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A Rival of Her Own: Odagiri Manabu vs. Amamiya Maya in Shoujo Fight

Shortly after I reviewed the first 16 volumes of the manga Shoujo Fight (or Shojo Fight), Volume 17 was released in English. I normally wouldn’t write about the same series after just one volume, but the introduction of an antagonistic character named Amamiya Maya has set off a compelling rivalry. However, rather than with the protagonist, Oishi Neri, the rivalry is between Amamiya and Neri’s best friend, Odagiri Manabu.

Many sports manga revel in the relationships between side characters, Shoujo Fight included, but up until recently, Manabu’s have been more about developing friendships—and one romance. This has all changed with the appearance of Amamiya, and what makes this particular rivalry stick out in my mind is the way it brings out a fiery side of Manabu that is also true to her otherwise gentle demeanor.

Amamiya is the captain of another volleyball team, but she also went to the same elementary school as Neri and Manabu. She’s essentially a narcissistic sociopath with a knack for social engineering, and she uses this skill to both manipulate her unwitting allies and extort her enemies. As young children, Manabu was on the receiving end of Amamiya’s exploitative actions while also being resistant to them—her caring and genuine heart the total opposite of Amamiya’s. In current times, Manabu is shown to instinctively recognize Amamiya’s tactics, and she bristles at the way the latter controls her teammates. Amamiya also has an obsession with mirroring Neri that contrasts Manabu’s own complementary bond with Neri, setting them up as “equals” of sorts. 

As of Volume 17, Amamiya’s facade is starting to slip, but it’s notable that this isn’t solely because of Manabu’s actions. Other characters, including older ones with more life experience, are starting to call out Amamiya’s actions and behavior, and the cumulative effect between them and Manabu might be the key to breaking the sociopath’s hold on her teammates. I’m eagerly anticipating Volume 18 to see how this all turns out.

Rise of the Dojo Dojikko: Mabataki Yori Hayaku!!

“Schoolgirls engaging in team tournaments” is a fairly specific yet common premise in manga that I really enjoy. Whether it’s a beloved series like Bamboo Blade or underdogs canceled early like Haru Polish and Hana Kaku, I’m always up for stories in this vein. On top of that, I’ve also found a casual interest in reading up on and researching martial arts in recent years. So when I saw Mabataki Yori Hayaku!! (Faster than a Blink!!), a manga about a girls’ sport karate club with cute art and solid action, it immediately felt like something right up my alley.

Kohanai Himari, a perpetually clumsy girl with a caring heart, is inspired to join her school’s karate club after a girl retrieves Hima’s umbrella from a guy who swiped it on a rainy day. Everyone—including Himari herself— thinks she’s a hopeless case, but the club’s veterans notice that there might be more to Himari than meets the eye. While she’s lacking in athleticism, knowledge, and experience, Himari has unusually sharp and perceptive vision—an X-factor that might turn her untapped potential into something more.  

I’ve read four volumes so far, and one thing I really like about Mabataki Yori Hayaku is how slowly and gradually Himari improves, and how she isn’t just an overnight sensation. Not only are there girls physically more capable than she is, most are also more practiced and dedicated. She still feels very much like the underdog in all situations, and not the shounen hero kind who will pull out their secret technique and turn it all around. But the manga shows how her initial hesitant steps into the world of karate get larger and larger—as her enthusiasm grows, the confidence shows in her body.

The other characters also range from endearing to entertaining to compelling, whether it’s clubmates or rivals. The club president is a surprisingly rough-and-tumble sort who loves karate but has family issues with her sister. Another girl in the club, the razor-toothed and twin-tailed Izawa Sora, has both experience and a disdain for those who don’t take karate seriously, a feeling that we eventually learn hits all too close to home. A couple of characters from other schools see Himari’s latent potential, and they want to bring it out. No one seems boring so far, though one girl is the requisite “explain for the newbies” character, and there are times (especially when their hair is down) that it can become difficult to distinguish between characters. However, the characters are still generally expressive and memorable.

