Author: Masashiro Totsuka
Manga-ka: Aguri Igarashi
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: December 2011
Synopsis: “Up-and-coming TV personality Ryouko Toda is an ambitious young woman who’s willing to use any means necessary to claw her way to the top. For Ryouko, image is key, but it’s tough for this cutthroat celebrity to maintain her cool on-screen persona when she’s forced to appear alongside ditzy costar Erina Sawamiya on Burnish Academy, where silly, simple Erina manges to best Ryouko in every single sport! To defeat Erina in sports and in the ratings game, Ryouko must call upon her skills not as an actress, but as a master of the kendo ring!”
It’s been awhile since I checked into the cast of Bamboo Blade. This later volume in the series continues its fun mix of slapstick comedy, realistic sports and deadpan characters. As the primary cast and Kojiro do their best to continue improving at Kendo, the story shifts onto some new characters, with much of the volume satirizing the idol system that Japanese pop-culture centers on.
Using the plot line of having a TV studio film Kojiro’s kendo team as an excuse, Totsuka shifts the storyline onto cutesy idols, Erina and Ryouko, stars of a childrens’ TV show focused on competitions between the cast members. While Erina is genuinely a sweet, innocent girl, Ryouko’s glamorous appearance is merely a façade, leading to some of the best scenes of the book. You’ll delight in how awful she manages to be, taking her rivalries a little too far, as the duo does a wonderful send up of the shallow world of celebrities and the particular oddities surrounding it in Japan. This makes for a fun point to jump into, with the scenes involving Kojiro’s group continuing the antics you’d expect from them, but introducing new characters and situations that allow newer readers to latch onto the franchise. While Totsuka does hint the series is winding down from his point of view, this volume still felt very fresh, and I appreciated getting to know some new nut balls who, like most of the cast, probably shouldn‘t be allowed to wield heavy wooden blades at each other.
Totsuka and Igarashi have solidly placed Bamboo Blade in the real world, yet are very flexible with the sitcom elements in both writing and art. The SD cuteness is expected and well done, but you’ll stay for the oddball characters. Particularly funny was a scene where Kojiro and his fellow coach friend realize how odd it is for two adult men to constantly be meeting each other for dinner. Priceless interactions such as these make for a rewarding book, elevating it above the usual “colour coded cute girls” fare shonen and seinen manga publishers have been dumping on the globe for the past decade. Nowhere else will you find a heroine as creepy as MiyaMiya, with her two-faced personality as lovey-dovey girlfriend with Dan, and hard as nails gangster girl with everyone else. Tough girls are a stereotype in manga nowadays, but in her past she was an outright Bancho, and would of fit in quite well with the cast of Cromartie High School.
Igarashi’s art continues to be stellar, with this later volume showing a shift to even tighter layouts during fight scenes and hilarious caricatures. The scenes where the idol Ryouko Toda takes out her frustrations against her manager are extremely competent as she beats him down, yet it’s simultaneously comical given the circumstances and their respective dialogue. Where Igarashi really excels, however, is the diversity of her character designs. She nails the mandatory cute girls, but also manages to explore a variety of older men and women alongside some more surreal elements. When a character from the spinoff Bamboo Blade B meets the guys her college friends have set them up with, you’ll experience the same horrific revulsion as she did thanks to Igarashi’s art depicting the horrors of trendy Japanese men.
Yen Press’s presentation is what one generally expects from them. They’ve opted to include colour pages, a good indicator of the series popularity this late in the game, and use thicker paper that manga fans have come to expect as the norm in North America. The screen tone heavy artwork is very sharp, reproduced well with lots of notes where needed. They have maintained their odd standard of both romanizing and translating sound effect under the original Japanese sound effects, yet it remains a minor element and doesn’t intrude upon the readers experiences. Translation notes are included at the end of the volume, alongside a short bonus comic and lengthy notes from the series writer. A notable change to Yen’s packaging is the inclusion of a small blurb promoting their apps for digital manga, a nice way of letting fans know about their growing online presence.
One hopes Yen Press will option to license the Bamboo Blade B spinoff referenced in this volume. The older characters, around or at college age, who appeared on the Kendo themed TV series together were a welcome addition. It’d be great to get to know them better. I’ve happily purchased the SAVE edition of the anime series from Funimation, and plan to watch it soon to take in more of these fun characters and see how it transitions to that format. Yen Press picked an excellent franchise with Bamboo Blade, one that I expect should have a fun ending given the tone thus far.
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Book provided by Yen Press for review purposes