March Manga – King of Pirates and Baseball

Time for the second March Manga post!  Or the third, depending on whether or not we count the initial announcement.

One Piece vols. 62-66

They've changed so much.... Time to re-establish them!

They’ve changed so much…. Time to re-establish them!

I love One Piece.  LIke, a lot.  It’s probably my second favorite manga.  It’s an amazing and near perfect blend of action, adventure, and comedy.  The world is fantastic, and the characters are even better.  This is one of the manga that really got me into manga.  I picked up the third issue of Shonen Jump back when it dropped because it came with a DBZ card (Goku, If I’m not mistaken).  I decided to actually read the stories, and I was pretty much hooked.  I enjoyed what I read of Shaman King, Naruto, Sand Land, et al, but the one that really got me was One Piece.  It took a bit for the art to grow on me, but Luffy’s drive to become King of the Pirates endeared him to me, much as it does almost every other character he meets and everyone who reads/watches this series.

By the time of the volumes I read for March Manga, Luffy and his Straw Hat crew are well-established characters and bad-asses.  Despite the bad-assery, the crew had suffered some major defeats in previous volumes, and this arc details their first reunited adventure.  This time, the crew sail to the undersea (yes) island and home of the fishmen…Fishman Island.  Sometimes, Eiichiro Oda’s genius is his simplicity.  This arc is a lot of fun and full of the wonderment this series is known for.  It also sports a darker edge than many of One Piece’s arcs have.  Many of the Fishmen despise humans (and vice-versa, really), so racism becomes a pretty big part of the story here.

Like I said, though, this is still fun.  The racism is actually brought forth by Oda utilizing one of the classic manga gags.  See, I don’t know why, but in manga and anime, whenever a male becomes aroused, his nose starts bleeding.  Here, Oda has the lecherous Straw Hat Sanji’s nose bleed so much that he legitimately needs a blood transfusion.  The laws on Fishman Island don’t allow humans and fishmen to mix blood, so this almost kills him.  Comedy leading to tragedy.  Oda’s a master of that.

The main conflict here deals with two villainous fishmen pirates, Vander Decken and Hody Jones.  Vander Decken just wants to marry the princess Shirahoshi because she’s beautiful and might posses a secret mythical power (she’s also huge–like, Luffy fits in the palm of her hand huge), and Hody Jones is Arlong’s successor.  So, Hody just wants to go to war with the humans.  If that means he has to basically destroy Fishman Island to do so, then let it be done.  Decken is the classic One Piece comedic villain who’s also deadly, and Hody is the classic One Piece no-nonsense serious villain.  Good antagonists to establish what our main characters can do now.

And that’s probably my biggest problem with the Fishman Island arc.  Sure, it’s a well-needed breather, it introduces some cool new characters and concepts, and our knowledge of this fascinating world grows a little more, but all in all, this is a re-establishment arc.  Even when close to death on one or two occasions, the Straw Hats never seem to be in danger.  I’m not saying Hody and Decken are huge steps down in terms of power levels, but the Straw Hats have become so much stronger than they used to be, it’s hardly even a fight.  The climactic battle is kinda one big squash, save for a few shenanigans.  It’s really there just to show us how awesome the Straw Hat crew is now.

Still fun as hell, though, and I can’t wait to read more.

Cross Game

I'm cool. Some dirt from the pitcher's mound got in my eye. That's all. Really.

I’m cool. Some dirt from the pitcher’s mound got in my eye. That’s all. Really.

Mitsuru Adachi’s Cross Game is the story of Kou Kitamura and the four Tsukishima sisters Ichiyo, Wakaba, Aoba, and Momiji.  Kou is the son of the owner of Kitamura Sports, and they live in the same neighborhood as the Tsukishimas’ batting center.  Thanks to this, the families are quite close.  The closest of the two are Kou and Wakaba–much to Aoba’s dismay.  See, Aoba adores her older sister and always wants to spend time with her, but Wakaba and Kou were born on the same day in the same hospital, so fate itself ships them.  This makes Aoba dislike Kou quite a bit, but that doesn’t stop Wakaba from essentially treating him like her boyfriend.  It’s not like Kou’s against it, though.  Aoba does get some measure of revenge in a sandlot baseball game where she pitches circles around everybody and punks Kou.  Kou’s not one to accept defeat so easily, so he begins practicing his pitching in secret.  Also, this all happens while Kou and Wakaba are in the fifth grade.  That’s part one.  Part two jumps five years ahead and saying anymore would be spoiler-ific.

From the first paragraph you can already tell this is a romcom baseball manga.  Two of those I love.  I actually hate watching baseball, but that’s the beauty of fiction.  Fiction can take the things we can’t stand and make us love them.  Like boxing.  I get no enjoyment from watching boxing.  I love the Rocky movies, though, and my favorite anime is Hajime no Ippo.  I’ve noticed the Japanese are especially good at this.  That’s why I’ll almost give any sports anime/manga a shot.  They usually make the opponents real, legitimate characters, and the rivals are treated almost with as much care as the main protagonists.  That being said, although baseball is a central theme of this series, the romcom is the main focus.

The games do get quite a bit of attention, but the in-between antics are where the manga really shines.  Seeing the various characters’ growing relationships and how they spend their time is truly enjoyable.  One of the funnier aspects of this series is how Adachi treats the fourth wall.  He doesn’t break it so much as he jabs holes through it whenever he feels like it.  That kind of comedy can go too far and bring the reader out of the story, but Adachi as adept enough to know when to take those shots and when to let the story flow.

The feel of this manga is also great.  I read all eight volumes (17 in the original Japanese editions) on a Tuesday, but I should’ve done it on a Sunday.  The series was initially printed in Shonen Sunday, and that’s the most appropriate thing ever.  This manga feels like something that should be read on a lazy Sunday with the sun trying to sneak in and the fan going.  And, I gotta give props to Viz.  Kudos for publishing this series in eight big volumes.  This manga is a leisurely stroll.  It would not have behooved it to be put out in 17 volumes over a few years.  Eight volumes in two years worked pretty darn well.

That’ll close out the second March Manga post.  The third and final one will be dedicated to one author–possibly my favorite mangaka and also one of the best in the comics business, period.

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