Seinen – Sports
2 Volumes of 18 Volumes of 19 Volumes (ongoing)
Neri has been a benchwarmer at a middle school famous for its volleyball team. But she’s sworn to herself not to make friends, not even to the nice team captain who offers to help her train so that she can attend the school’s high school division. But what she and most of their teammates don’t know is that Neri has been purposefully holding back her true ability. But why?
Shojo Fight is listed at some places as Shojo FIGHT! to match the cover, but Kodansha Comics’ own website and the manga’s credit page just goes with Shojo Fight. So I’m writing it that way.
Either way, this manga is packed with more human drama than most sports series, but the rough opening and artstyle may be turnoffs for readers.
Neri, who is trying to avoid making friends, attends Hakuuzan Private Academy Middle School, renowned for its volleyball team. But while it does have an affiliated high school, if you’re cut from the team, you won’t be able attend. Two of her teammates disagree on Neri’s skill — the captain, Koyuki, thinks that Neri is in danger of being cut, but Chiyo knows Neri’s skills would cause Koyuki to be off the team.
And Chiyo is right about Neri. Why is she holding back? The manga doesn’t take long to reveal the reasons. Neri’s older sister, Mari, was a player at Kokuyodani Private High, but she was killed just before the championship match. (The team won the next day.) Neri’s nickname in elementary was “Mad Dog”, and she’s trying to suppress that side of her by avoiding playing in games. In fact, her teammates all said they were applying to Hakuuzan, but Neri was upset to find out that no one else did since it seems like they didn’t want to play with Neri.
Neri thinks about quitting for good, but her childhood friend and son of a bone and muscle doctor, Shigeru, says that Neri won’t be able to run away forever. Shigeru attends Kokuyodani, and while he’s a volleyball player too, he half-quits, half-forced volunteered into being the girl’s team trainer.
Long story short, Neri ends up attending Kokuyodani, where she originally did not want to attend since she was upset they could go on and play after Mari’s unexpected passing. Meanwhile, Shigeru’s slacker brother, Michiru, is given a recommendation to Kokuyodani partly because of Shigeru’s quitting. One of his classmates is named Manabu, a girl who dreams of writing a volleyball manga starring Neri, also attends Kokuyodani to learn more about the sport. Thus starts Neri’s career at Kokuyodani.
Man, I had a hard time summarizing the setup, as Shojo Fight is more than just a “prodigy attends school to finally face a challenge” or “newbie discovers talent”-type story. Yes, it has elements of both these stories (Neri getting excited at the level of skill at Kokuyodani, Manabu joining the team as someone who has never played before), but this is a rather emotional manga with the protagonist needing not just to grow but overcome. There’s also a love triangle, eccentric team members (including a captain who spends all night to disguise basketballs as volleyballs as a joke), a hikikomori brother, and some time with the boys team.
On the downside, these two volumes introduce a lot of characters. There’s Neri’s teammates at Hakuuzan, she runs into someone from her elementary school, Neri’s and the brothers’ parents, and both male and female Kokuyodani players. It’s a lot to take in, especially since the artstyle is atypical. More on that in a minute. But when I was reading, there were some confusing moments. We meet Neri and learn a bit about her and the school, then suddenly we have a glasses girl with a bobcut drawing manga and a classmate who shows up late. It’s a few pages later we see Manabu talking about Neri to her brother, but those kind of switches are jarring at a time when readers are trying to establish what they should be paying the closest attention to. Plus the manga doesn’t do a good job explaining terms like dig, libero, etc. It’s not super important since we haven’t started the bulk of the manga (Kokuyodani aiming to be #1), but a few more notes wouldn’t have hurt.
The art is also likely to be divisive. It’s a style focused on thick lines and minimal use of screentones and shading. Think Love Roma meets Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt meets Japanese kawaii mass merchandise. (Hopefully at least one of those will be familiar to you.) Michiru looks less like a spikey-headed teen and more like a 70s disco dancer. A lot of characters are unintentionally androgynous. Nihonbashi’s style would be perfectly fine in a 4-koma style, but it’s not what most people are expecting in a regular manga. Especially in a sports manga. Now, I’m not going to to into the whole fanservice debate, but this is one that doesn’t seem interested in showing off female bodies. But the main thing is that we haven’t seen a lot of sweat or angry faces, and based upon this style, I don’t think we’re going to get a lot of creepy faces or other exaggerated expressions. There’s one person I swear is an elf. Honest to goodness, I expected them to start casting a spell.
Honorifics are used. A couple of footnotes are included.
Shojo Fight is not typical in either art or story. That makes it unique among its contemporaries. The opening parts may be a little rough, but I am intrigued to follow Neri’s journey.
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