Plum Crazy! Tales of a Tiger-Striped Cat, Vol. 1

By Natsumi Hoshino | Published by Seven Seas

It is definitely a good time to be a manga fan, particularly if you (like me) are fond of niche genres like food manga, sports manga, and cat manga. The latest entry into that final category is Plum Crazy! Tales of a Tiger-Striped Cat and, predictably, it’s cute.

Plum lives with the Nakarai family, including a woman who teaches traditional Japanese dance and her teenage son, Taku. One day, Plum brings home a kitten in distress, and what follows are her efforts to help take care of the kitten while said kitten (soon named Snowball) is more interested in administering chomps.

With the exception of a few pages of 4-koma comics at the back of the volume, Plum has no internal dialogue, but her actions and expressive face convey her thoughts well. She does typical cat-like things, but she’s far from ordinary. For example, not only does she actually listen to her owner’s directives, but she actually complies. Snowball is more realistically temperamental, only cuddling with Plum when she feels unwell and otherwise tormenting her until another cat shows up, at which point Snowball is jealous of their playtime.

Really, there isn’t a lot of plot here. The only thing that comes close is the Nakarai family learning valuable lessons about keeping a clean litterbox, or the dangers of heatstroke, or the fact that cats don’t like wearing reindeer antlers and posing for pictures. To all of these I give a big “duh!,” and it’s somewhat frustrating to see people so cavalier about these and other topics—they don’t seem to worry about a tiny kitten wandering the neighborhood, for example—but I guess part of the point of the manga was to be educational.

At any rate, this was an enjoyable addition to the roster of cat manga available in English, and I plan to continue with it.

Plum Crazy! is ongoing in Japan, where sixteen volumes have been released. Seven Seas will publish the second volume in English in September.

Kiss & White Lily for My Dearest Girl, Vols. 1-2

By Canno | Published by Yen Press

I haven’t read a ton of yuri manga, but even I have encountered the “all-girls school with multiple couples” setup before. Kiss & White Lily for My Dearest Girl is another example of the same.

We begin with Ayaka Shiramine and Yurine Kurosawa. Shiramine has always been the perfect student, but she works hard for her grades. Enter Kurosawa, the lazy genius, who shows up and immediately takes the number one spot. Squabbling ensues, with Kurosawa going all sparkly when a furious Shiramine calls her “just a regular person.” It seems she’s been waiting for someone who might beat her. My problem with this couple is that Shiramine is not very likable, even if I sympathize with her frustration. Plus, I ended up comparing her “there’s no way anyone could love me when I’m not perfect” angst with that of Nanami Touko in Bloom into You, where the idea is executed with more depth and originality.

Thankfully, these characters soon rotate into the background as focus shifts onto Shiramine’s cousin, track star Mizuki. Kurosawa also happens to be great at running, and Mizuki is upset when the team manager, Moe, avidly attempts to recruit her. Moe is supposed to watch Mizuki the most, after all. It all turns out to be for a cute reason, and I like the M&M pairing much more.

Volume two introduces still more characters. Ai Uehara doesn’t endear herself to me by whining about the availability of third-year Maya Hoshino—“Mock exams are more important to you than I am!”—and the chapter where she tries to make her friend stay in town rather than going to the university of her dreams and then realizes that this makes her friend sad and then promptly trips and starts blubbering just about had steam coming out of my ears.

But, again, thankfully, we move away from the annoying character to someone more mature. Chiharu Kusakabe is Hoshino’s roommate and is in love with her. Hoshino seems to be aware of this, particularly after a clichéd “locked in the storeroom” incident, but doesn’t return her feelings. While Chiharu is busy pining for a sempai, she encounters a younger girl who begins pining for her. And, again, some cuteness ensues.

I’m definitely on board for volume three, but I wonder… will each volume introduce someone I profoundly dislike in the first half and then give me a couple to really like in the second half? I suppose I can deal with that, and I also want to see more of Mizuki and Chiharu.

