Author: Masashiro Totsuka
Manga-ka: Aguri Igarashi
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: September 2009
Synopsis: “With the expert Tama-chan on the squad, Kojiro feels confident in his team’s chances in the upcoming kendo meet. But the match is rapidly approaching, and he’s still shy one member – not to mention getting newbie Miya and elusive Saya up to speed. With a year of all-you-can-eat sushi on the line, Kojiro’s determined to use every trick he can think of to win, but just how far is he willing to go?!”
When reading the first issue of the Yen Plus anthology, of the Japanese series I was most absorbed by Bamboo Blade. It offered a more down to earth, approachable read that complimented the general audiences vibe of the Korean and domestic series, despite it’s seinen origins. Over the course of the series it became a favourite. The serialization has ended, but Yen delivers more Bamboo Blade direct to trade paperback with this second volume.
Sports manga are often involving reads even if you‘re not a sports fan, as friends unite around a shared goal, train and fight with all their hearts in something occasionally more relatable than a supernatural epic. Bamboo Blade provides us a sports manga rooted in a more traditional Japanese athletic pursuit, the art of kendo. Similar to the western sport of fencing, it involves a harmless version of sword fighting, with many traditions and rules that we learn throughout the series.
The different levels of skills among the Kendo team allow for a mix of high level action scenes and more simplistic, explanatory moments to help ease you into the routines of the sport. In addition, short comic strips occasionally pop up between chapters to squeeze in more additional kendo info. The manga touches on aspects like stances, protective padding and the points system, helping you to follow the action while also getting some mild educational elements from the plot.
Picking up from where Bamboo Blade was serialized for its first volume, the plot continues to move along quickly in this volume as Kojiro’s students take on his sempai’s team. The cast was well-defined in the previous volume from the wacky sentai-fan/kendo genius Tama-chan to the selfish yet dedicated teacher Kojiro, and the continuing story brings more similarly pleasant, character-focused plotlines. The cast tends to lean towards comedic, though this is something that works to the manga’s advantage.
One of the more amusing elements is the relationship between Dan and MiyaMiya. Miyako is one of those girls whose personality changes around her boyfriend, a sugary sweet girl who is secretly a chain-smoking miscreant when he’s not around. This leads to a fun moment when she peeves off another student, Saya, not knowing that she is the previously unseen fourth member of the girl’s kendo squad. The creative team manages to make the characters slightly rounder personality-wise than they would otherwise be, but for the most part stick to simpler characterization, which serves the light mood of the series well. You’ll find yourself having a relaxing, involving time while learning about kendo, a read I found to be more memorable then I expected due to it’s mix of strong comedy, bits of black humour (watch out for that box cutter!) and attention to detail regarding the sport.
The art is generally tight, moving at a brisk pace typical of shonen manga. Forgoing a focus on pandering to the cute horde, it still manages to be adorable while skipping the fan service. Instead we get solid action scenes, realistic kendo costumes, and attention to backgrounds. It also manages to escape the standard Moe-style by varying design between the girls and paying attention to the male cast members designs as well. Facial expressions are often hilarious, such as Miyako’s sinister glee at realizing that inflicting violence is her favourite part of kendo, another sign that the authors are aiming for a more naturalistic depiction of teenagers.
The authors comment section reveals the artists worked from storyboards created by the writer, an interesting detail since normally artists work from a typed script. The only other writer I know of who does this is Adam Warren (normally an artist), who does layouts for his artists when functioning as a writer.
As a side note, I recently read in a report from Square Enix (regarding their anime productions) that Bamboo Blade was aimed primarily at male Japanese fans aged 35 to 40. Much like some have said Yotsuba&! is actually a manga about what it’s like to raise a 5 year old, I wonder if Bamboo Blade is routed in what it’s like to be a teacher. Kojiro’s role is larger then you’d usually expect for a teacher, which backs up my suspicions. However, no worries, as the series generally takes an approach suitable for all audiences, so there are no questionable Moe-moments. Instead, we get a concentration on normal teen life and on the sport itself. Kojiro’s involvement adds an element that will appeal to those of us embarking on life, who have moved past the usual teen worries, and possibly even be nostalgic about them, another possible element one could view from the manga’s cheeriness.
Yen Press’s production is fairly slick once more, as we get thick, white paper stock instead of the standard newsprint, and are treated to yet more colour inserts, the standard for much of their line. Sound effects are subtitled, though I wouldn’t mind a larger font for the English translations.
Bamboo Blade is recommended to readers looking for more sports manga as well as those who enjoy all things cute. …Violent chain smoking gangster girlfriends with swords can be totally cute, right?