Blade Girl ~Kataashi no Runner~
Blade Girl ~One-Legged Runner~
Josei – Drama, romance, slice-of-life, sports
2 Volumes (ongoing)
Kodansha (Be Love)
Sixteen-year-old Rin has not gotten used to having an artificial leg. But when she’s taken to a sports complex, she sees a whole team of people racing with a strange device in place of a foot. When she meets Kazami, a maker of these blades for running, Rin finds herself drawn to the world of competitive running…
Ok, full disclaimer: this series is above my reading level, and it’s so new that there isn’t a lot of supplemental information. Apologies if I am misunderstanding anything.
That being said…
Blade Girl ~Kataashi no Runner~ is a sports manga starring a girl with a physical disability. How could I not want to see this in English?
So about a year prior to the main story, Rin had her leg amputated due to osteosarcoma, a rare type of cancer in the bones. Between this and the embarrassment/frustration of being an amputee, her rehabilitation isn’t going smoothly.
One of the doctors (the guy in the sample above) takes her to a sports complex where she is struck by the sight of people racing. But these aren’t ordinary racers. These people have a strange sturdy but flexible piece attached to their legs, unlike the artificial foot Rin has. Running away from their innocent questions, Rin ends up meeting a young man named Kazami, who makes these “blades” so that people without their legs/feet can run as fast as they can. Long story short, Rin starts racing, and she only wants blades designed by Kazami.
Like in most sports manga, Blade Girl is both about a personal and team journey. Rin ends up making friends once she starts running, and the manga features competitions where she and her teammates have to put forth their full effort if they want to win. Before that though, Rin has got to be drawn into that world. Considering you can see in the above image how much she’s struggling in the first chapter, Rin practices quite a bit in order to be able to compete. The manga opens with a prologue set during the (I’m assuming) Paralympics, so we know right from the first page that she isn’t just going to race as a hobby. The Rin we meet in the present starts off as a moody teenager, but it’s understandable considering the teen years are already awkward and difficult without having to relearn how to walk. Plus Japan is hardly the most friendly country for people with physical disabilities.
So while the manga is about Rin’s rise as a runner, she can only run as fast as her prosthetic can take her. So she puts all her faith in Kazami, a cool, quiet, intellectual type of character. (If you take a look at him, you’ll probably get a good grasp of his personality right away.) Thanks to his design skills, the transition from basic rehabilitation to racer is made easier. Although, he may be talented, but these are also expensive devices that can’t be made on a whim. It’s not like buying a new pair of basketball sneakers or finding the best tennis racket. So while Rin has people she races with, the team of her and Kazami (and the blade) is just as important.
By now you have probably picked up on the romantic undertones. Rin may have been struck by the sight of the running team, but it’s Kazami who helps spur that spark. When I first started reading Blade Girl, I missed the part about her age. Based on the art, I assumed Rin was about middle school-age. She doesn’t look 16. Kazami, on the other hand, I think is college aged? Either way, I thought the love story would be more in the future. Right now, their interactions are more like, “You are important because you the one that opened the door for me” rather than, “You’re the one I love”. Again, Blade Girl is only in its second volume, so who knows how long it will keep going. The manga could turn romantic on a dime, but the latest chapters focus on her friendship with a teammate and Kazami’s employment rather than pounding hearts. Again, though, I could have been glossing over the stronger hints.
If the manga is going to cover Rin all the way up to entering the Paralympics, then it presumably has a ways to go. The manga is only on its 10th chapter, so that’s only two, maybe three volumes worth at this point. Maybe the author is going to end the manga to coincide with 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, or it could go on for years and years. Sports manga may be all about the competitions, and I’ve read one or two manga involving Olympics as the goal and watched some of the tryouts on TV, but I have no idea how many people a girl like Rin would have to face off against in order to win a spot on the team. Hopefully the manga will have a realistic depiction of trying out for the Paralympic team so that readers can learn. Otherwise, sports/tournament manga sometimes spend a lot of time on training, and in others, it’s more like a montage. From what I gather, Blade Girl does seem to be keeping a good balance of the running along with the character interactions.
However, while I like the story, I’m not a huge fan of the art.
Rin doesn’t look too bad on the first volume’s cover. Inside, though… Maybe the art is partly supposed to reflect Rin’s prior diagnosis, but as I mentioned before, Rin looks very young for a high school girl while other girls look like wise mothers in a small body. Kazami, meanwhile, has that charm that most gentle, glasses-wearing older brother-types have. When I first saw Blade Girl, I kind of assumed this was being drawn by a mangaka newbie. Like, in the early chapters, there’s a huge difference with their noses between when characters are looking ahead vs the profile. This does seem to tone down later, so it could just be early art syndrome. Still, Shigematsu puts a lot of detail into Rin’s eyes, so it gives her a more anime-like design. I was reminded of later seasons of Precure. Otherwise, the manga itself is a wispy design in the vein of series like My Boy. These types of art styles are usually geared more toward dramatic series, so manga that heavily features people sweating up a storm as they race around a track may seem like an odd choice. But Blade Girl is more serious than the Shonen Jump-style sports manga thanks to its heroine and demographic. Speaking of the blades, it is interesting to see different designs and styles, as it’s something I never really considered or paid attention to. The blades of Blade Girl are almost more impressive than the girl herself.
Chance of License:
Kodansha Advanced Media has been licensing quite a few shoujo/josei manga as part of their digital-first and digital-only line-up, and this could be a great addition. Manga like A Silent Voice and Perfect World, which feature co-/secondary leads physical disability, has been widely praised, and I think Blade Girl could reach that same audience. This manga goes even further and makes the manga follow Rin’s perspective. Sports manga also has been seeing a boom in English thanks to titles like Haikyu!!
However, the author is unknown to English-speaking audiences, and she’s been in the industry for nearly a decade now. It’s also rather new, and I’m sure most of us can attest to a good manga being ended far too early or suddenly going downhill. Sports stories for a female demographic are also still pretty rare. Although it was released during a time when the manga industry was contracting, shoujo sports manga Crimson Hero were dropped. However, Be Love sports title Chihayafuru has been licensed (but not released physically), so there is a chance. That being said, Chihayafuru had an anime to help with exposure.
Blade Girl ~Kataashi no Runner~ features a unique heroine for a manga series, and I’d like to follow her journey from a depressed teenager to someone who is not about to let her condition stop her.