The Best Sports Manga You’re Not Reading: Shoujo Fight

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Shoujo Fight by Nihonbashi Yoko (released in English as Shojo Fight) is my favorite volleyball manga. Yes, even more than Haikyu!!, and even more than Attack No. 1. The series is great in so many different ways, but I think the key is how it manages to succeed at being both a story about volleyball and a story with volleyball in it. The drama is compelling on- and off-court, and the characters’ continued growth in both arenas feels both organic and satisfying.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about this manga, but after 16 volumes released in English digitally by Kodansha, I realized I’ve ever written a proper review to talk about why I love Shoujo Fight so damn much. Now I’m here to correct that oversight.

Shoujo Fight is the story of Oishi Neri, who we first meet as a second-stringer on the prestigious Hakuunzan Middle School Girls’ Volleyball Team. Although she may seem unfit for the sport, it’s soon revealed that she’s on the bench not for a lack of talent, but because she voluntarily chooses to hold herself back for fear of alienating her teammates. Volleyball has been her way to cope with major trauma in her life, but the intensity with which she plays drives others away.  After Neri is mistakenly kicked off the team due to a supposed sex scandal, she is unable to join Hakuunzan’s high school division and instead ends up at Kokuyoudani High: a school infamous for its heelish misfits. However, it’s only by joining their volleyball team that Neri begins to find teammates who will accept her flaws, help her overcome them, and even recognize when they’re actually strengths.

Neri alone would be enough to carry the series and keep me hooked, but I can’t emphasize enough that the entire cast of characters is incredibly strong and memorable, from major to minor figures. Not only do they have outstanding personalities that rarely come across as one-note, but they develop in interesting ways too. As players, their strengths and weaknesses on the court give hints as to how they approach the game and how they function within teams, but Shoujo Fight also explores how these qualities within the context of volleyball are but fragments of whole human beings with thoughts, feelings, fears, and dreams.

Aside from Neri, the best example of character growth in Shoujo Fight is Odagiri Manabu, a nerdy girl who starts off as an old classmate of Neri’s more interested in drawing manga in class, and who looks up to Neri for her inner strength. She eventually joins Kokuyoudani’s team just to try it out, and though an absolute novice in every way possible, the senior members of the team see something in Manabu. Her personal traits of kindness, thoughtfulness, and sense of imagination gradually translate into volleyball and take her on the path to becoming a great setter.

My favorite character by far, though, is captain Inugami Kyouko. As Kokuyodani’s premier setter and master strategist, her coming onto the court spells trouble for the other team every time. However, her lack of stamina (due to being asthmatic) means she can only provide a temporary boost. Not only does this make for exciting moments, but she is shown to purposely based her play styler around being a shot in the arm. More importantly, though, she is a practical jokester par excellence whose masterful trolling is also a result of skills honed due to the limitations of her physical condition. Her mischievous personality combined with her keen game sense means that she can swing from serious to silly and back, and it never feels out of place. Though, that’s not actually something exclusive to Kyouko—Shoujo Fight as a whole does a great job of expressing both the dramatic and comedic at once. 

When I say that it manages to somehow both be about volleyball and simply include it, what I mean is that the sport can act both as background and foreground depending on which storyline is involved. When it’s about team rivalries or maybe animosity between two players, then the game of volleyball and all its quirks are front and center. When familial political maneuvering is happening and characters are caught up in it, then volleyball becomes the backdrop through which the drama plays out. They’re two sides of the same coin, and often it’s hard to tell what’s heads and what’s tails. For example, while Shoujo Fight doesn’t really have “antagonists” per se, one character introduced later is basically a woman with deep pockets and a lot of clout whose desire to build stronger national volleyball teams sees her going as far as to manipulate families into arranged marriages for both political convenience and to create super athletes. Shoujo Fight never feels like merely an ad for volleyball or the power of friendship in volleyball, but it’s also not above celebrating these concepts.

