Author: Masahiro Totsuka
Manga-ka: Aguri Igarashi
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Older Teen (13+)
Release Date: August 2012
Synopsis: “After the intense drama of the Burnish Academy TV shoot, each member of the Muroe kendo team has a new outlook on their involvement with kendo, and Tamaki is eager to learn what reasons her friends have for participating in the sport, hoping they will help her find her own motivation. Kojiro plans a trip to observe the Gokuryuki national tournament to help Tamaki in her search, and with the support of her family and friends, Tamaki takes a confident step toward the future in the final volume of Bamboo Blade!”
The back of this book features an afterword from writer Masahiro Totsuka about the series. In it, he describes how he wanted to give readers who are not sports fans a story that demonstrates the passion that athletes put into sport and how much it shapes them as a person. In this final volume, Bamboo Blade more than delivers on this plan as the story is brought to a very satisfying, though not completely conclusive, conclusion. It thus achieves another thing mentioned in the afterword, which was Totsuka’s goal of putting his characters “on the starting line” by the series’ end.
This volume has a lot of ground to cover and is aided in doing this by a dense and very angular layout. It is rare to see a manga with so many panels on one page but it very rarely feels cluttered and there are some simpler pages to break things up and really drive home a particular moment, especially in the rare two-page spreads. The art allows the story to really get into gear and has a quick but not rushed pace.
While the entire cast is shown through this volume, this finale is definitely Tamaki’s story and everything comes down to her in the end – literally. She starts her journey in this volume by asking several of her fellow club members the same question: “why do you practice kendo?” While the question is shown repeatedly, setting up the major theme of this volume, the answers her friends give Tama are not immediately shared with the reader until later, in a moment that is very powerful for the audience and utterly transformative for Tama. This storyline is paired with Tama discovering more about her deceased mother and why she also practices kendo. Throughout this volume, family plays a great role as we see the support Tama gets from her family as well as her friends.
Another major theme present here is the idea of becoming a “real adult,” something which interestingly we see both with the high school girls who make up the club and with their teacher, Kojiro. The characters show great levels of maturity through the volume as they prepare for their next steps in life and realize that they still have a long way to go. It is another strong part of the story, although here the art style does get in the way a bit as all the girls look far too young to really be viewed as adults, despite their actual ages.
This volume of Bamboo Blade does have a few other small pitfalls. The most jarring is a last minute connection between Tama’s mother and Sakaki’s father, which seems very tacked on and pointless. The action sequences in the kendo matches can be hard to follow as well, especially as the masks make it difficult at times to follow which opponent is whom (attempts are made at counteracting this but when both opponents are major characters it is not always successful).
With so much going on with the two major stories, as well as moments with the supporting characters, both in this volume and throughout the series, it is impressive that everything does come together so cleanly in the end. The final chapter really brings together the emotional story for the whole cast, in particular Tama and Kojiro. However that is not the end for there is also an epilogue, featuring one final showdown between Muroe High and Burnish Academy.
One of the common problems with sports manga is that the main characters become too good, too fast. This is something that Bamboo Blade avoids completely. Even at the end of the manga, the team still is not at the top of their game. They do attend the national tournament but only as observers who hope to make it there themselves one day. There is also a great emphasis on the idea that for them, kendo is something that will go beyond high school and so they don’t expect to reach the peak just yet. This is what really cements this manga as a great sports manga and really demonstrates the passion Totsuka wished to capture in the story.
Endings can make or break a manga series and so I am very glad to report that for Bamboo Blade, it’s final volume is a resounding success.
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Book provided by Yen Press for review purposes