The artwork itself also goes a long way in conveying that character charm, especially when it comes to the portrayal of karate itself. There’s a dramatic sense of action that exaggerates just enough without feeling like it’s parodying sport karate, which is about landing light hits in a points-based system, unlike full-contact karate. The author, Funatsu Kazuki, actually has more experience drawing horny titles, though that largely doesn’t factor into the art in Mabataki Yori Hayaku!!—kind of tough when literally every girl is in a baggy gi. That said, the thirst does occasionally shine through, especially in the high kicks.

As for the decision to use sport karate instead of full-contact, it reminds me of the criticism sport karate can get for not being like a “real fight.” But this is actually depicted as an appealing quality, and it’s one of the reasons gentle Himari decides to take up karate in the first place. This is a series about competition, but no one wants to prove they’d win on the streets. 

Whether Himari grows into a champion or not, following her journey is entertaining and uplifting. Now, if only this series doesn’t end too early. 

Swish! Swoosh! Basketball Isn’t Just for Guys Anymore: B-Ball Goddess

The digital manga service Manga Box can be something of a game of Russian Roulette in terms of quality. Certain titles, such as Girl and Car on the Beat, I’ve found to be extremely entertaining, while others much less so. Lately, I’ve found one reason to keep coming back, and that’s B-Ball Goddess.


Known in Japanese as Basuke no Megami-sama, this manga follows a girl named Nimi Miyuki, who moves from Tokyo to Shimane Prefecture after a confession goes embarrassingly south. In Shimane, she meets the local basketball ace, Sakomizu Shou, who convinces Miyuki to join the women’s basketball team at their school. Though Miyuki is seemingly without talent, Shou is convinced that she has what it takes.

Manga about basketball is hardly new, and manga about girls playing sports even less so. However, B-Ball Goddess combines a really good understanding of how to portray cute girls with a strong sense of physicality and the excitement of a basketball game, all without resorting to especially gratuitous fanservice (most of the time) or shounen manga-esque displays of basketball super powers. For me, it’s quite telling that, in conversations with writer, comics critic, and long-time basketball fan David Brothers, he found Kuroko’s Basketball to be somewhat unbearable, but B-Ball Goddess to be solid and fun. I’m not sure if that means that all basketball fans would enjoy B-Ball Goddess, but I think that’s about as good an endorsement as it gets, short of an actual NBA player praising it.


One of the more prominent aspects of the manga is the Umpaku dialect found in Shimane and its surrounding regions, of which the most common is Izumo-ben. While Miyuki and most other girls in the series speak using standard Japanese, older characters and Shou herself utilizes the dialect.  Of course, this being a manga that’s translated into English and all, a decision must be made as to whether the English should portray this difference or ignore it entirely. No choice is inherently correct, but I do have to wonder how the translator for B-Ball Goddess decided upon their solution.

As far as I can tell, the Umpaku dialect has been replaced by a thick Irish or possibly Scottish dialect, and while this works okay for the most part, at times Shou is almost impossible to understand. Unlike in the original Japanese where kanji can help readers understand what’s really being said, English has no such luxury in general. Thankfully, for particularly obtuse terms translation notes are usually provided, though it’s not Japanese to English but rather English to English.

You can read the first chapter of B-Ball Goddess online, and the Manga Box app is free on both Android and iOS.

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What If There Was a Bodybuilding Manga?


Artist: Haepo Heidi

After having watched the famous bodybuilding documentary Pumping Iron (1977) featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno, I think that bodybuilding might not be such a bad premise for an anime or manga series.

The reason I came to this conclusion is that there is an important performative aspect to bodybuilding competitions, and I could see this being depicted in a manner similar to a series such as Ariyoshi Kyouko’s Swan, which is about ballet, or Miuchi Suzue’s acting-themed Glass Mask. The way that both the appearance of the body and the way that posing factors in as a way to highlight one’s strengths and obscure one’s weaknesses can provide ample material to dramatize matches and for an exposition-type character (e.g. Speedwagon in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, Ryousuke in Initial D) to go into some extremely granular detail: “His arm is at 47 degrees instead of 44 degrees, causing it to look slightly bigger than it actually is!!!”

