Ninja Baseball Kyuma! Vol 1 by Shunshin Maeda Manga Review

 

Title: Ninja Baseball Kyuma! Vol 1

Author: Shunshin Maeda

Publisher: Udon Kids

ISBN: 9781897376867

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Kyuma and his dog Inui live in the mountains, where Kyuma trains every day to become a great ninja. But when Kyuma mistakes a baseball coach for his training master, the local baseball team ends up with its first ninja player! Can a ninja step up to the plate and learn how to play ball? Find out in Ninja Baseball Kyuma!

I waited for such a long time to get my hands on this book!  There is only one copy in the library network, and I requested a hold on it all the way back in January!  My patience was finally rewarded!  Was it worth the wait?  Well, yes and no.  Here’s why:

The illustrations are so cute!  I love Kyuma and his faithful ninja mutt in training, Inui.  All of the characters are energetic and there is no mistaking the full range of emotions that the team experiences as they train for the nationals.  These little guys are intense!  They love baseball as passionately as I love manga! They want to win!  But there are limits to that drive to be victorious.  When Kyuma is injured, the team captain stops him from hurting himself more, even though it costs them a game.  This was a great message, and so was the reaction from a rival, after his team wins because Kyuma is hurt.

The book emphasizes teamwork and putting aside personal differences to achieve a greater goal.  I liked that, too.  Despite some friction, everyone is willing to work together and encourage each other to do their best to win.  But here’s my dissatisfaction with the first volume; there are too many characters to really get a handle on any of them, other than Kyuma and Kaoru, the team captain.  The end of the book felt especially cluttered with kids who didn’t really do much except take up space in Kyuma’s house and add to the balloon pollution invading the panels.

Overall, Ninja Baseball Kyuma! is a fun, breezy read.  Kyuma is completely clueless when it comes to baseball, and all he really understands is training to become a ninja.  When he applies the same dedication to the playing field, hilarity ensues.  There’s lots of action and even more speed lines as Kyuma struggles to protect his Lord Kaoru while learning to belt a home run.

Grade: B

This book was checked out of my local library. Support your local library!

Crimson Hero Vol 11 by Mitsuba Takanashi Manga Review

 

Title: Crimson Hero Vol 11

Author: Mitsuba Takanashi

Publisher:  Viz

ISBN: 9781421523644

May Contain Spoilers

The Crimson Field’s girls volleyball battle against Aigaku continues, and Nobara and her teammates aren’t backing down by even an inch.  They want to win so badly that they are pushing themselves to play above their previous level, challenging themselves to hit the ball harder, jump higher, and block better than they have even done in the past.  When they win the first set, it’s a surprise to everyone, including Crimson Field.  Riding high on jubilation and adrenaline, it’s starting to look like they just might advance to the Spring Tournament.  When the Aigaku team suddenly focuses all of their attention on Tomoyo, their victory starts taking a nosedive.  Can they manage to win without relying on Tomoyo’s plays to give them a winning edge?

Grrr….I couldn’t stand the coach of the Aigaku team and that made me realize how caught up in the plot I have become.  The action sequences actually held my attention, where earlier in the series I was just struggled through them.  Here, Mitsuba Takanashi pulls out all the stops to deliver exciting action scenes intermixed with tense drama as Nobara and her friends try to defy the odds and beat one of the teams that is favored to advance to the Spring Tournament.  All of the girls put their disagreements aside and concentrate on one thing; playing the best game of volleyball that they possibly can. 

With their victory in doubt, the coach of the Aigaku teams coerces his team into targeting Tomoyo and taking her out of the game.  Since they don’t have any  backup players, loosing anyone means that Crimson Field will have to forfeit the match.  Because Tomoyo was such a formidable player, everyone knows about her injury and that it almost knocked her out of the game – permanently.  The Aigaku team is willing to do anything to win, and doing anything means injuring an opposing player.  The turn of events brokered just the reaction that was intended, and I instantly hated those Aigaku players.  Cheating isn’t winning, it’s just allowing yourself to sink to a new low, and there really isn’t any satisfaction in that. 

This was one of the best volumes of Crimson Hero so far.  The volleyball match was tense and exciting, with lots of emotional turmoil tossed in to keep everyone on their toes.  Nobara and her teammates refuse to give up, even when things are looking really, really bleak.  Encouraging words and a never say die attitude carry the action, and all of the girls pulled together to play an unyielding game despite pain, fatigue, and self-doubts.  This is the reason that I read manga.  To feel a connection to the plot and the characters, to forget myself for the span of a book, to feel uplifted when the underdog refuses to give up.  Sure, it gets corny at times, but gosh darn it, it’s just so much fun, and that is what this is really all about.

