Crimson Hero 3 by Mitsuba Takanashi: B+

From the back cover:
Former star setter Tomoyo joins the ranks, and now the six players are an official team at Crimson Field High School! However, Nobara is so focused on training that she fails to notice her team is falling apart under the pressure. Not only that, but Nobara must now find the money to pay for her uniform and club dues. Will Nobara be able to swallow her pride and ask her mother for help? Or will she have to give up on her dream after coming so far?

I was enjoying that Crimson Hero was all about girls striving and doing things purely for themselves to see what they could accomplish. I thought it didn’t need any romance. But then, the romance, she burgeoned, and I find that I kind of love it.

Ever since Yushin heard Nobara’s story and witnessed her passionate love of volleyball in action he, like his dormmates, has become more supportive of her. Lately, when she has had problems, he’s been the one she talked them over with, because she sort of instinctively knew he’d understand her. In this volume, he accompanies her during a very silly, melodramatic rescue of her younger sister (who’s attending an omiai with a cretin), and after Nobara returns from dealing with her parents, she has a good cry against his chest. Nobara’s so clueless about love that she doesn’t realize that she’s got any kind of feelings for Yushin beyond friendship. That is, until she sees him together with his girlfriend.

I’m not quite sure why I love this so very much, but I do. I think it’s because Nobara’s feelings are based on friendship and are directed toward a boy who is very good for her, as opposed to one who’s just princely or popular. I also like that Yushin and Haibuki, while probably classifiable into the “hothead and cool guy” stereotypes that often occupy romantic triangles in shojo manga, don’t really fit so easily into those roles. Haibuki can be a bit of an ass, but he can also be a nice guy. Yushin’s not really a hothead, though he is honest and direct.

Oh yes, and there’s a practice game, too. It was pretty short, though. I’d have preferred more of that and less sister rescuing, but at least the latter provided an opportunity for Souka to see how phenomenal Nobara really is.

Crimson Hero 2 by Mitsuba Takanashi: B+

From the back cover:
Nobara is issued a challenge from the boys’ volleyball team: if her team can score one point against them in a match, the girls will win. But, if the girls lose, Nobara will have to give up on having a girls’ volleyball team at Crimson Field forever. With everything on the line for the girls, the boys are playing to win, and even Haibuki seems determined to crush Nobara by aiming at her on the court.

This volume is a lot of fun. First, there’s the three-on-three challenge between the girls and the boys, which goes exactly as one might expect, but is nonetheless very entertaining and features Haibuki sneakily alerting the broadcast club so that a bunch of students will turn out and lend their support to the underdog girls’ team. I also like that the formerly assy boys living in the dorm begin showing much more support for Nobara’s endeavors after her showing at the game.

Next, there’s Nobara’s search for team members which reminds me a lot of Hikaru no Go in terms of the acquisition of a couple of enthusiastic newcomers who help fulfill the numbers requirement without really providing much by way of talent. These newbies bring the club’s membership up to five, leaving Nobara one person short of officially qualifying as a team.

Enter Tomoyo Osaka, who was a star player in junior high until an injury sidelined her before an important game. She was convinced that her team needed her in order to win, but it turns out they found a replacement pretty quickly. Since then, she’s stayed away from the sport and adamantly maintains she has no intention of playing, but of course we and Nobara know better, and our protagonist exerts her hero skills again as she finally breaks through to what Tomoyo’s real objections are. This whole section was perfectly paced; Tomoyo’s sour attitude and backstory angst would’ve gotten irritating if it’d continued for too long, but here it wraps up in just enough time for Nobara’s success in getting through to her at last to feel well-earned.

About the only complaint I could make is that all of this scrambling and struggling—the entire series, even—could’ve been averted if only Nobara had made sure that she was going to be attending a school with a strong girls’ volleyball team. You’d think that if she’s so passionate about it, she’d put forth that extra effort.

In any case, Crimson Hero is definitely fun and I am eager to read the next volume. Which is handy, ‘cos I have about eight of them sitting here.

Crimson Hero 1 by Mitsuba Takanashi: B

From the back cover:
All that matters to 15-year-old Nobara Sumiyoshi is volleyball—she’s an awesome player with big-time ambitions. But sometimes it seems like a girl just can’t get a break in the competitive world of high school volleyball.

Nobara’s family wants her to inherit the role of “young mistress,” serving rich patrons at her family’s old-fashioned Japanese restaurant. No thanks! When Nobara transfers to Crimson Field High School, known for its top-notch volleyball team, it turns out that her mother will stoop to dirty tricks to keep her off the court. With assistance from her feisty Aunt Momoko, who’s got some connections at Crimson Field, Nobara decides to start playing offense.

Seriously, are there any bad Shojo Beat manga? I suppose I wasn’t very keen on Time Stranger Kyoko or I.O.N, but I think I’ve liked all the others that I’ve read.

From childhood, Nobara’s parents tried to mold her into a “young mistress” of grace and refinement who would be suitable to take over their traditional family restaurant. She continually disappointed them, and was always being unfavorably compared to her lady-like younger sister, Souka. It was only through volleyball that she found something at which she excelled and, through it, she eventually learned to like herself as she was.

Fast forward to high school. Nobara has enrolled at Crimson Field High School purely on the strength of its volleyball program, but when she arrives, she finds that her mother has exercised her PTA clout to get the girls’ team disbanded. In a fury, Nobara runs away from home and her aunt, the school nurse, sets her up with a job as the interim house mother for the school’s volleyball dorm, currently occupied by four rather assy boys. Nobara makes many mistakes, but eventually the fact that she’s trying so hard purely for the opportunity to play volleyball starts to win over a couple of the guys.

I think this may actually be my first shoujo sports manga, but so far I’m enjoying it a lot. I love Nobara’s androgynous character design, and also that she tries to be tough but sometimes experiences insecurities. Most of her vulnerability comes from having her dream continually thwarted by her family, so when someone actually speaks up for her—as dorm resident Yushin does when her mom shows up at the dorm to collect her—it’s actually a pretty emotional thing.

Towards the end of the volume, Nobara begins to make contact with the girls who used to be on the volleyball team, as she’s been told that if she can assemble enough players, the school will reinstate the team. Her passion and refusal to submit to insults from the boys’ team inspires the dispirited remnants of the team, making one realize just what the title really means. I find I’m really looking forward to the formation of the team and actually seeing the girls work hard in pursuit of success.

On the negative side, there are a couple of cheesy plot elements, like the fact that Nobara has met one of the boys before in elementary school and that, as a result of juggling all of her responsibilities, she (of course) contracts a fever and requires nursing. A more minor, yet still annoying, quibble is that Nobara seems to be the only student at her school who does not wear a uniform. How is she not getting in trouble? Too, there doesn’t appear to be any standardization in the sailor fuku the other girls are wearing, so it’s just entirely confusing

Lastly, I think Nobara and Haruna from High School Debut should meet. They would probably get along well.

Crimson Hero is still being serialized in Japan and its fifteenth volume is due out there later this month. Viz publishes the series in English; they’ve released through volume ten. I think this series is the only one of the original batch of titles featured in the Shojo Beat magazine to still be included in its line-up. This results in rather lengthy delays between volumes.