Seinen – Sports
5 Volumes of 19 Volumes (complete)
Meguru and Takashi were friends who trained at the same dojo, but Meguru had to move away. Years later, he is happily surprised when his first mixed martial arts bout is against his old buddy, Takashi. However, Takashi is hardly interested in a touching reunion. Still, for the one who has no purpose in life and the other who has only one purpose in life, they may be forced to meet in the ring yet again.
All-Rounder Meguru is less manga/anime-y than a lot of sports manga — partly due to its older demographic — but it’s also less fun.
We first meet the titular Meguru as a kid, hanging out with his best friend. Both take karate together, but even with their training, they are still the target of bullies. But while Takashi is the type to get really mad after losing, Meguru isn’t. Eventually, Meguru moves away, just as Takashi starts becoming obsessed with getting revenge for his father. After a time skip, readers learn that both have continued with martial arts — specifically, shooto, Japanese mixed martial arts. But Meguru is still seeing this as a hobby while Takashi is determined to use his skills to avoid joining his uncle’s yakuza group.
I am sure that the rematch between these childhood friends is the climax of the manga (and a good chance it’s at or near the finale). But the manga doesn’t just follow these two. Many of Meguru’s cohorts are prominently featured in the story, showing their matches and determinations. A lot of these fighters are technically rivals or are training in different weight classes or specialties, but they do a lot of training together. I don’t read a lot of manga about solo sports, so it was interesting to follow how they all support each other as members of the same gym but don’t have the usual support/teamwork of games like baseball or basketball.
Compared to manga featuring those activities, shooto in All-Rounder Meguru is pretty realistic. Meguru is slowly developing the ability to copy techniques, but there’s no fantasy special abilities like being able to see the entire field or perfect hits. This is all about the hits, kicks, and holds — which, as kickboxer Maki points out, makes it look as if the participants are doing a completely different physical activity. I like the down-to-earth approach in this manga, but it is confusing since the characters discuss the different martial arts forms. As someone who doesn’t watch wrestling or its related sports, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me when people are surprised by different stances or techniques. For a Japanese audience, readers are probably more familiar with how judo is different from jiu jitsu and from karate and from wrestling, etc. The manga does explain some things, but it never explains in detail. Like I had no idea there’s judges just for takedowns, and they score somewhat subjectively? Surely I’m not the only one who didn’t know this. Since all of the main characters are involved in martial arts, there’s no one to explain these basics to the readers, and there’s no omnipotent narrator either. Still, the actual art showing the fights are well-done, with some painful blows and passionate chokeholds. Not so dramatic if you are the type to like life-or-death battles though, as the refs call an end to a match before people get too hurt. Still, the manga shows how dangerous this sport is.
The more realistic presentation of shooto also extends to the characters themselves. There’s some familiar humor involving chest sizes, tsundere personalities, and off-color jokes or pranks like switching the sign of the gendered changing areas, but the characters feel like a group of people you could spot in your neighborhood. (Well, except for the mafia-connected people, hopefully.) A couple of guys’ personalities switch on a dime when a girl arrives, another stubbornly refuses to not fight to let his arm heal, and another worries about getting too old to make a living being a fighter. But unlike a lot of action or sports manga, Meguru doesn’t obsess over his rival, and he isn’t vowing to be #1 in the world or anything. It’s nice to see a protagonist in a sport manga wondering how dedicated they are to their activity, if this is something they want to pursue or if they need to concentrate on getting a stable (and safe) career.
That being said, one of my biggest beefs with All-Rounder Meguru is that while I wouldn’t call the manga fast paced, it’s jumpy at points. Particularly the beginning. We go from Meguru and Takashi’s days together to a gym seven years later that Meguru has only been attending for six months. Lots of guys are introduced quickly, and many look very similar. Heck, I had to go back and reread the first chapter since I couldn’t remember which was Meguru and which was Takashi. Volumes and chapters end abruptly. Trying to remember what level everyone is at (amateur vs pro) can be a nightmare since everyone is training together. I’m about one-fourth of the way through, and I also don’t know how the rest of the story is going to be paced considering Meguru doesn’t have a goal right now. Combined with the focuses on other fighters (Takashi, Maki, Yudai, and more) and a series length well below most of the popular shounen sports titles, Meguru’s time as the protagonist could be less interesting. He’s pretty friendly, but I doubt many readers will be fanatical in wanting to see him rise to the top of his weightclass. He has to find that desire first before readers can. The title may be All-Rounder Meguru, but he’s got a ways to go before he can earn that moniker. And until he does, fans are likely to peg him as the boring nice guy protagonist.
I will give the manga credit for featuring some important, good female fighters. Girls aren’t included in the series just to be a secretary at the club or the encouraging childhood friend. Others may make sexist comments about females not belonging in MMA, but they want to make the guys eat their words. Maki, for instance, is around Meguru’s age, but she also gives him lessons and tips from her kickboxing experience, and he in turn gives her advice too. Maria is a former pro, and she manages to win a demonstration match without getting hit. Both ladies are also probably the quirkiest characters in the manga (Maria for her pranks and suggestive comments towards girls in particularly, Maki for being stubborn and violent), but neither feel like just a token female character.
Honorifics are used. Many of the Japanese martial arts moves have footnotes. I didn’t notice anything else to comment on.
All-Rounder Meguru finds its niche as a more down-to-earth approach to sports manga, but this also takes away much of the dramatic, fantastical appeal of manga sports titles. Not something I’ll be tracking down though, but I probably would continue it if the other volumes made it on Kindle Unlimited.
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