By Masahiro Totsuka and Aguri Igarashi. Released in Japan by Square Enix, serialized in the magazine Young Gangan. Released in North America by Yen Press.
I had mentioned in my review of Volume 8 that much of it was a setup for this being a meeting of two mismatched teams, and that I expected our heroes to spend most of the competition kicking asses. And indeed, that’s pretty much what I get here – well, at least until 3/4 of the way through it. But for that 3/4, it’s pretty much fantastic kendo action.
We begin with Azuma versus Chikamoto, which manages to be one of the few tense matches here, mostly as Chikamoto is the exception to most of the rest of her team. We can see her frustration as she realizes that Azuma is much, much better than she is – to the point where she recalls Azuma winning against someone who had previously beaten her in a competition, but can’t recall who beat her.
We then get what is, for me, the highlight of the volume. I’ve not tried to hide the fact that Miya-Miya is absolutely my favorite character in this series, and her split personality, angry snarling, and blunt honesty have been quite refreshing compared to her honest and forthright kendo leads. In Volume 8 we saw her training, and it was noted that she was shaping up well for a total novice. More to the point, Reimi has a cold, so is sick at home and not there to be a horrible distraction. As we see her fight, she scores a point, and is wise enough to realize that it only just barely landed, so didn’t feel “good enough.”
Counterpointing this is her arrogant opponent, who can tell that she'[s a beginner by her footwork, but can’t actually seem to do anything with that knowledge. And so, after giving up a point to stay even, Miya-Miya strikes, and gets the win. This is, in fact, her first win in the entire series. And she realizes… it’s an incredible feeling. Seeing the look of pure joy on her face, unshrouded by cynicism or anger, is worth the price of the book.
And so it goes through the match, with even Dan and Yuuji getting to play this time – and thrashing their opponents. And so finally we get Tamaki versus Takeshi, the sullen boy whose poor attitude has symbolized the spirit of the entire team. He has the most talent on the team, but lacks any will to fight. But even with that, Tamaki crushes him far too easily. So he notes the cords in his padding were loose, and asks for a rematch. And she does it again. Then the cords are actually too tight. So she beats him AGAIN. Then he stops trying to find excuses, and just starts demanding match after match. And slowly but surely, has a complete nervous breakdown as it becomes apparent just how far he’s fallen.
For the kids on the team it’s a vaguely happy ending – Takeshi is quitting, but he’s going back to a dojo to relearn the passion he had lost. And the rest of the team, now led by Chikamoto, is training much harder than before. I wish I could say that was it for the volume, but of course we have the match between Kojiro and Ishibashi. Which after the fantastic kendo action of the prior chapters, is a complete washout. The writer apologized in the afterword for there being too much focus on guys in this volume, but I had no issue with Takeshi’s plotline. Making Ishibashi into a complete comedic idiot, however, simply doesn’t work, and devoting almost an entire chapter to his and Kojiro’s post-match shenanigans makes it end on a poor note.
Still, it’s 3/4 of a volume of awesome, and you get to see the whole of Kojiro’s kendo team do an excellent job. Which is good timing, because the cliffhanger for Volume 10 suggests television might be in their future…