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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Shiro Obi Taisho: Kurumada Without the Over-the-Top?

I have returned from an extremely enjoyable Anime Boston this past weekend, but my panels were a mixed bag. In terms of execution, all of them went by just fine, but the turnout was definitely mixed. Anime Pilots & Precursors had what I would consider a moderate crowd, & A Visual History of Weekly Shonen Jump started off light but also grew to a moderate turnout. My Masami Kurumada panel, though, was a bust in terms of turnout, with only four people staying throughout it all with maybe another four in total floating in & out. Granted, the panel was at 12:30 AM, but the Kurumada panel is the one I love doing the most, simply because it lets me showcase a creator who I feel deserves more popularity than he gets in North America. Regardless, I'll have a much better time slot for all three panels next week at AnimeNEXT (I'll post more info when the schedule is released), and hopefully the home town advantage will come into play as well. But, in the meantime, let's actually get back to Manga May, right?

Back this past December, I did a short review on Mabudachi Jingi, a really short one-chapter story Masami Kurumada did in 1978. I mentioned that in the book that story was in, which featured the same name, there was also another one-shot from the same year in it: 1979's Shiro Obi Taisho/White Belt General. It's about the same length as Jingi, and likewise it is also pretty simple in execution. Luckily, it's still a fun little short.

Sanpei Sugata has transferred into Benten High School, where he immediately causes trouble with the Judo team. Luckily for him, the team members notice that Sanpei owns a Judo gi & immediately realize where he used to go to school: Kanon High School, home of the best Judo team in the area. The team immediately asks Sanpei to join, which he takes advantage of by forcing numerous ridiculous conditions, such as having his new teammates do his homework & even buy him lunch. Unfortunately, Sanpei's old schoolmate Seiko has also transferred to Benten, & she doesn't like Sanpei's attitude, especially since he's hiding a big secret: At Kanon Sanpei was nothing more than a reserve team member, and he absolutely sucked at the sport. Unfortunately, the local tournament is coming soon & Benten's first opponent is Kanon...

Shiro Obi Taisho has an easy to understand moral behind it: Be true to yourself & try your hardest; combined with dedication & training, you'll go far. It honestly does read kind of like a variation on how Ring ni Kakero started off, but instead of Ryuji's hesitation & unwillingness to get into boxing you have Sanpei's cocky attitude & false first impressions. When Sanpei is asked to train one of his new teammates & is unable to take him down, Sanpei realizes that he has to train; he can't always rely on his false expectations anymore. It's a simple moral that Kurumada tells in an equally simple but effective fashion, and it mixes in excellently with Judo's general style of competition.

That said, there are some things to nitpick at, even if only for the fun of it. Sanpei's cockiness does come off as a being a little too overbearing at first, admittedly, and it's not helped out by his teammates' stupidity. When Sanpei actually admits to them that's he's a weakling, they simply think he's being modest, even though they blatantly saw how he couldn't even take down one of them in training, and Benten is known to be the weakest Judo team. Seiko has no real relevance in the story, other than to act as Sanpei's initial conscience & then cheerleader at the end. I could have easily seen the story work without her, & simply have Sanpei's own inner emotional conflict drive him forward. Finally, there's a little bit of a logic problem with Itagaki, Kanon's captain. He's a black belt & the last couple of pages are his fight with Sanpei, though they have an initial skirmish where Sanpei realizes Itagaki's flaw. After losing to Sanpei at the end, Itagaki admits to himself that he knew of his weakness... So what kind of black belt wouldn't try to fix a weakness? True, the weakness is there to help illustrate the moral of the story, but it does make Itagaki look a little dumb.

In comparison to Mabudachi Jingi, Kurumada's artwork here is much more of his own style. Kurumada's drawing style is more identifiable, his penchant for having a upward-looking perspective is easily noticeable, and his "Star System" is more pronounced. Sanpei is obviously based off of Ring ni Kakero's Ishimatsu & Itagaki is Shinatora, who Kurumada honestly doesn't re-use all that often. This duo of faces is pretty interesting, mainly because it kind of follows the hierarchy between Ishimatsu & Shinatora, where Ishimatsu nicknames Shinatora "danna", or "master/boss/lord". In a neat change of pace, though, Kurumada doesn't go over-the-top at all in this short story; the most you'll see is Itagaki crash into some mats pretty hard. This is an early work of Kurumada's though, so maybe he didn't completely embrace his over-the-top style by the time he made this yet.

Same book, same cover.

Shiro Obi Taisho may be simple, but it is a fun little short story. The story flows nicely, the pace is quick, & the moral definitely fits Kurumada's general style to a "T". Between the two short stories in this book, I do have to give the edge to Taisho, which in general just worked much better than Jingi. For those who are interested, the entire Mabudachi Jingi book has been scanlated, including the Sukeban Arashi chapters that were included in it. The same group that did this book is also presently doing the two actual Arashi books, so eventually I will review Masami Kurumada's debut work as well. As for the rest of Manga May, I am close to getting through the title of the next review, & I hope to get it done before the month ends. If anything, it won't be on an endless hiatus, like Fuma no Kojirou: Yagyu Ansatsucho is...

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