Grade: A-

Review copy provided by Viz

Bamboo Blade Vol 1 by Totsuka & Igarashi Manga Review

Title:  Bamboo Blade Vol 1

Authors: Masahiro Totsuka &

Aguri Igarashi

Publisher: Yen Press

ISBN: 9780759530058

May Contain Spoilers

Kojiro is a down on his luck kendo advisor who lives on cup noodles and is trying to ride out a tsunami of debt.  Just when things look their worst, his old friend offers up a challenge.  If Kojiro’s kendo team can beat his, Kojiro will win a year’s worth of free sushi.  Kojiro readily accepts the bet, even though he doesn’t even have enough members in the kendo club to have a match.  Will he be able to find more students and whip them into a winning kendo team?

Even though this is a silly comedy filled with stereo-typical characters, I couldn’t help but enjoy it.  Kojiro is far from Teacher of the Year material, and the only reason he’s developed an interest in his kendo team is because of the possibility of free sushi if he can hobble together a winning team.  The members of the kendo club include the usual character types; there’s Kirino, the team captain who despairs at getting Kojiro to help with the club, Nakata, an easy-going first year who really likes kendo, and Eiga, a dumpy complainer who would rather be in the ping-pong club.  To add to Kojiro’s miseries, he needs to put together a female kendo team, and two of the three members are male.  Looks like he’s going to have his work cut for him.

Kojiro is not a very good role model for his students, and they all pick up on this soon after meeting him.  His life is in financial shambles, he has no motivation for anything but a good time, and he is the poster child for being a slacker.  Still, I can’t find any fault with his sudden desire to propel his club to victory.  Free sushi would push all the right buttons for me, too.  When he learns about Tamaki, a petite student with a gift for the sport, he’s desperate to get her to join the team.  He concocts an elaborate ruse to try to get her to join even though she doesn’t want any part of it. But by playing on her weaknesses, he thinks he can trick her into becoming a team member.

Most of the first volume introduced the characters and their various personalities.  I love Tamaki – she’s serious and quiet, and though she’s been training since she was a young child, she isn’t all that gung-ho about kendo.  What she does get all worked up over is witnessing bullies picking on the weak.  She can’t help but jump to their defense every time she sees someone getting beat up.  She is badass with a shinai, but she believes very firmly in playing by the rules, and I like that about her.  She won’t cheat to win, but she will do whatever she has to to make sure defeats her opponent.

Bamboo Blade is a fast read. Tamaki’s kendo bouts are accompanied by a frenzy of speed lines and high intensity illustrations.  Though Tamaki is fairly emotionless, her opponents suffer a deluge of feelings during the fight scenes.  The action is easy to follow and the battles are exciting as blows are stuck and defended against. Most of the character designs are on the plain side, but a couple of the characters, such as Tamaki, have greater detail.  I wish that Eiga didn’t look like a circle with a bowl on his head, but maybe the illustrator suffered from anxiety at the thought of having more than five different characters to draw?

I enjoyed Bamboo Blade for its brainless fun, and I’m wondering where the story will go next.  Kojiro doesn’t seem smart enough to manipulate an entire team of kendo players into a bunch of winners, but maybe with all of the yummy sushi to motivate him, he’ll get the job done.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by Yen Press

Crimson Hero Vol 10 by Mitsuba Takanashi Manga Review

Title: Crimson Hero Vol 10

Author: Mitsuba Takanashi

Publisher: Viz

ISBN:  9781421523637

May Contain Spoilers

Now that Nobara knows how Yushin feels about her, she can concentrate on volley ball again.  Since they are keeping the fact that they are a couple under wraps until after the Spring Tournament is over, she has something to work towards.  Nobara wants to win, so she can claim a double victory.  Why, then, does she feel flustered every time Haibuki speaks to her?  Doesn’t she love Yushin?

Aw, why does Mitsuba Takanashi have to go and put a little niggling of doubt into Nobara’s heart?  After all of the effort that she put into winning over Yushin, even making a fool of herself by publically declaring how she felt about him?  Now she’s getting confused whenever Haibuki is around.  He’s the guy who would have treated her like a princess, but she bluntly pushed him away.  I like Haibuki, at least when he’s not being an arrogant jerk and trying to steal kisses from Nobara.  One of the conventions that can be so frustrating about shoujo series is the yo-yo effect as the heroine is torn between two really hot guys.  Just pick one!  Don’t be greedy and go after all of the cute guys!