I think the real meat of a bodybuilding competition manga would be the freestyle pose-off, where bodybuilders try to make themselves look better and the other guys look worse by changing their poses in response to what the others are doing. There’s the psychology between the competitors and the psychology of how the judges are perceiving the interaction between them, and so it would perhaps be a nice way for a strategist type to psyche his opponents out. When Akagi with Muscles makes his opponent feel smaller, this could even be represented in the art by having a guy suddenly shrink down to half his actual size.

And if you want them to look freakishly muscular, just get Baki the Grappler artist Itagaki Keisuke to work his magic.

Extra points if this were a shoujo manga.

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Who Cares About Gold? “Free!”

Free! and Free! Eternal Summer spoilers below.

Whenever Free! ends, it really knows how to communicate its core values, whether it’s the original series or Eternal Summer. Ostensibly about competitive swimming, these finales basically say that, unlike so many other sports anime and manga, that winning not only isn’t everything, but it isn’t even that important in the first place.

At the end of season 1, the character Rin joins his old friends for a relay at a high school competition, revitalizing the lifelong bond he’s had with them. They swim better than they ever have before and even win the race, but run into the issue that Rin is from a different school that’s also competing at the event. The team is disqualified, but what’s emphasized here is that getting first was not the point. Rather, what they have truly achieved is strengthening their relationships with each other.

In the final episode of season 2, the main cast reaches the nationals for relay, and during the race each character has a vision of the joy of swimming. The main character, Haruka, is the last member to race, and upon entering the water sees his teammates swimming alongside him. When he reaches the finish line, everyone cheers, and we’re greeted with images of the team smiling and hugging. By all narrative and film convention, it looks as if they had won the whole thing, but later we see that they only got 6th place. They weren’t celebrating their championsip, but their accomplishments as a group. Moreover, Haruka, who throughout Eternal Summer has felt pressure over the fact that becoming a professional swimmer means having to care about trophies and times, ultimately finds that, for him, winning is merely a way to swim more, a means to an end.

Free! is geared towards a female audience. Whether it’s the well-animated flexible and muscular swimmers’ bodies on the cast, gentle yet strong personalities, or their close and sometimes tumultuous bonds, this is an anime that provides visual fanservice in a way that not even series like The Prince of Tennis or Kuroko’s Basketball could offer. Those other series, still grounded in their shounen sports manga formulas, end up emphasizing winners and losers first and foremost, but Free! is all about the relationship known as friendship, reflecting a desire to get away from the stereotypically male desire of victory through competition.

This is not to say that manga for male audiences based in competition necessarily always emphasize winning (see the manga Touch!), nor that there is no such thing as a manga for a female audience that stresses the competitive environment (Chihayafuru). However, when looking more broadly, what I find is that series that try to draw in men and boys primarily will often use friendship and teamwork as a means to victory, while series that target women and girls will do the opposite and use competition as a means to friendship and teamwork.

Sometimes targeting a demographic isn’t wholly intentional, but this is how a fanbase is formed anyway, and other times it can be hard to tell which is which. It might even flip back and forth throughout a given series. Free! doesn’t have any of that ambiguity. It knows exactly what it wants, and in the end we have to wonder for ourselves if winning is that big of a deal.

July 8th Vertical Vednesday: Sports Manga

Vertical Vednesday, courtesy of Vertical Inc and Ed Chavez, is back for another informative around. This time, the topic is a genre of manga that doesn’t achieve much success in America for a a number of reasons, Sports Manga.

Sports Manga has a very long history and some of the most beloved titles in Japan are sports-themed ones, such as Ashita no Joe, Touch, Attack No. 1, Ace o Nerae!!, Kyojin no Hoshi, and even Eyeshield 21. Also, given my previous experiences with Vertical Vednesdays, if you attend you’ll get the chance to chime in on what YOU think are the steps to getting Sports Manga accepted more readily in the US by both regular folks and manga readers.

Like last time, we’ll be meeting up at around 6 to 6:30 at Kinokuniya on 6th Ave between 41st and 40th in Manhattan, and then depending on the size of the group will either stay there or find another location nearby to sit.

Topics covered so far in previous Vertical Vednesdays are Seinen, Josei, and Yankii.

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