Kiss & White Lily for My Dearest Girl is ongoing in Japan, where six volumes have been released so far. The first two volumes are currently available in English; the third will be released in August.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

Flying Witch, Vol. 1

By Chihiro Ishizuka | Published by Vertical Comics

Makoto Kowata is a novice witch who, in the tradition of witches, has left home at the age of fifteen to become independent. Her parents are concerned about her safety, though, so she’s staying with relatives in Aomori, located in the Tohoko region where it’s easier to perform magic thanks to abundant wilderness and natural resources. Accompanying her is her familiar, a black cat named Chito who is indisputably my favorite character.

Flying Witch is a calm, slice-of-life tale depicting Makoto’s attempts to fit in to her new surroundings. Makoto’s young cousin, Chinatsu, is scared of her at first, but changes her opinion to “so cool!” after a ride on a broomstick. Makoto starts high school and forgets that she’s not supposed to be talking about witchy matters with people who aren’t family. She tries to give a mandrake to an ordinary girl as a present. She starts a vegetable garden. She receives a visit from “the harbinger of spring” and another from her world-traveling sister.

It’s all very peaceful, but there are some amusing moments scattered throughout. I love that Chinatsu’s dad has a heavy regional accent (rendered as Southern in the translation) and that, after everyone else has tried and failed to capture a pheasant, he gives it a shot himself, comically muttering, “Dang it!” But what I really love is anything to do with Chito. Ishizuka-sensei does a terrific job at conveying Chito’s facial expressions, including an adorable panel of the kitty sticking out her tongue and going “pbbt.” The best, though, occur during the chapter in which Chito leads direction-challenged Makoto for a walk in the neighborhood. She assures her they’re going to a good spot, but it ends up being a location where Chito can taunt a dog on a tether, remaining disdainfully out of reach as he goes berserk.

Even though the premise is very different from Yotsuba&!, that gentle, slice-of-life feeling summons a similar response. I ended up enjoying this a lot more than I expected to, and now eagerly await volume two, albeit mostly for more Chito.

Flying Witch is ongoing in Japan, where five volumes have been released so far. Vertical will release the second volume in English later this month.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Days, Vols. 1-2

By Tsuyoshi Yasuda | Published digitally by Kodansha Comics

Fifteen-year-old Tsukushi Tsukamoto doesn’t have any friends. He’s always rushed home after school to be there for his disabled mother, who is raising him on her own after his father passed away. After an eccentric fellow named Jin Kazama saves Tsukushi from bullies, Tsukushi is more than willing to grant Kazama the favor of playing a game of futsal with him. In fact, he runs six miles through the rain in order to fulfill his promise, and though he’s spectacularly awful at the game, he’s also a gutsy idiot and something about his enthusiasm rubs off on his teammates.

As it happens, Tsukushi and Kazama are attending the same high school, Seiseki, which is renowned for its soccer club. They both join, but whereas Kazama is the best of the incoming first years, Tsukushi is the worst, frequently causing the rest of his yearmates to run extra laps due to his ineptitude. The other guys get frustrated, but Tsukushi just works harder than ever. This is the first time he’s ever been part of a group moving in the same direction toward a shared dream, and he’s never had so much fun. The stoic, pro-bound captain, Mizuki, admires this dedication and predicts, “Two years down the road, he’s going to be our captain.” We eventually learn that Mizuki himself started off just as awful.

Little by little, Tsukushi manages to not completely suck, albeit only for brief moments at a time. Because of his ability to rekindle the joy of soccer in others, he is surprisingly chosen for the Interhigh team. Though he makes an error that costs them a penalty kick, he also makes a valiant save that rallies everyone’s spirits. I’m a sucker for those moments when the underdog first hears the crowd cheering for them so, predictably, this moment made me verklempt.

