By Mitsurou Kubo. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Weekly Shonen Magazine. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics. Translated by Rose Padgett.
Yuri!! on Ice was a bit of a phenomenon, not just here but worldwide. But yes, also here, which is why we’re seeing two series that are by the writer of the famous ice skating anime. Again!! is the less surprising of the two licenses, though its subject matter means that it was fairly easily passed over back in the 2011-12 days when it was coming out weekly. (The other series, Moteki, is an even more unlikely license, but we’ll get to that when it comes out.) Again!! actually has a premise that seemingly would be quite popular over here: a young man with a scary face who has gone through high school with minimal interaction with people is graduating, having accomplished very few happy high school memories. He recalls the club that he was asked to join (but never did) when he started school, and goes to look at its now deserted clubroom, as the club died that year. While there, he accidentally terrifies a young girl who’s there to see her boyfriend, and she falls down a stairwell and cracks her head open. He then slips on a graduation bouquet and joins her.
The End! OK, not the end. He wakes up and suddenly begins to realize he’s back three years in the past, and is starting his school life all over again. Thinking this is a dream of some sort, he runs across the girl who invited him to join her club back then, and this time tries to give a different answer. And here we come to the elephant in the room: the club is an ouendan club. This is likely why the series was not licensed until YOI took off, as even fans of Elite Beat Agents may not have heard of ouendan. Kodansha’s notes list it as being sort of like a pep squad, and that’s not a bad analogy. Its members are usually male, but Usami, the lone remaining member, is a young girl. Now, if you’re thinking that this is going to be a sweet, heartwarming manga about a boy who rapidly discovers a love for ouendan and life that he never thought he had… well, it still could be, I suppose. But this first volume is here to tell you things will not be that simple. Usami is a hot mess with a difficult past, and it’s easy to see from ten seconds in her presence why the club died. Also, time travel is not as easy as it sounds, as both Imamura (our hero) and Fujieda (the girl who also fell down the stairs and went back in time, who is a walking disaster and the funniest part of the manga) discover. Oh yes, and the cheerleading squad leader is determined the end the ouendan.
This may not end up being my sort of manga – it relies somewhat on “watch people do embarrassing things” scenes that always make me cringe – but it’s absolutely compelling, and the lead manages to hold my interest despite being another in a long line of “guys with scary faces who aren’t really that scary”. I also do wonder how the time travel part is going to work out – is it just a one-way road? And can anyone convince Usami to turn the intenseness down to about an 8? There’s a lot developing here, but the series ran for twelve volumes in Japan, which seems to me just about the right length for a series like this. If you liked Yuri!! on Ice, you’ll obviously want to check this out, but it also appeals to readers with a taste for the quirky.