Author: Masashiro Totsuka
Manga-ka: Aguri Igarashi
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: December 2009
Synopsis: “The girls’ kendo meet continues with one victory on the board for Muroe High. Despite her inexperience, Miya’s ferocious shinai is a force to be reckoned with, and Captain Kirino is no pushover either. It’s a tight race until Tamaki reemerges as the bespectacled “Bureiba” to battle in the fifth and final match. But is Tamaki’s weak disguise enough to mask her superior abilities?”
Completing the previous volume’s dramatic tournament while moving on to some fun slice of life moments, Bamboo Blade continues to be an enthralling mix of sports manga and school life comedy. Totsuka and Igarashi provide a pleasant serving of it all again with this volume, nudging along the cast gently while taking some downtime after an intense tournament.
About half the volume is dedicated to completing the previous volumes story concerning Kojiro’s bet with his sempai. Igarashi’s solid artwork continues to make this aspect of the book very involving, as the kinetic scenes of kendo fighting have become highlights of the series. Helpful hints about the rules of the game provided by characters and footnotes help you along, and simplify things to make the fights easy to follow. In addition, with only brief glimpses of characters faces, Igarashi concentrates on solid fight scene composition, and fills half the volume with these scenes, as Kojiro and his senpai have their respective kendo teams take on each other. In the middle of all this, they find moments to give us more of Bamboo Blade’s deadpan humour, with their opponents having just as strange personalities as the core cast, such as Yuuri’s slightly off kilter expression, consisting of a constant smirk accompanied by devious laughter.
The humorous tone of characters like Yuuri are what sets this apart from most “insert random girls” factory made shonen manga. Totsuka and Igarashi’s choice to keep fan service light and give the characters more rounded personalities continues to serve the manga well. This aspect shines particularly with the two-faced Miya Miya, who varies between a sickly sweet girlfriend who honestly loves her somewhat dorky boyfriend and a horrifically vengeful, violence loving kendo fighter during and after the tournament. The switching is constant, and always amusing, especially without the cheesy “alternate personality” setup you normally see in manga (such as Air Gear or Othello). Miya Miya is just a sweet-hearted girl who also happens to be decidedly brimming with rage. They consistently opt to concentrate on making amusing characters in place of stereotypes, from Tamaki’s quiet otaku nature to the tough girl personalities given to the members of Kojiro’s senpai’s kendo team.
Tamaki and Kojiro continue to vie for the most screen time of this band of misfits. A subplot emerges wherein Tama-chan covets an expensive anime boxset, and decides to take on a part time job. This anime, with the highly amusing title Christmas Crystals, which reminded me of Slayers visually, costs an astounding 6000 yen. One wonders if many current anime fans would relate to Tamaki‘s efforts to save up and work, as that is around what anime dvds generally cost in Japan. I was also astounded by her current savings adding up to a fair chunk of it‘s price. Such is the dedication of true otaku apparently. Tamaki soon finds herself filling in for a friend’s part time job at a cutesy merchandise store to achieve this goal, with Kojiro advising her on how best to avoid getting caught by the other teachers due to jobs being against school rules. It’s refreshing to have a sports manga with a lead character who has interests outside the sport, and should present different challenges as Kojiro discovers the need to have kendo dojo-raised Tama face better challenges than high school athletes.
Kojiro’s continuing presence as a core character rather than an aside is an aspect of the title’s original audience, but still a welcome one. I’m sure many manga fans have reached the point in their lives where they too are experiencing living on their own and dealing with adult responsibilities. The scene where Kojiro opens a big box of seaweed from his mom is heart-warming and hilarious, as she constantly sends him junk she hears about in the news rather than anything helpful. Indeed, Kojiro’s role in inadvertably instigating new challenges for his students continues to fuel the plot. The volume closes with an incident that somehow leads to a new challenge for the team caused entirely by identifying himself as a teacher to the wrong person.
I continue to be impressed with Yen Press’s production quality on their YenPlus titles. Colour inserts, nice, thick paper and clear crisp artwork add up to an excellent presentation. Yen Press also adds translation notes and a next volume preview, which cap off a nice package.
I continue to recommend this as one of the best titles from Yen Plus’ Japanese side, with a page turning pace that mirrors the best of Shonen Jump‘s offerings, while avoiding the traps of shonen tournament books. With content that suits teens and older readers by providing a nice array of characters and perspectives from the students and teacher, Bamboo Blade is a welcome addition to any collection.