by Mayu Fujikata; adapted by Alethea and Athena Nibley
published by DC/CMX Manga; $9.99 US
This cute school story is great “brain popcorn” — something entertaining that only occupies your attention while you’re reading it. No nutritional value, no lasting effects, but enjoyable while it lasts.
The first thing you need to know is that “bancho” means something like “gang boss” or “chief”, since it’s untranslated throughout the book. And it’s key to understanding the situation. Whoever defeats the current bancho becomes the new one, ruler of the technical high school Souka has just transferred into.
Due to the subject matter (chemistry, electronics, architecture, and so on) and rowdy student behavior, Souka is the only girl student. (There’s a bit of back story about living with her divorced mom and wanting to help contribute to the household, so she’s trying to prepare herself for a good job, but I have just spent more time explaining that to you than the book does.) The boys at the school are rambunctious fighters, with the different classes attacking each other for dominance.
The teachers laughingly describe their “juvenile delinquents” engaged in a class war, so obviously, realism isn’t the point; Fujikata is going for comedy in this, her first manga. The other main character is Yuuji, a tough guy, class boss, respected by many, who’s also very caring. He straightens the bow on Souka’s uniform and cooks dinner for his many brothers and sisters, behaving like everyone’s big brother.
You’ve already guessed that he winds up looking out for her. He’s just trying to be protective, and all the other boys are jealous of his special attention. Due to a slapstick series of events, Souka winds up knocking out the existing bancho, becoming school chief. Since she’s a girl, no one else wants to fight her, so she keeps her position, and the school settles into a delicate balancing act of all the boys being fascinated by her and trying to protect her while she gets used to being responsible for them. Souka gets a little freaked out by how all the boys want to do things for her: carry her books, welcome her effusively, and generally worship her, and their goofy attempts at taking care of her make for amusing physical comedy.
In following chapters, Souka winds up challenged by a junior who wants to claim the bancho title, and later, a rival for Souka’s attention is introduced. Hideyoshi is the bancho of a local agricultural school, and during a mountain field trip, they meet while he is chasing a runaway lamb. During the attempt to catch the furry cutie, Hideyoshi decides that Souka will be his because he’ll “take really good care of her”, like another of his pets.
As suggested by that approach, the treatment of the situation can be a bit sexist. The text acknowledges it at times, but saying, “yes, we know this is biased” doesn’t really excuse it. It’s not just the premise but situations like the school athletic activities, where traditionally the girls just watched the boys compete, or the way a girl chief is considered laughable. She’s promised as the prize in the athletic competition, without her permission, just because that will better motivate the boys.
I have to say that that’s my favorite chapter, though, because it’s the funniest. Yuuji’s near-perfection at whatever he tries is played for laughs, and the way the teams compete is hilarious. When the mechanical division plays the architecture students at basketball, the tool users take down the opponents’ hoop, while architecture responds by building a new one! I wish there’d been more of those jokes, because the school background has a lot of potential that isn’t fully explored.
In the author’s (illustrated) afterword, she talks about how she was inspired by her little brother’s stories of his technical school experience, and that’s the element of this series that really sets it apart from other school comedy manga. The setting feels real, underneath the exaggerated fighting, and I could relate to the feeling of being the only female in a technical setting.
The art is standard shojo style: cute heads distinguished by hair shape and color, with huge eyes. I always understood what I was looking at, and the work has an energy in keeping with its subject matter. I found myself wishing that CMX books had notes at the end, since there were lots of cultural elements I wanted to know more about, such as the technical school system, and some of the uniform or appearance elements, like school badges and dyed hair. I was concerned, based on an author’s note, that this was the only volume, but no, another is coming later this summer. I’m looking forward to it. (The publisher provided a review copy.)