Archives for August 2016

Kuroko’s Basketball, Vols. 1 and 2

Kuroko’s Basketball Volumes 1 and 2 by Tadatoshi Fujimaki

I enjoy a good sports manga, and this omnibus of the first couple volumes of Kuroko’s Basketball was entertaining, due to a unconventional protagonist.


The manga opens with a bit of a prologue discussing an unbeatable team at Teiko Middle School that was split up and scattered as the team members, known as “The Miracle Generation”, all went to different high schools. While five players were the superstars, there were rumors of a shadowy sixth man who was actually the key to the team’s success. Flash forward to the present day at Seirin High School, all the clubs are out in force trying to recruit new members. Taiga Kagami is an intense first-year student with a superior attitude because he played basketball in the United States who signs up for the club. Tetsuya Kuroko, an unassuming student who formerly attended Teiko signs up for basketball as well.

Taiga is drawn to look a bit like Hanamichi from Slam Dunk, and while both characters share a brash personality and an abundance of natural talent, Taiga isn’t as idiotic as Slam Dunk’s protagonist. The fact that the manga is called Kuroko’s Basketball is a signal that the stereotypical idea of who the hero is in sports manga is going to be subverted a little bit. It turns out that Kuroko has a unique talent of appearing invisible when he’s playing basketball, which turns into an incredible advantage for the Seirin team, as he’s constantly overlooked and underestimated, only to make key passes and plays for all the other players on his team.

Kuroko’s unassuming nature is often played for laughs, as he frequently seems to pop out of nowhere when he’s just overlooked. His talent doesn’t come without a lot of hard work, as when he’s actually playing a game he is paying such close attention to everyone around him and adjusting in response to opposing players, that he can’t log a significant amount of minutes devoted to basketball invisibility without becoming exhausted. The first couple volumes shows the Seinen team coming together under their bossy girl coach Riko. She begins to get a sense that with Kuroko and Taiga on the team, she may be able to build the Seirin team into something special.

I feel like after reading Slam Dunk, the art for any other basketball manga is going to suffer in comparison, especially because as Slam Dunk wrapped up the art was so glorious. But comparing other manga artists to Inoue is like comparing people to Kirby, just fundamentally unfair. So I suffered a few involuntary pangs of wanting some mindblowing basketball action paneling in Kuroko’s Basketball, but on the whole, it was easy to follow all the action in the basketball games, and Kuroko’s deadpan expression is used effectively to provoke a variety of reactions in his teammates.

As this omnibus volume was wrapping up, a tournament style struggle is set up, with the Seiran team placed in a position where they are going to have to face off against other high school teams, each with a standout player from the Miracle Generation. Kuroko is now playing only for the love of the game, he comments that he didn’t want to play with anyone from his former team because they were so focused on winning at all costs, they weren’t truly appreciating basketball. The dynamic that will be explored in future volumes is if Kuroko’s abilities combined with his new team will actually mean that the sixth man will emerge triumphant. I have to say I’m very happy that with Kuroko’s Basketball, Haikyuu!!, and Yowamushi Pedal (which I haven’t read yet), there is a bumper crop of sports manga coming out in English right now.

Complex Age, Vol. 1

Complex Age Volume 1 by Yui Sakuma

I enjoy being able to break free from my typical shoujo reading fare now and then, so I was curious to check out Complex Age, a seinen manga about an office lady who is starting to age out of her cosplay habit. Nagisa Katura is a temp worker with a rich inner life. After work, she retreats into her room where she spends all her spare time working on her cosplay outfits in honor of a popular magical girl anime. Nagisa is a perfectionist, not only staying up late to get the details of her costumes correct, she’s also an expert on the body language of all the characters in the Magical Riding Hood Ururu show.

I enjoyed this manga, because it focused so much on personality-based growth and conflict. Nagisa’s age and height make her stand out among other cosplayers, and it was sad to see how her joy in her hobby was shaken a bit when some snarky photographers made comments about her age. Another reminder of Nagisa’s growing older comes when a young cosplayer with the perfect looks to portray Ururu shows up and joins her cosplay group. Looks aren’t really a match for experience and knowledge of a character though, and Nagisa approaches her portrayals with the same type of preparation a serious actress would take on when preparing for a role.

