I’m not a sports person; I’ll admit that right up front. But there’s something enjoyable about sports manga. Maybe it’s the humor or the drama or the romance. Or maybe it’s just that I’d rather read about a sport than actually watch it being played. Yen Press has come out with omnibus editions (three volumes in one) of two sports titles: Dragon Girl by Toru Fujieda and Sasameke by Ryuji x Gotsubo. They’ve both got the “dramatic tension of the playing field” that readers expect from sports manga, but they also are both rather off-kilter in a sometimes-pleasing, sometimes-grating way.
Dragon Girl, vol. 1
Age Rating: T/Teen/13+
Yen Press, September 2010, ISBN 978-0-7595-3166-6
496 pages, $20.99
Rinna has always wanted to be in the cheerleading squad at Shoryu Senior High. Her father, whom she adores, was a legendary captain when the school was still all-male. But now that it’s co-ed Rinna thinks she’ll get her chance. She didn’t count on a captain who doesn’t want women on the squad. But when the student council president is bent on shutting down the squad for good, only Rinna may be able to keep it from falling apart.
Fujieda, manga-ka for the reincarnation romance manga series Oyayubihime Infinity (published by the late, lamented CMX), offers another odd school story that has romantic potential, but mostly features a lot of chaos. Classes and teachers are practically non-existent, despite the school setting. Instead the entire focus is on sports and student council activities, which can be good for readers who spend too much of their day sitting in class as it is and don’t want to read about more. But there are so many characters and so many sports teams that the story becomes rather weighted down. Readers will spend a lot of time wondering if Fujieda has an idea of where the plot is going.
That said, however, Rinna and her friends are an enjoyable lot. With the exception of one cross-dressing boy whose use of the word “fag” is both annoying and needlessly mean, most of the characters seem to have nice qualities about them, even if it can take a lot of pages for those qualities to show up. Fujieda’s art style features boys that are more than pretty enough to appeal to shojo readers, though some of the side characters look a little too similar to easily tell them apart. The action is chaotic, but in a fun way, and readers don’t have to know anything about traditional Japanese cheerleading squads to understand what is going on. It’s too bad that Yen’s translation notes are at the end of the individual volumes (buried inside the main book), rather than all together at the end of the omnibus. Overall, Fujieda’s story isn’t anything new in the world of shojo, though it is nice to see a girl’s sports manga for a change.
Sasameke, vol. 1
Ryuji x Gotsubo
Age Rating: OT/Older Teen/16+
Yen Press, November 2010, ISBN 978-0-7595-3182-6
496 pages, $20.99
Rakuichi was a soccer star in elementary school, before he moved to Italy for three years. Now he’s back in Japan. Is it because he washed out of soccer in Italy? Is that why he won’t play for his high school’s team? Whatever his reasons, the team is determined to get him to play. Luckily the team has two other star players–Touzan and Matsuri–but both of them are hiding their own secrets also. And what’s with crazy girl Maiko and her nutty family? Is she just weird or is she a genius inside?
Gotsubo’s manga is partly a sports story, but mostly it’s a crazed roller coaster ride of a tale that veers from logical and coherent right off the rails to insanity. The first two thirds of the omnibus volume are odd, but comprehensible. Rakuichi deals with his ambivalence about soccer; the team tries to win some games; Inae–team manager and Rakuichi’s childhood friend–drools over Touzan; Maiko is weird and beats people up. It’s all a little strange, but in a silly, fun way. Then sharks jump and things get truly odd right around the middle of chapter 12 when Maiko’s muscle bound science experiment of a mother shows up. I have no idea where Gotsubo is headed with that storyline, but for me it derailed the story completely. Things got too strange and not in a haha-funny kind of way. The plot just fell apart.
But for those who don’t mind their manga plotlines diving off a cliff partway through the series, Sasameke does offer a different take on the usual shonen sports manga. Gotsubo’s art is thin-lined and loose, sometimes detailed, but mostly seeming to have been drawn quickly and roughly. This style works well for an off-beat manga such as this and gives the story a mature, underground feel without being too far out of the mainstream. Unfortunately Gotsubo likes to put a lot of side notes and odd phrases in his art and the translations of those–along with the translations of the sound effects–means that the panels can sometimes look crowded, as if covered by lots of tiny insects. Both Gotsubo’s art and his unusual storytelling style might seem familiar to those readers who enjoyed his younger brother Masaru’s series Samurai Champloo (from TokyoPop). Fans of FLCL (by Hajime Ueba and Gainax; from TokyoPop) might also enjoy Sasameke‘s strangeness.
If you decide to purchase either of these titles, Yen’s omnibus editions are a good value. Both series are six volumes long, so they will be complete in two omnibus editions. The editions are taller than single volume manga, like Yen’s release of With the Light. At $20.99 per omnibus, libraries can get more manga for less money.
This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Yen Press.