Shoujo Fight is, in essence, a manga where a variety of dueling contradictions come together to make something greater than the sum of its parts. Its energy is pure and innocent, yet also down and dirty. Its storylines and characters can be filled with ennui yet lighthearted as it gets. High school feels like Neri and the others’ entire world but also just a temporary stop in life. Shoujo Fight is all things, and it’s a world that’s both amazingly accessible and remarkably deep. 

The Transformation of Time from Manga to Anime

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How much does time pass when the mighty Star Platinum punches an enemy Stand in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure? There are many factors to consider, such as how much time has passed in the show itself, as well as how time is being manipulated within the series’ universe itself. Another important element is the fact that the anime is an adaptation of a manga, where the flow of time is abstracted by manga’s existence as a 2-D paper medium.

As far back as Tetsuwan Atom, adaptations of manga have been a common mode of anime production. Manga act as a spring of new stories to present, and the jump from the comic book format to animation opens up many opportunities. An anime can try to forget its own path through interpretation or divergence from the manga (such as both the Ghost in the Shell films and Stand Alone Complex), or they can faithfully attempt to recreate what exists in the original. However, while the latter cases might often appear to be “direct transplants” of the manga to the screen, the act of having to take a physical and spatial image such as a panel and assign to it a finite amount of time can greatly change the impact of a given scene in spite of the desire for faithfulness to the source material.

In a general sense, having to time dramatic beats for an anime often requires playing around with the contents of the manga. For example, in an episode of Dragon Ball Z, filler sequences (such as the infamous minutes-long powering up spots) not only save budget, but can also be a way to make sure the episode ends on a cliffhanger. On a broader multi-episode scale, Initial D: Fourth Stage does something similar by reversing the order of the final two opponents. Originally, the manga has protagonist Takumi race against a man known as “God Hand,” while his teammate Keisuke races against “God Foot” afterward. In order to make sure the series ends with a climactic battle for its hero, the show has God Foot go first instead.

One consequence of this is that there can be moments when a series feels as if it’s dragging. Sometimes it’s successfully padded out or rearranged so that nothing feels particularly off, but in other instances it is possible to sense an uneven rhythm or pacing.

This notion also extends to the transform of panels into time. Consider that there is generally no specific amount of time that is said to pass in a given panel in manga, or indeed comics in general. What makes a panel feel “fast” or “slow” is partially about how long one’s eyes linger on a panel, and it’s dependent on the amount of content there and the flow of the page. But because time exists differently in manga, things that seemingly pass quickly on the page take much longer on the screen.

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A common example of this would be the frantic explanations of special moves in an action or sports series. Because we tend to read more quickly than we speak, it is possible to believe that an elaborate speech or thought is being made within the span of a ball being passed from one player to the next. However, commit that to concrete time in an anime, and suddenly you begin to wonder why no one is doing anything as they talk for 30 seconds. To appreciate those moments, it requires a viewer to understand that time portrayed is not literal. This is the case even with series not adapted from anime. It does not “really” take Voltes V two or three minutes to combine together, or for Erika to become Cure Marine.

So when what is a single, snappy panel in manga gets stretched out into an extended scene in an anime, it can dramatically effect how a person can feel about a particular title. I find this to especially be the case with comedy series. Take Azumanga Daioh, a four-panel series. In the manga, there will be a comedic moment that lasts for only one or two panels, such as Sakaki rolling on the floor while holding a wild Iriomote cat. In the anime, this becomes a full-on extended display of non-stop rolling with musical accompaniment. A small moment becomes a big one thanks to time. A more recent title would be Nichijou, where the staccato presentation of the manga’s gags are the equivalent of sharp, quick jabs. In anime form, however, the characters’ movements are exquisitely animated and exaggerated, and the result is a series that is in a way much more physical and almost “luscious” in a sense. While the Nichijou anime pretty much takes things directly from the manga, the two turn out to be pretty different experiences.