I did, however, have a few doubts about Days in the beginning. There are some gags with the bullies that are extremely unfunny, and a recurring bit where Kazama keeps handing Tsukushi panties with which to dry his tears. Too, there was one instance of girls’ boobs appearing (with requisite “boing” sound effect) a panel before we see their faces. I realize that this is a shounen sports manga, but most are, and they’re usually not as juvenile as Days is in its opening chapter. Thankfully, it gets better. I especially appreciate Yasuda-sensei’s skill with the poignant two-page spread and the organic way the supporting characters are beginning to be fleshed out. Days definitely won me over in the end.

Days is ongoing in Japan, where volume 22 has just been released.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

The Full-Time Wife Escapist, Vols. 1-2

By Tsunami Umino | Published digitally by Kodansha Comics

Mikuri Moriyama is a 25-year-old licensed clinical psychologist who hasn’t been able to find a job after grad school. She’s been living with her parents and working for a temp agency, and when she’s laid off her father arranges for her to assume housekeeping duties for a guy he used to work with. Hiramasa Tsuzaki is 36 and single. He seems humorless and particular at first, but Mikuri finds that working for a hard-to-please guy makes it easier to know when she’s been successful. She performs her duties well, even managing to nurse Tsuzaki through an illness in such a business-like way that it’s not awkward for him. Things go well for a few months, then Mikuri’s father prepares to retire and move to the countryside. Rather than lose their mutually beneficial arrangement, Mikuri and Tsuzaki decide that she’ll move in with him and, for the sake of propriety, become his common-law wife. They proceed to perpetuate the ruse that they’re actually a real couple.

I am really enjoying The Full-Time Wife Escapist so far! Mikuri is an interesting character. She’s outwardly educated and competent—equally able to engage in conversations about globalization and maintain a meticulous budget—but has these inward flights of fancy that only the reader is privy to. She often imagines herself being interviewed about the state of her life, be it with an unsympathetic talk show host or a man-on-the-street segment about middle-aged virgins (which Tsuzaki appears to be), or performing heartbreaking Les Miserables-style songs about the woes of unemployment. The injection of whimsy is fun and reminds me a little of Tokyo Tarareba Girls, but Mikuri is a lot more practical (and a lot less boozy) than the characters of that series.

As Tsuzaki’s coworkers learn that he’s gotten married, his social calendar suddenly fills up in a way it never did before, while Mikuri notices that her aunt Yuri, with whom she’s very close, has been hesitant to invite her out as much as she used to before Mikuri got married. Spending time with Numata and Kazami is enjoyable for the couple, but it’s also risky, because nosy Numata snoops and learns there’s only a twin bed in the bedroom, and by volume two, Kazami is convinced that they’re faking it. Kazami is perhaps as equally developed as Tsuzaki himself, as we hear a great deal about his reservations about marriage, which all leads up to the big cliffhanger ending of volume two (which I shan’t spoil). Tsuzaki, meanwhile, is attempting in vain to keep from developing feelings for Mikuri. She persists in being business-like, and he 100% believes there’s no chance she’d ever reciprocate, so he often looks emotionless in front of her, only revealing his feelings when he’s alone. I love that neither one of them is spazzy; they’re in a somewhat trope-y arrangement, but they’re handling it like adults.

I really can’t wait for volume three. There’s so many interesting ways the story could go, though I admit I actually do want it to go in the standard “they fall in love and live happily ever after” direction.

The Full-Time Wife Escapist is ongoing in Japan; nine volumes have been released so far.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

Dreamin’ Sun, Vol. 1

By Ichigo Takano | Published by Seven Seas

Even without knowing much about Dreamin’ Sun, I was sold by the fact that it’s an earlier series from Ichigo Takano, creator of orange, which I loved dearly. Dreamin’ Sun is more of a straightforward and comedic shoujo story in which characters do not contend with letters from their future selves or how to save a suicidal friend, but it still has a few poignant moments.