Nobara also learns a lesson in teamwork.  Again.  When a team doesn’t play as a cohesive unit, they are not as strong as when everyone is on the same page.  Volley ball is a team sport, but when players are out only for their own personal glory,  team dynamics are compromised.  When an entire team is made up of glory hounds who fight to be starting players, they are a fundamentally weaker unit.  Nobara witnesses a practice session of their upcoming opponents, and she’s appalled.  The spirit of team unity doesn’t exist with them, and when players are willing to injury their teammates, Nobara vows that Crimson Field will never lose to the likes of them.  Too bad the team, Aiyu Gakuin, has made it to the semi-finals ten years running! 

Crimson Hero isn’t as fun as Prince of Tennis, but that’s probably because there aren’t as many hot guys.  The series does suffer from some uneven pacing, but overall, it’s a pretty solid title. Like the volley ball, emotions are batted about, usually with some very entertaining results.

Grade: B-

Review copy provided by Viz

The Prince of Tennis Vol 12 by Takeshi Konomi Manga Review

Title:  The Prince of Tennis Vol 12

Author: Takeshi Konomi

Publisher: Viz

ISBN: 9781421503370

May Contain Spoilers

I love this series, and this volume is a great installment of Takeshi Konomi’s highly engaging and intense sports manga. The showdown between Ryoma and the very scary Jin gets underway, and all I can say is “wow!” The art is one of my favorite aspects of the titles, and it just zips and zings with excitement and barely contained fury.  Jin is a physically intimidating individual, and you get such a believable sense of action that you can almost hear the tennis ball thrum off of the racks.  For Ryoma and Jin, this isn’t a game of tennis, but a brutal battle to thoroughly humiliate and dominate the other player.  There is no room here for even a sliver of cowardice, because that tiny spark of fear will be instantly sensed, nurtured, and exploited. 

Jin is like a lithe and sinewy lion,  while Ryoma is like a clever and cunning coyote.  Jin smashes forcefully at the ball, thinking to overpower his smaller opponent, but Ryoma isn’t going to roll over and let Jin close in for the kill.  The match between these two gifted and passionate players was breathtakingly exhilarating.  Both of the boys have something to prove, and they aren’t going to quit until they have achieved the utter annihilation of the other.

While the match between Momo and Sengoku wasn’t anything to sneeze at, it lacked the cut-throat atmosphere of Ryoma and Jin’s confrontation.  I really love the tennis tournaments in PoT, as much for the illustrations as for the changes that always occur between the players.  Both Jin and Ryoma have lessons to learn, about themselves and about each other.  Pure talent will only get you so far in the game, and without a dedication and a love for the sport, true excellence will always be elusive.  I don’t even like tennis, and The Prince of Tennis is fast becoming a favorite read of mine.  When rackets are wielded with the ferocity of swords, both sweat and blood flow, sucking the reader into this impossibly addictive title.

Grade: A

Prince of Tennis Vol 10 by Takeshi Konomi Manga Review

Title:  The Prince of Tennis Vol 10

Author:  Takeshi Konomi

Publisher: Viz

ISBN: 9781421500706

May Contain Spoilers

Oh, goody, another guy to despise!  When Ryoma spends his day off antagonizing the competition,  he steals the thunder from the ruthless Jin Yamabuki.  Jin is trouble with a capital T, and he quickly pushes all of Ryoma’s buttons.  Jin loves picking on everyone, and he’s tough enough to not get his butt kicked by bullying the wrong person.  He and Ryoma quickly come to an understanding – they can’t stand each other, and each is eager to bring the other guy down.  Who will win this war of intimidation?

The scenes with the troublemaking Jin were awesome.  He is going to cause some major problems for Ryoma, and I can’t wait for their tennis match.  Both of them are masters at intimidation, though Jin is willing to injure other people to prove just how strong he is.  Ryoma just thrashes them in a cold-blooded game of tennis.  After being a victim of Jin’s game of manipulation, Ryoma changes tactics and gives back a little of the grief that he’s received from Jin.  Ryoma is much more subtle and calculating when he dishes out a little of the bad attitude that Jin throws his way.  I’m not quite sure who one-upped the other here, but I think that maybe Ryoma has the advantage.  Jin isn’t used to anyone fighting back, and he gets thrown for a loop by Ryoma.

The last half of the book doesn’t deliver as compelling a story.  The Seishun team is training for their next match, with their usual grueling practice methods.  Sadaharu whips up another noxious concoction that nobody wants to drink, and the usual team dynamics are at play.  Tezuka is finally going to play another match, and I hope that it take up more than the few panels given to his previous outing.  I like him, a lot, but with so many other charismatic characters to compete against, I don’t feel that he gets a fair shake when it comes to getting his share of plot time.