My belief is that the unusual handling of the (broadly speaking) space-to-time transition of manga to anime is a likely culprit of why someone might love a manga but hate its anime (or vice versa!) even if the adaptation process is largely faithful. It’s kind of like when an actor is cast in a movie based on a book; what was once a nebulous image reliant upon visual/mental interpretation becomes a little more solid and finite.

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‘Tis the Seasoning: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for December 2016

Is it December already?! It actually feels like I just got done writing the update for November, and now we’re at the end of the year. Much love to all of my sponsors on Patreon for being with me for the entire year!

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Alex

Diogo Prado

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Yoshitake Rika fans:

Elliot Page

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

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November was the 9th anniversary of Ogiue Maniax, so I wrote my thoughts on how the blog’s been going and where I think it’ll head next. I’ve since reflected a bit further on what I said there. While I primarily look at Ogiue Maniax as a place to share thoughts and ideas, I think I’ve been a little sparse in terms of denser, heavier content as of late. I’m looking to write better and with greater insight as I move forward, but also balancing it out with shorter, lighter posts, much like a three-course meal.

It was a long time coming, but I finally posted my feelings on the dismissal of Precure as insignificant because it’s not Sailor Moon. As a fan of both I feel like this is a recurring issue, and I hope that magical girl enthusiasts and just anime watchers in general can come to appreciate Precure better.

I also began my pseudo-series of posts about characters I love, with Inukami Kyouko from the volleyball manga Shoujo Fight. As Ogiue Maniax was built on a foundation of character appreciation, I felt that it was kind of a nice return to my roots, so to speak.

This month’s Patreon-sponsored post sees me tackle the third season of Aikatsu!, which passes the baton from heroine Hoshimiya Ichigo to young upstart Oozora Akari. I mostly talk about the idea of switching protagonists and how the series handles it.

Finally, I want to give attention to something I wrote the day before the US presidential election. Even after all the chaos that has ensued, I want people to read it and perhaps take it to heart. I think it is all too easy to want to silence others if one believes others to simply be hateful and ignorant, but that merely creates greater animosity in my opinion. It’s ostensibly an anime-related post because I talk about Legend of the Galactic Heroes!

Look forward to the rest of December’s posts! I’ve got a new Anime Secret Santa review on the way, my annual “best characters of the year” post, and more!

I Heart Volleyball Captain Inugami Kyouko

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I recently found another favorite manga character: Inugami Kyouko from the volleyball manga Shoujo Fight by Nihonbashi Yoko. As captain of the Kokuyodani Girls’ Volleyball Team, she’s a trusted leader whose insight and sense of caring for her teammates are as impressive as her talent for the game itself. However, she’s also a huge troll always eager to set up a practical joke, and having those qualities all wrapped up into a single awesome package is what wins me over as a fan and admirer.

Looks-wise, Inugami has deeply piercing eyes, a limber physique, and almost always sports a grin that belies her fondness for ribbing others. It’s that smile which draws my attention most of the time. This is because it’s either setting up a moment where she’ll do something out of the kindness of her heart for one of her teammates, or is the precursor to one of her pranks. The fact that it’s hard to tell which is which is part of the thrill of her character.

Inugami’s jokes come in two forms. The first is a verbal quip, where she’ll nonchalantly comment about something that embarrasses one of her teammates. For example, when their new coach puts the entire team on a fast, one of the other girls comments that it shouldn’t be necessary because all of them are in good shape and can hardly be called overweight. Inugami then suddenly appears behind them to try and correct them: one of her fellow third-years has trouble keeping off the weight. For her trouble, she gets smacked upside her head. This isn’t to say that I think fat jokes are funny, but rather that Inugami’s delivery is where the humor lies.

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The second joke type is a prop gag. Inugami’s hobby is constructing items and scenarios that will aid her trickster attitude. She’ll paint a basketball to look like a volleyball and then try to deceive the first-year students into playing with it. She’ll make an entire fake souvenir gift box of volleyball mascot manjuu. She constructs round tables in the vein of King Arthur’s. Once, she even tried to get the girls to play a game in a pool just because it’d be funny. In most cases, she again usually gets socked for her efforts.