I have to admit, cosplay hasn’t really held much appeal for me personally, but I appreciated the detail and realism Sakuma brought to this story. The fictional anime series that Nagisa and her friends follow is fully realized with distinct characters who all have battle cries that incorporate different types of tea, which I thought was hilarious. Sakuma’s art switches between the more realistic real world and the idealized characters of the anime the characters try to emulate with ease. It is clear that Nagisa isn’t fully satisfied with her current life, and she’s going to change or go through some sort of evolution, and I’m interested in seeing what happens along the way in her journey. This volume also features a one-shot story that touches on similar themes but is very different from the main series. It was interesting to see how the characters and concepts in Complex Age evolved to accommodate the longer series.


Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 1

Yona of the Dawn Volume 1 by Mizuho Kusanagi

It is no surprise that I was eagerly anticipating Yona of the Dawn. I feel like there’s been a little bit of a gap in currently translated shoujo fantasy, so I was very much looking forward to this manga. I have a feeling that Yona of the Dawn is one of those manga that will be easier to evaluate once the second volume comes out, because the first volume was mostly set-up. I did enjoy the worldbuilding and some of the plot twists that I wasn’t expecting.

Yona is a sheltered princess whose main issues involve fretting over her red hair. She’s watched over by her guard Hak, and she nurses an intense crush on her cousin Su-won. As she’s getting older the question of her marriage is starting to come up, and her father the king seems to be determined to get her married to anyone but Su-won. Yona is a bit headstrong and pampered, but she still comes across as a sympathetic heroine in the early pages of the manga.

One thing I was dreading a bit is the development of a fairly typical love triangle, because it seemed like that’s the way things might be headed for Yona, Hak, and Su-won at the start of the manga. I was extremely happy when my expectations were foiled within the first couple chapters, and the story took an abrupt turn as Yona has to flee the palace with only Hak by her side. I’ve heard that this series features awesome archery, which is nowhere in evidence yet. I’m much more intrigued by the potential storyline of Yona having to toughen up and learn how better to fend for herself, so I’m eagerly awaiting the next volume.


Haikyu!! Vol. 2

Haikyu!! Volume 2 by Haruichi Furudate

I thought that the first volume of this volleyball manga series was unusually strong, and it set up some interesting dynamics between Hinata, the enthusiastic volleyball player with untapped athletic abilities and absolutely no experience, and Kageyama, the star player who is incapable of being a team player.

The second volume opens with the team getting a chance to play a practice match against a rival school where some of Kageyama’s former teammates ended up. This provides an opportunity for the Karasuno High volleyball team to test out their newest players. As with the best sports manga, this volume does a great job maintaining the tension and action of competition, sprinkled with a bit of exposition of volleyball rules, with a great deal of character development packed into a single game.

Hinata’s overwhelming enthusiasm about the simplest things like getting a team jacket also has some ill effects, as he is so nervous about playing his first game he keeps visiting the bathroom every five minutes leading up to the match. Kageyama finds himself in the position of being an unlikely sports psychologist, which serves to contrast the personalities of the two protagonists of the series even more.
Hinata ends up awakening Kageyama’s full potential as a volleyball setter, as Kageyama finally realizes that he needs to consider the player he’s feeding the ball to. Hinata’s jumping abilities also inspire a degree of trust in a teammate that Kageyama that he never had before. He gets the timing down so exactly that Hinata just has to jump and expect that the ball will be there when he arrives for that brief moment at the top of the net.

The ending of this volume showcases the potential of the scrappy Karasuno High team. They might not be functioning as a full team yet, but they have a lot of potential and a real future, if only they get some help working on some fundamentals and even more practice time. The volleyball action scenes were as dynamic and gripping as the first volume. I’m happy that this series is on an accelerated release schedule, so I don’t have to wait too long before the next volume!