Shimana Kameko’s mother died in a car accident three years ago. Now, her father has remarried and with her new step-mom and baby brother, Shimana only feels visible when she’s being criticized. “I feel like this isn’t even my home anymore,” she thinks, as she decides to run away. Promptly, she encounters a weird kimono-wearing guy in the park named Taiga Fujiwara who offers her a cheap place to stay. Luckily for her, he isn’t a creep, and after assigning her the task of finding a spare key for his place (since he’s locked out), he also gets her to admit the real reason she left home: accepting the new arrangement felt like betraying her mother.

Thus, Shimana moves in with Taiga and two of her male classmates, Zen Nakajou and Asahi Tatsugae. Zen is the hyper, panda-loving one and Asahi the considerate, studious, princely one. Soon Shimana is developing feelings for Asahi, but he’s in love with his childhood friend who is, herself, in love with someone. In fact, there’s a lot of unrequited love going around. Zen seems to have unacknowledged feelings for Shimana, one of Taiga’s coworkers fancies him, but knows she’s not the one he really wants, etc.

These wistful feelings elevate Dreamin’ Sun beyond the “plain girl lives with several hot guys” trope. In addition, I really loved how much Taiga cares for the kids in his charge. He’s the one who’s able to convince Shimana’s parents to let her remain at his house and concocts a few situations to help her maybe get something going with Asahi. He also encourages each of them to have a dream, and claims his dream is “for all of you to grow up.” Could he be atoning for something? Too, at the end of the volume, we learn that he’s actually a prosecutor and that his father helped out Shimana’s family three years ago. Will some accident-related secret be forthcoming?

Even if no mystery arises, Dreamin’ Sun is still an appealing series, and I definitely plan to continue it.

Dreamin’ Sun is complete in ten volumes. Seven Seas will release volume two in July.

My Brother’s Husband, Vol. 1

By Gengoroh Tagame | Published by Pantheon Books

Yaichi is a single dad who works from home managing the rental property his parents left to him and his brother, Ryoji, after being killed in a car accident when the boys were teenagers. He considers his real job to be providing the best home he can to his daughter, Kana. On the day the story begins, Yaichi is expecting a guest—Mike Flanagan, the burly Canadian whom Ryoji married after leaving Japan ten years ago. Ryoji passed away the previous month and Mike has come to Japan to try to connect with Ryoji’s past and see for himself the many things he’d heard stories about from his husband.

Initially, Yaichi is reserved and wary around Mike. It’s not to his credit that the first thing he thinks when effusive Mike moves in for a hug is “Let go, you homo!”, though he at least mostly keeps a lid on his feelings. Mike is never anything but lovely, and Kana quickly comes to adore him. It’s through her openness and innocence, untainted by prejudice, that Yaichi comes to rethink some of his actions concerning Mike. Why did he hesitate to invite Mike to stay with them, when he’d recently insisted a visiting cousin do the same, for example? Kana is able to ask Mike things that Yaichi feels unable to, and he benefits from Mike’s super-patient explanations, eventually realizing how wrong he’d been about various aspects of the gay experience.

Not only wrong, in fact, but willfully ignorant. When Ryoji came out to him as a teenager, Yaichi didn’t object but never talked about it with him, either. He never considered how difficult that conversation was for his brother, or what other kind of turmoil he might’ve been experiencing. Too late, he’s realizing that he missed the opportunity to truly know his brother. I did appreciate that Yaichi is willing and able to recognize his own failings, and that he vows to protect Kana from others’ negative opinions about Mike and from being as closed-off as he was. True, he’s still not able to introduce Mike to an acquaintance without downgrading his relationship to Ryoji, so he’s got a ways to go. But at least he is headed in the right direction.

“Heartbreaking yet hopeful” is how Anderson Cooper describes My Brother’s Husband in his endorsement blurb, and he is definitely right. Melinda also wrote movingly about the series in our latest Off the Shelf column.

