By Kosuke Fujishima. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Afternoon. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.
It is somewhat mindboggling that we did not arrive at this point a good 35 years ago. No one has put more effort into writing motorbikes into series that did not necessarily need a lot of motorbike attention as Kosuke Fujishima has. You’re Under Arrest was a buddy cop manga, but right from the start it was clear that both girls were about driving fast, and making their cars and bikes as fast as possible. Oh My Goddess! had goddesses, demons, heaven, hell, and so many motocross races it wasn’t even funny, to the point where entire volumes barely focused on anything but racing. Even minor series such as Paradise Residence or EX-Driver have found a way to show off bikes and souped-up engines. Yet somehow, Fujishima has never written a pure, modern-day racing manga until now. Can we blame Initial D?
For the most part, it’s been worth the wait. You can argue all you want that Fujishima sometimes skimps on characterization, but there’s no doubt the man knows how to write a race. The racing here is sort of like the dancing in Welcome to the Ballroom – exciting, understandable, fast, and it makes you want to find out more about it yourself. The hero, as you might guess from the title, is Toppu, a young kid who was just interested in building Gundam models and not much else. But he has two big things going for him to get him into the world of Grand Prix racing: a) an ability to analyze how to best race by merely watching others, and b) a massive crush on the girl next door, Myne, who’s a very talented GP rider and is convinced that Toppu could be even better. And, after finally getting on a bike to try it, he discovers a love of racing himself.
As you might guess from Toppu’s grumpy mug on the cover of this volume, he’s not exactly filled with the joy of everyday living. Myne makes up for that, being such a force of pure cuteness and verve that I had to check to make sure this wasn’t being written by Mitsuru Adachi. (Actually, like Adachi, I wonder if Myne might end up being a posthumous character as this goes on – Toppu’s “I hope you’re watching this” to the skies in the starting flashforward is ambiguous – but I suspect Fujishima is not the sort to kill off his cast quite like that.) She gets some development as well – when two brothers bend the rules in their favor to try to topple Toppu (say that three times fast), she goes after them in the next race out of pure vengeance – which she realizes, thankfully, pulling back and reminding herself of the joy of racing.
And really, that’s why you want to read this, more than the plot or characters. It is a giant love letter to motorbikes, their care and maintenance, and the way that they move around a track. I’m not sure when the next volume will be out – we’re already caught up with Japan – but I can’t wait for more.