by Mitsuba Takanashi; adaptation by Naoko Amemiya
published by Viz; $8.99 US
Sampling works. I never would have expected to enjoy this sports manga about a teen tomboy, but I read the first chapter in Shojo Beat magazine, and it had immediate appeal, based on the single-minded dedication of the heroine.
At the age of 15, Nobara has come to an acceptance that she’s never going to be a proper young woman. As the oldest daughter, she’s supposed to become the old-fashioned hostess of the family restaurant, but her younger sister, Souka, is the pretty, well-mannered one, with long hair and a self-effacing manner.
(I hope we see more of Souka’s inner life later in the series, because she’s either very happy with her stereotypical role, and I’d like to understand more about that type of personality, foreign to me; or she’s a great actress, and I’d like to know more about what she really wants.)
Nobara’s first day at her new school doesn’t start well, as she’s mistaken for a boy because of her short hair and gender-generic clothes. She chose the school because of their championship volleyball team. Her only interest is playing the sport; it’s the only thing she does well, and the only time her behavior doesn’t disappoint others.
After receiving several pieces of bad news, Nobara becomes convinced that she must go out on her own in order to follow her dream. With the aid of her Aunt Momoko (the school nurse and a tight-skirt-wearing party girl), she winds up as the housemother for four of the members of the school’s boys’ team, because she’s going to do whatever it takes to play volleyball.
These plot twists are standard to the genre: teen strives against family wishes and traditions to follow her own interests, slightly racy situation results involving her with several attractive boys, she unexpectedly meets again a childhood friend she doesn’t recognize at first, and the most important quality is determination to do one’s best, regardless of whether one succeeds.
At times, the actions of her mother err on the side of outrageousness, turning her into a two-dimensional villain, but that’s typical of how frustrated teens may see their parents. Her mother has laid out a life for her daughter that will make her successful and connect her to a long-lasting tradition. I suspect she means well, although we never know anything of what’s behind her mask.
The center is Nobara and her drive. Volleyball is the only thing that makes her feel good about herself, the only time she doesn’t feel clumsy and ill-fitting in her life. Every teen needs something like that to cling to during a time of change and desperation, and the portrayal in this book, even when it’s one-note, captures that need dramatically and realistically. It’s civilized teenage rebellion with the added thrill of athletic competition.
The art accurately captures the emotions it needs to convey, even if the faces are sometimes odd. The features are a hair too large for the head, or the perspective doesn’t quite line up. The mother, especially, seems to challenge the artist, who struggles with making the adult women both beautiful and hard. (This improves in later chapters.) Nobara’s determination shines through, though, fairly dripping off the pages, and her attractively androgynous features make her an appealing lead.