My Brother’s Husband is complete in four volumes. Pantheon Books is releasing the series in two-in-one volumes.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

A Silent Voice, Vols. 1-7

By Yoshitoki Oima | Published by Kodansha Comics

asv1In elementary school, Shoya Ishida often engaged in foolhardy stunts to stave off boredom. When hearing impaired transfer student Shoko Nishimiya joins his class and causes disruption within the class, she becomes Shoya’s target. Initially, the other kids laugh at Shoya’s antics but when he goes too far and destroys several hearing aids to the tune of $14,000, they swiftly condemn him. Now he’s the one who’s ostracized and this status continues into high school, long after Shoko transferred out again. Full of self-loathing, he’s preparing to commit suicide, but a chance reunion with Shoko inspires him to try to change.

One of the first things Shoya does is accept the friendship of a tubby, pushy classmate called Tomohiro Nagatsuka. Tomohiro doesn’t have much depth or subtlety as a character, but he proves to be a reasonably faithful friend and helps Shoya become more sociable. Soon, he meets Yuzuru, Shoko’s tomboyish sister, and reunites with more girls from his elementary school class. Many of the middle volumes involve frictions between this group of people, particularly between a volatile girl named Naoka and Shoko. Shoya tries to help patch their relationship, but things do not go well at all. There is a lot of punching and hair-pulling, in fact.

asv4Back and forth things go, with this group continuing to try to establish themselves as friends without seeming to genuinely like each other much. Eventually, they decide to film a movie together. For one scene, they need to acquire permission to film at their old elementary school. Shoya is the unwilling emissary, and an encounter with his odious former teacher leaves him feeling so awful about himself that he ends up lashing out at all his friends, seemingly trying to drive them away as he feels he deserves. This has the unintended side effect of causing Shoko to feel like she’s the cause of his unhappiness, prompting a desperate act.

Throughout, I enjoyed Shoya’s arc. I like that gaining some people to hang out with is not enough to immediately banish self-hatred or prevent negative feelings. Only at the end of the series does Shoya gain the courage to face people honestly, accepting criticism for his faults and misdeeds while also being open to the possibility that not everyone is hostile towards him. I do wish we got more emphasis on Shoko’s inner life, however, even though I liked the direction she’s headed at the end of the series.

asv7Less clear is what Oima was aiming for with their group of friends. Even though Naoka was far more outwardly nasty to Shoko, at least she was open about it and expressed a great deal of self-loathing because of her behavior. With the help of another friend, Miyoko, she is encouraged to have a bit more optimism, and will probably end up doing okay. Even though she could’ve been fleshed out further, I do like Naoka as a character. But man oh man, do I hate Miki. She makes everything about herself—at one point revising the bullying narrative so that she and Shoko were co-victims—and doesn’t seem to grow at all. Everything she does seems fake, because most of it is, and I was baffled when the boy she fancies declared her to be “kind” after some weepy episode. Miki should get hit by a bus.

Lastly, there were some thoughtful depictions of how characters perceive the spoken word. In later volume there’s a chapter from Shoko’s point of view where all of the dialogue in the speech bubbles is only about sixty percent legible. It’s a neat effect. Too, on several occasions Shoya seems to overhear his classmates making derogatory comments about him. The scenes are depicted in such a way that the reader has doubt—is he just imagining what they’re saying, or are they really saying it? This struggle to interpret conversation is something he and Shoko have in common.

Despite a couple of complaints, I’d say A Silent Voice is well worth reading!

A Silent Voice is complete in seven volumes, all of which are now available in English.

Several from Seven Seas

In the past couple of months, Seven Seas has published several new releases of interest to me!

Bloom Into You, Vol. 1 by Nakatani Nio
Koito Yuu has just begun her first year of high school. Pressured by her friends to participate in club activities, she ends up assisting the student council, where she meets elegant second-year student Nanami Touko. Yuu has been trying to figure out how to reply to the male friend who confessed his love for her at their middle school graduation, and when she overhears Touko rejecting a confession with the words “I don’t intend to go out with anyone, no matter who asks me,” she thinks she’s found someone who’ll understand how she feels.

