Some time ago, I ragequit on George Morikawa’s long-running boxing series Hajime no Ippo. It had been on a low streak for a long time, and my favorite character of the series had just gotten cold-cocked in just about the cruelest way possible. I was angry, and, more importantly, kind of just tired. So I closed the book on what was then one of my 5 favorite manga.*
It looked something like this
Recently, with the announcement of a third season for the anime, I resolved to get back to it. Last night, I actually did. Suffice to say it was a 45-chapter marathon session that left me eff-all motivated. Chapter 1008 was the high point of that session, reminding me why I like the main character of this series as much as I do.
One of the big appeals of this marathon is that I got to watch an intense title fight by Vorg Zangief, while watching the main character Ippo and rival Sendo get worked up over it. That’s where the picture above comes from. Now, chapter 1008 picks up after the fight is done and Vorg has taken the title with some very impressive heroics. So what do Ippo and Sendo do to cool off? If you guessed “fisticuffs”, you’d be on-target.
There’s just something really appealing about guys who love what they do enough that watching something exciting motivates them to get right to work. Welcome back to my weekly lineup, HnI.
*Since then, Natsu no Zenjitsu pushed it just out of my top five. It’s still a fantastic manga.
This’ll be the last time I put Touch on here, if only because I’m done with it and it was awesome and any further thoughts will be coming in a full review up sometime next week. But before I lock the stadium up, I just want to geek out about one more thing. As before, major spoilers for a 20+ year old manga are coming up.
The title of this chapter alludes to the fact that it concludes a subplot between leading lady Minami and one of her admirers. This process includes a very touching scene of Nishimura, a sympathetic gag character, going full swirly on a couple of asshole guys who mocked his childhood friend. Which is all well and good, but that has next-to-nothing to do with why this chapter’s on here. It’s on here for one face, one which perfectly demonstrates the fiercely expressive power of Adachi Mitsuru’s character designs.
I’m going to belabor this point, but Touch is an amazing, timeless classic manga. It’s also wildly unpopular in the states, something I kind of knew, but became much, much more obvious in my marathon sessions this week. Something I did not expect happened, and I had in no way been spoiled on it. The impressive thing isn’t so much that it happened, but how Adachi Mitsuru gives the audience the inside scoop. Suffice the man is a genius who’s madder than he lets on.
Warning: This article spoils a somewhat important twist in a manga that’s 20+ years old, but one that’s virtually unknown to western audiences. If you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read this and do read the manga.
Recently, I’ve been taking on a major item that’s been on my checklist of must-read manga, Adachi Mitsuru’s Touch.* Though it’s not as popular in the States, it’s widely regarded as a classic in Japan. As usual, the conventional wisdom was dead-on and this classic has been a joy to read, bursting with old-timey summer atmosphere, gradually-blooming romance, and dust-covered baseball. I also noticed that several newer works I’ve read before this draw heavy inspiration from it.** Picking just one chapter from the thirty I’ve blazed through so far was difficult. I ultimately settled on this one because, among other things, it rolls out a musical montage to no music.
Yoshida Matoi’s Natsu no Zenjitsu is a fantastic work about artists and art with the best actual artstyle I’ve ever seen. Unlike a lot of artists with exceptionally good art, though, Matoi also knows storyboarding and the finer points of manga. The result is a consistent barrage of scenes that convey emotions and sensations as only manga can. This chapter, featuring a main character feeling what’s best described as “complex distress” is full of such scenes.
Scenes that, I’m sure, left the Good! Afternoon guy in charge of ink crying his eyes out
I’ve talked about Ace of the Diamond before. It’s my second-favorite baseball manga of all time*, and it is so because it a) is not about a team of scrappy underdogs, which allows for b) one of the most interesting dynamics in any sports manga – 4 highly skilled pitchers with alpha dog personalities competing for one starting spot on an elite baseball team. When that dynamic gets folded into competitive baseball matches, the result is a fantastic two-level narrative. This week, we were reminded who was alpha dog prime, and why. Before I go any further into how amazingly unique Tanba is as a character, here’s his “I logged a K against the other team’s ace with the tying run on third and two outs” face.**
Which might as well be the rest of my column, but I like to write
Takako Shimura’s Wandering Son is a fantastically tasteful and insightful work whose main character is a boy who wants to become a girl (Shuuichi Nitori). Wandering Son and Takako Shimura’s other works (most notably Aoi Hana) stand out in a landscape of anime and manga featuring LGBT characters for making said characters something more than a running gags or sexual fantasies. And also for being great manga that explore personal growth on a long-term basis.* For example, Wandering Son started out with the main characters in fourth grade, followed the characters through middle school and high school, and, as of this chapter, moved on to the beginning of the Nitori’s career. Typical of Takako Shimura, this stitch was accomplished with both the finesse of a tailor and the speed of a sewing machine.
Keiko Suenobu’s Life is at the same time one of the most magnetic and most difficult* to read manga I’ve ever encountered, and incidentally probably the most justified winner of the Kodansha Shojo Manga Award since the shojo category’s inception in 1986. Both its difficulty and its magnetism come from its subject matter; a Japanese high school student dealing with social pressures, bullying, and uncaring parents who won’t listen when she tells them her tutor is blackmailing her.
Life is a dark manga that succeeds in being dismal in all the ways edgy action series often fail, featuring self-injury, severe depression, attempted rape, and attempted suicide very prominently. It’s an approach that works because the tone of the manga is very serious, in a way that’s somber rather than edgy. Suenobu isn’t trying to shock the audience, but to help them understand that the problems in the manga are very real for a lot of people (an approach augmented by the inclusion of blurbs by professional Psychologists at the end of each volume). This particular chapter is a prime example of why the manga as a whole is so utterly captivating while inducing so much emotional fatigue.
Yoshida Motoi is an irregular manga artist who makes up for his bi-quarterly release pace with the best aesthetic concepts this side of Yusuke Murata and a detail-fixated, thorough art style.* It’s fitting, then, that the manga he’s currently drawing, Natsu no Zenjitsu, deals with art itself.
As the title suggests, this particular chapter focuses on the male lead’s sense of touch, and aims to convey how it factors into both his life and his paintings to the readers. Part of that goal is accomplished in conventional means via the script, but the chapter also provides a clinic of how to incorporate the sense of touch into seemingly flat pages of manga. Nor does it just run an art clinic; these depictions are intimately related to a growing and somewhat contradictory set of emotions in the manga’s male lead.
There are few things I treasure more in manga than the ability to surprise me on a page-by-page basis. I love Yuuji Terajima’s Ace of the Diamond, and this chapter did a pretty good job reminding me why, building tension around a straightforward confrontation using clever Eyeshield 21-style visual feints.