Grade: B

Crimson Hero Vol 9 by Mitsuba Takanashi Manga Review

Title:  Crimson Hero Vol 9

Author:  Mitsuba Takanashi

Publisher: Viz

ISBN:  9781421515663

May Contain Spoilers

Oh, my!  What have we here?  Is there finally going to be some progress in Nobara and Yushin’s relationship?  Maybe!  Then again, maybe not.  There was the typical relationship tease, and the shojo fangirl in me was doing a little dance part way into the book.

Nobara has earned a temporary place on the Eagles volleyball team, and they are battling it out against the Sokai team to prove that sheer will and determination can overcome physical disadvantages.  Ryo has been mocked for wanting to be an attacker, all because he hasn’t attained the magical height of more than six feet.  Nobara wasn’t even given the time of day by the arrogant Sokai team, so they both have something to prove.  Athletic ability and heart have more to do with winning or losing than a person’s height or gender, but will they be able to show the haughty Sokai players that there’s more to winning than they think?

Nobara earns herself some much needed self-confidence, both with her playing and with herself.  She learns to deal with the pressure of competing against physically stronger opponents, and even when the Eagles are struggling, she never gives up and doesn’t second guess herself.  That is the best thing she could have learned by heading off on her road trip.  She’s not going to let other players intimidate her, and she’s not going to quit.  She’s learned a killer attack, and she’s going to continue to perfect it, and more importantly, she’s going to go down fighting.  Keeping a positive attitude and staying in the game, even when it seems unlikely that a victory will be gained, is something that Nobara was lacking.

Yushin shows up just in time for the game, and Nobara is able to put her feelings aside and concentrate on the task at hand.  Yushin, on the other hand, is having a tough time dealing with his emotions.  It’s about time he gets to sit in the hot seat and squirm about how he’s feeling.  Now, if I was Nobara, I’m not so sure how I would deal with Yushin’s sudden change of heart, after being so bluntly rejected not so long ago.  It’s a good thing that she is so forgiving.

This volume of Crimson Hero managed to reel me in more than previous installments.  Nobara has a lot to think about, from rivalries on her own team, to trying to keep the peace in the dorm.  Not everyone is going to be happy that Yushin’s attitudes have softened, but will it be enough to cause conflict for the boys volleyball team?  I’m interested in what is going to happen between Haibuki and Yushin, and I think that they aren’t going to stay buddy-buddy for long. Theirs was a contentious friendship to begin with, and Nobara’s presence is not going to make it any friendlier.

Grade:  B

Review copy provided by Viz

The Prince of Tennis Vol 8 & 9 by Takeshi Konomi Manga Review

Title:  The Prince of Tennis Vol 8 & 9

Author: Takeshi Konomi

Publisher: Viz

ISBN: 9781591168539 & 9781591169956

May Contain Spoilers

The  City Tournament continues, and the carefully crafted strategy of St Rudolph’s Hajime seems to really be paying off.  Seishun is on the run, and each player’s weakness is being capitalized on.  When Ryoma is up against the lefty killer, Yuta, even he is on the defensive.  Will Seishun be knocked out of the competition?

Having just returned from a weekend sports competition, I thought it would be fun to sit down with a few volumes of PoT to unwind before real life starts again tomorrow morning.  That first day of work after a show is always kind of rough.  Then I started wondering what would happen if someone from a rival barn was cut-throat enough to  observe each of our weaknesses.  The thought isn’t pretty – there would be baby strollers, umbrellas, and golf carts trundling about the warm-up rings, all with the sole intention of unnerving high strung horses and higher strung riders.  The dust would get kicked up with all of the bucking and spinning, and  riders eating dirt.  I will have to make sure none of our opponents ever discover the wonderfulness of this comic series.

Seishun is down and out when Ryoma has to face the intense Yuta.  Yuta is Fuji’s younger brother, and this guy does not like to be reminded of that fact.  He wants to be acknowledged for his own playing ability, and he has had it up to here being compared to his talented brother.  So determined to be free of his brother’s shadow, Yuta transferred to another school and started taking lessons somewhere else, all so he could craft his skills for his ultimate goal – defeating Shusuke.

First, though, he has to make it through a tough match with Ryoma.  Yuta is lugging around a lot of excess baggage, which is only slowing him down.  He thinks that his burning ambition to defeat Shusuke is giving him an edge, but in truth it’s a drag on his game and worse, his life.  He can’t can’t get over his jealousy of Shusuke and he feels like he’s trapped by his brother’s phenomenal skill.  It’s like he’s only playing the game to get back at Shusuke.  Still, his determination is giving him an incredible energy and has helped him to perfect his lefty killer move.  Does Ryoma have a chance against all of this pent up resentment?  

Grade:  B+