Or, rather, doesn’t feel. Yuu wants to experience a soaring, sparkly love like she reads about in manga. She tried, but she couldn’t, and with Touko’s support, she’s finally able to let the guy down. What she isn’t prepared for is for Touko to reveal that they’re not alike after all because “I think I might be falling in love with you.”

At first, I was annoyed by Touko’s declaration. It was too soon; it felt unearned. However, the more we get to know her, as Yuu spends more time with her while working as her campaign manager for student elections, it becomes clear that Touko has devoted a lot of time and effort into projecting an image that isn’t really her. She wanted to be special, and now she must maintain that perfect facade. Around everyone, that is, except Yuu, who is seemingly incapable of finding anyone special. For you see, Yuu doesn’t feel anything when Touko confesses either, nor when the other girl steals her first kiss. She’s not excited, and she’s not upset. She feels nothing. I actually began to wonder… has she suffered some kind of deep, psychological trauma?

I like both Yuu and Touko, I like the Maria-sama ga Miteru sort of atmosphere, I like Yuu’s continued detachment, and I have high hopes for how this story might unfold going forward.

Bloom Into You is ongoing in Japan, where three volumes have been released so far. Volume two comes out in English on May 16th.

The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún, Vol. 1 by Nagabe
It doesn’t happen all that often that I read something and conclude, “This is a five-star manga that everyone should read.” So, please keep that in mind when I say… This is a five-star manga that everyone should read.

The back cover blurb sets up the tone of the series marvelously, so I’m going to quote it. “In a land far away, there were two kingdoms: the Outside, where twisted beasts roamed that could curse with a touch, and the Inside, where humans lived in safety and peace. The girl and the beast should never have met, but when they do, a quiet fairytale begins.”

I knew I’d adore this series the moment a black-as-pitch creature approaches a little girl who’s snoozing unaware and instead of menacing her, he scolds her for wandering off. Indeed, the creature—whom Shiva, the little girl, refers to as “Teacher”—is gentle, gentlemanly, and valiant, protecting Shiva both physically (when paranoid human soldiers think she must be cursed and try to kill her) and mentally (by shielding her from the truth that she has been abandoned). He also possesses medical knowledge but forgot that he told Shiva he’d been a doctor. Was he once human himself? His concern for Shiva radiates from him—I was particularly struck by a panel depicting his fists clenched in worry—and I love him deeply.

While humans and their fear are one threat, we’re introduced to another at the end of the volume, making for a chilling cliffhanger. I can’t wait for volume two of this lovely and captivating series!

The Girl from the Other Side is ongoing in Japan, where three volumes have been released so far. Volume two comes out in English on May 16th.

Kase-san and Morning Glories by Hiromi Takashima
Kase-san and… is a series that is technically comprised of a succession of one-shot stories. This first volume, entitled Kase-san and Morning Glories, includes the title story as well as interludes like “Kase-san and the Bicycle,” “Kase-san and Sneakers,” and “Kase-san and the Spring Breeze.”

Yamada doesn’t fit in with her classmates well. Though she has noticed popular Kase-san, the boyish star of the track team, she never thought she was on the other girl’s radar. But it turns out that Kase-san admired Yamada’s dedication to the thankless task of weeding the school grounds. The girls eventually start hanging out together and it isn’t long before Yamada is having Feelings with a capital “F.” There ensues the typical angst about “but she’s a girl.”

There are a couple of other moments that I’ve seen elsewhere, too—an indirect kiss via a shared thermos, the first real kiss in the nurse’s office—and it’s certainly fluffy and insubstantial, but it’s still really cute. The art style is pleasant, and I wonder whether Yamada’s friend—who warns her about Kase dating girls—might provide some drama down the road. In any case, I’m on board for the next volume.

Kase-san and… is ongoing in Japan, where three volumes have been released so far. The second, Kase-san and Bento, comes out in English on May 23rd.