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If there are any characters I might compare Inugami Kyouko to, it would actually be a mix of Miyako from Hidamari Sketch, who similarly makes weird objects that no one else would think up, and Mai from Nichijou, who is the most supreme troll in existence. The fact that she ends up being the “boke” to other characters’ “tsukkomi” roles is what I think keeps her charming. She isn’t really getting away with her trollish behavior, so she never feels cruel. If anything, Inugami it speaks to a kind of strange innocence in her character, that she’s always interested in having fun.

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Awesome Manga Artist Autographs: Comic Store Wonderland in Osaka

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In many big anime/manga stores in Japan, there are signed images from notable manga authors. Often times, you’re not allowed to photograph them, so they can’t really be shared with the rest of the world. One notable exception is Wonderland in Osaka’s Den Den Town (sort of the Kansai equivalent of Akihabara), where employees gave me free rein.

This gallery includes a number of highlights from Wonderland, so see if you can spot your favorites. However, it doesn’t show all of the ones at the store. If you have the chance, go there in person to see the rest!

By the way, the image above is by Nihonbashi Yoko, who I recently discovered through the manga Shoujo Fight. What a coincidence!

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The Manga That Looks Like OEL (But That’s Okay!): Shoujo Fight

In the past, I’ve written about “OEL manga,” English-language comics inspired by the manga style, in an attempt to find out why OEL manga often end up looking not quite like what typically comes out of Japan. I’ve brought up ideas such as screentone usage and how it often looks like artists try to draw “anime” comics instead of “manga” comics. It’s not a bad feature, and there are plenty of good comics that are inspired by manga without looking like it, but it’s just fun to try and figure out why things don’t look “right,” so to speak.

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Recently, however, I’ve come across a manga called Shoujo Fight by Nihonbashi Yoko, and even though it’s drawn by a Japanese person for a Japanese audience, to me it looks very similar to OEL manga. It’s to the extent that, if you had given me a page from Shoujo Fight translated and told me someone from Kansas drew it, I might very well have believed you.

Shoujo Fight is a volleyball manga published in the magazine Evening (sister to Genshiken‘s Monthly Afternoon and the popular Weekly Morning). Its story follows a girl named Ooishi Neri, who holds back a fiery passion for volleyball due to a traumatic event in her past. Beginning from 2012 it ran for 12 volumes, and it’s overall just a solid sports manga with a large variety of interesting female characters with equally diverse body types.

Now, I want to emphasize that, when I compare it to OEL manga that I do not mean that as an insult, and in fact I really enjoy Shoujo Fight‘s art style. Nevertheless, it does leave me wondering… why does Shoujo Fight look to me like OEL manga? I think there are a number of interrelated reasons.

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First, the creator, Nihonbashi Yoko, has a very design-oriented and graphic style that’s conducive to posters, symbols, and logos. When looking at her official blog, there’s a lot of work along those lines, and I think she’s very good at it.

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Second, Shoujo Fight is clearly drawn digitally, and I think (whether it’s accurate or not) that I associate “western” renditions of anime and manga with the rise of tablets and digital comics in general. The line work is very smooth and sleek, completely devoid of pen or pencil textures, and I find that a lot of Deviantart artists tend to work similarly.

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Third, the way Nihonbashi draws eyes often times feels closer to what I’d find in a North American or European comic. In fact, to me the way that the heroine Neri’s eyes are drawn reminds me strongly of the girls from the Italian comic (turned French animation) W.I.T.C.H. or even those of a Disney heroine. I think this becomes especially noticeable when a character has her eyes closed part-way, because the particular shape of the eyes and eyelids are not so common in manga.

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With Shoujo Fight and its art style is compared to the typical manga, it’s fascinating to me how the idea of “manga” continues to be challenged from both within its primary industry and from the outside. And if you want to see more of her work, follow the creator of Shoujo Fight on Twitter.

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