By Ryuji x Gotsubo. Released in Japan by Kadokawa Shoten, serialized in the magazine Shonen Ace. Released in North America by Yen Press.
Having just read through my review of the first volume of this manga, I did not particularly like it at all. So it may be somewhat of a surprise to see me reviewing the 2nd volume. I’m a stubborn guy, though, and one feature of that review was that I was defending the second volume’s right to exist, saying that it should not be cancelled based on bad word of mouth, even if it was a horrible manga. Well, Yen has now put out the second volume, and I thank them for that.
That will be the last word of praise you hear in this review. This volume actually managed to be worse than the first. MUCH worse.
On the somewhat bright side, there is a lot more soccer in this volume than there was in the first. Given this is a soccer manga, that can only be a good thing. Sadly, we continue to follow the exploits of the most annoying team ever, so the soccer does not rise to the occasion. We meet new players who hadn’t appeared (or barely) in Volume 1, such as Antonio. We then meet his four older brothers, who are playing for the other team, and who are all better than him. We have another team where the two stars are brothers, and the younger one tries to sabotage our heroes by kidnapping Inae because he loves his brother so much. Oh, and Rakuichi meets his archrival who he knew in Italy.
But wait, I hear you cry. What happened to the large amount of plot in Volume 1 regarding Maiko’s mother? Well, it was totally abandoned. She doesn’t appear in this volume. Hell, Maiko barely appears in this volume, mostly showing up as a comedic foil for whatever foolishness is going on and to provide the book’s climax. Indeed, every time we seem to be getting any plot development, it simply ends. Matsuri rescues a child, and proceeds to flirt with the kid’s mother, who is the wife of the opposing coach… except that’s it. Done just so the opposing coach can cry.
Then there’s Rakuichi, who spends this volume much like he did the last one, whining and bitching. He gets no chance to score a goal or justify everyone calling him talented (OK, he can run downfield with the ball well), and still has no desire for teamwork whatsoever. The author admitted in a note that he wanted to try drawing a team where the heroes were all lazy slackers, but he ended up with this instead. I’ve got news for him – he succeeded. There are precisely zero characters that you feel any empathy towards or want to see succeed.
Despite all of this, they manage to get through the qualifying rounds and end up in the final tournament in Tokyo. I was rather leery at this point, as I saw we only had about 40 pages left in the book. And then we get the ending. Oh my god. I’ve seen endings where the author was told “you’re cancelled next issue, wrap it up” before, but this really takes the cake. The team gets disqualified due to its president’s financial irregularities (which was lampshaded a bit earlier, somewhat incoherently, but lampshaded), and the school forces the team to disband.
My jaw dropped. This isn’t just ‘we only got to the second round, but next year we’ll be the champions’ ending you see in so many sports mangas, this is an active ‘screw you’ to everyone who has been reading this. It reminded me of the final episode of Seinfeld in the way that it seemed to show a total antipathy to its readers. Then it spends the last 10 pages showing everyone but Rakuichi is now successful, and dissolves into incoherence. No really, the last page is merely shonen one-liners spouted off, even the author notes it’s incoherent.
I haven’t mentioned the art, I notice. Suffice to say that it didn’t improve from Volume 1, and has the same issues. It reads like the author put out his first draft every week due to time constraints, without bothering to fix anything. Heck, the plot reads like that too, not only dropping things from chapter to chapter, but sometimes form page to page!
Apparently this manga did succeed fairly well when it first came out. The author mentions merchandise for sale a few times, and it doesn’t seem to read like a put on. There’s also some fanart on deviantart that seems to date from 2007, so some folks must have enjoyed it. And there’s a 4-volume sequel, god help us all. But to be honest, I spent most of my time reading this wondering what possessed Yen Press to license it in the first place? It being a sports manga doesn’t seem to be a big selling point, and it’s not a parody of sports manga or a gag manga, despite flirting with both of those slots unsuccessfully. It’s just a formless shapeless mess.
I did note, on Googling, that the author is known for one other thing besides his manga (which apparently continue in Shonen Ace to this day). When Twilight came out in Japan, they added illustrations and manga covers to the books, to make it more like a ‘light novel’. And Ryuji Gotsubo did those illustrations. Now, this is mere baseless speculation, but I wonder if, upon Yen getting the rights to the Twilight graphic novels they’re doing, there was a rider indicating they had to put out some of this author’s work? After all there have been weirder contracts.
I worry that some people, on reading this review, might think that Sasameke is one of those ‘fun’ bad manga, something to enjoy along the lines of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Let me tell you straight out, it isn’t. It is one of the most frustrating, irritating, and annoying manga ever put out in North America, and you will be grinding your teeth by the end if you even manage to get through it. Yen put out Volume 2, and good for them, but I beg them now: don’t license the sequel. Please?