Kindred Spirits on the Roof: The Complete Collection by Hachi Ito, Aya Fumio, Toitentsu, and Liar-Soft
I was initially under the mistaken impression that the manga version of Kindred Spirits on the Roof was a retelling of the storyline from the yuri visual novel. Instead, it focuses on new girls attending Kokono-Tsuboshi Girls’ Academy of Commerce with some of the original couples returning as side characters or cameos.

In side A, written and illustrated by Hachi Ito, we are introduced to shy Shiina Shiori, who is in the art club. She comes out of her shell a bit while helping to create scenery for the play her class is putting on for the school festival, and by the end of the volume—after much dithering and conversations about “what does it feel like to love someone?”—has decided to stop running away from the feelings of her childhood friend, Kanda Mako. The moment where they become a couple is the only time the original kindred spirits are glimpsed, buy they don’t do or say anything.

Side B, written by Toitensu and illustrated by Aya Fumio, has a little more meat on its bones, but only just. Hase Chiharu and Ichiyama Tokino are fans of “friendly girls,” and decide to join the quiz club so that they can squee over the relationship between their sempai, Tomoe Natsuki and Sasaki Rika. They endeavor to help cool Sasaki admit to her feelings, and there is, of course, the implication that they themselves will form a couple someday. There were very brief glimpses of the girls at their quiz tournaments, but it was very far from being the focus of the story.

Ultimately, I didn’t hate Kindred Spirits on the Roof. It’s sweet and not lecherous. But it’s also a very frothy concoction without much depth. I can’t see myself ever desiring to reread it.

Kindred Spirits on the Roof is complete in two volumes.

Review copies for Kase-san and Morning Glories and Kindred Spirits on the Roof provided by the publisher.

Giant Killing, Vol. 1

By Masaya Tsunamoto and Tsujitomo | Published digitally by Kodansha Comics

Although I genuinely, deeply love shounen sports manga, I can’t deny that most follow similar story beats. I knew going in that Giant Killing is actually seinen, but wasn’t prepared for what a breath of fresh air it would be.

Instead of some first-year joining his high-school team, the protagonist of Giant Killing is Takeshi Tatsumi, a 35-year-old former pro soccer player turned coach. The series opens with Yuri Nagata and Kosei Gotou, the PR rep and general manager of East Tokyo United (a struggling Japanese team) finally locating Tatsumi at his job in England, where has led a team of amateurs to a top-32 finish in the Football Association Cup. They have even managed to crush professional teams.

It turns out that Tatsumi specializes in leading underdog teams to victory against highly favored opponents. He sees it as a David-and-Goliath scenario, hence the title of the series. Initially, the English club president doesn’t want to let Tatsumi out of his contract, but when he learns that Tatsumi used to play for ETU and that there are desperate fans in his hometown waiting to be helped, he relents and lets him go.

Tatsumi doesn’t seem to particularly care either way and it’s this neutrality that makes him an interesting character and effective coach. For instance, at his first practice session with the ETU team, he makes them run sprints for 45 minutes. Those with the most stamina turn out to be the younger guys, but they’re also merely the alternates on the team. With his guidance, they manage to defeat the older starters in a scrimmage. The stalwart veteran of the team, Murakoshi, gets his pride wounded by this, but rather than suggest that he’s no longer useful, Tatsumi instead points out that what he needs is to find his own secret weapon to overcome these odds. Tatsumi is adept at seeing a team or an individual’s shortcomings and offering strategies to overcome them, and that’s the kind of reliable leadership that Murakoshi has done without all these years.

On the one hand, Tatsumi exemplifies the gifted protagonist that this genre is full of, but his gift is not in his own athletic prowess (or not merely that) but rather his ability to furnish others with the tools they need to succeed, to reinvigorate failing franchises, and to rekindle fan enthusiasm. And, of course, the clubs don’t mind the boost in revenue that inevitably results. Giant Killing is every bit as addictive as a shounen series, but with grown-up stakes and nuance. I can’t wait to read more!

Giant Killing is ongoing in Japan, where the 43 volumes have been released so far.

Review copy provided by the publisher.