian police officer bemoans his summer post; two brothers trapped in a collapsed building finally reveal their true feelings; and a new detective wonders if he can trust his partner as rumors fly around.

No surprise to those familiar with Ono’s other work, the stories in Danza have a persistent melancholy, almost sad feeling to them. Everyone struggles to understand each other, getting annoyed and upset, putting on happy faces, or just choosing to not say anything at all about it. This could be frustrating, and boring, to some readers, but this is a great look at they way characters really work and interact, showing the small changes and growths that can occur in a person. And while the despondency may get you down, that just makes it easier for your heart to lift when there’s some little victory, like when a father acknowledges, in a roundabout way, that he appreciates his son and wants him to return. Not the most happy-go-lucky tales you’ll read, but neither are they utterly depressing.

There’s some levity in the stories as well — a Japanese man finally gets along with his giant American son-in-law by sitting on his shoulders like a child, and a police officer receives sweet, cold revenge for his childhood taunting of an older cop with gelato. While nothing here is laugh-out-loud funny, these moments mix with the more melancholy pieces, creating a nice balance in the storytelling.

Ono has an excellent sense of timing when it comes to ending her stories. All of them seem to end at just the moment when a character has grown, or had their epiphany. “Memories of the Lake” concludes just as a dying man finally recovers his one important memory of his father. A man sees his brother’s calm persona cover up his inner anger, and he watches him walk away with a trail of cigarette smoke at the end of “Smoke.” While many other writers may have expanded the story to make the point clear, Ono keeps it simple and allows the dialogue and images to speak for themselves.

Danza keeps up Ono’s distinct art style, with large drooping eyes and swooping, effortless lines that give the art a comfortable, soothing look. Characters look a little more cartoony here than in Ono’s other manga, with heads that are often too large and sometimes seem to morph from panel to panel, but it doesn’t do much to affect the often melancholy feel of the stories. Backgrounds are minimal, but don’t feel empty as many other manga with simple backdrops do. Instead, Ono seems to strive to fill her environment with only what is necessary — chairs, a desk, a bookshelf. And the simplicity doesn’t mean she doesn’t care for detail, as she takes care to recreate real places like Giolitti, a real gelato shop that appears in ” The Gelateria and the Carabinieri”, and gives precise details to objects important to the characters, like the father’s crafting supplies in “Diorama”.

In Summary:
Most of the readers who would care about Natsume Ono’s work are already familiar with her through the other one-shots and series published by Viz, and those fans will certainly enjoy this book — I personally was thrilled to crack open the book and read it all at once. Of course, her mild storytelling and droopy-eyed heroes aren’t going to excite everyone, even less in this group where there’s no bigger goal than getting your father-in-law to visit your home. It can be frustrating to watch these characters constantly misunderstand each other, feeling unloved or inferior because of it — but that just makes it all the more satisfying when they finally connect, or at least see the truth, in the end. So for those who love conversations and glimpsing through a window into the life of a character, Danza is an entertaining, satisfying book.

Content Grade: A
Art Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Text/Translation Grade: A-

Age Rating: 13+

Released by: Kodansha Comics
Release Date: December 4, 2012
MSRP: $12.99