Monday, April 22, 2013

Sanshiro^2, vol. 1 Review

I've always liked the artwork by Shota Kikuchi. The first of his manga that I encountered was Sanshiro^2. However, at the time I couldn't understand the dialog, and I couldn't find the first few volumes of the series to determine what the story was. Finally, when I was at Book Off, I located a used copy of a "special reprint" of volume 1, for 85 yen ($1 USD). Couldn't turn it down at that price.

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Sanshiro^2 (1990), by Shota Kikuchi, Grade A (Mature audiences only) (284 pages)
Imagine that Arare, the robot girl from Doctor Slump, was cross-bred with young Gokuu from the original Dragonball, and then transplanted into the universe of Kotaro Makaritoru, while mixing in some of the situational comedy from Ranma 1/2. Then you'd be coming close to Sanshiro^2. The story starts out with Sanshiro Sugata, a young girl living in the mountains with her grandfather. She's insanely strong, and her best friends are the animals that live with them. One day, her grandfather tells her that he'd made a pact with a former martial arts rival to have their children in an arranged marriage. It's now time for her to travel to Tokyo, alone, to marry into the rival's dojo and help make it the strongest in Japan. Being a dutiful girl, she agrees, bids a tearful farewell to the wild boar and cow, and leaves the mountains. Meanwhile, Sanshiro Toyotomi, the only male child in the Toyotomi family, is happy to learn that his older sister, Hifumi, is going to be married off to someone in an arranged marriage. This means that he won't have to take over the dojo after all. Hifumi complains that she's allergic to martial arts - when she hears the word "kenpo", she breaks out in hives.

Along the way, Toyotomi crosses paths with Takashi Kari, a spoiled brat from the Kari dojo, and beats him up on the street. Takashi's grandfather comes to the Toyotomi dojo to settle the score, bringing along a monster professional fighter to act as a stand-in. Sanshiro Sugata (SS) arrives, and the family is surprised to learn that she's a girl (Sanshiro is a male name). Hifumi is relieved at not having to get married, and now it's Sanshiro Toyotomi's (ST) turn to complain about having his wife arranged for him. ST prepares to fight the professional ringer, and SS says that it's her job as future wife to fight alongside her future husband. The ringer laughs and breaks a wooden plank with his fist to demonstrate his powers. SS punches a tree in two, and wins the fight by default. Hifumi still ends up breaking into hives.

(A quick intro to 4 major characters - Nagao Nishioka, Sanshiro Toyotomi, Tsugio Nishioka and
Takashi Kari. "Nagao" = "Oldest Boy" and "Tsugio" = "Next Boy".)

Thus the stage is set for the rest of the jokes in the book. Sanshiro Sugata has no idea how modern life works, and misuses words all the time (confusing "iinazuke" - fiancee - with "tsuke mono" - vegetables pickled in vinegar or salt). She ends up going to school with Toyotomi, and running afoul of the richest girl in the class. While she doesn't understand how to do gymnastics, she's still strong enough to outdo everyone. It does help that she's extremely friendly and self-defacing. Just don't make her angry.

The manga originally ran in Shonen Champion, which has a slightly older audience than Jump or Sunday. So the jokes tend to be a lot more risque (including mentions of body parts, and occasional drawings of naked women). If this kind of humor offends you, or you are under 18, then don't read this series.

For me, the fun comes from the high quality of the artwork. Sanshiro Sugata is very cute. And, the fight sequences are very believable. Once you get past the disbelief of a girl being able to run with 60 pounds worth of metal plates in her shoes, Sugata becomes very scary. When mad.

There's no point to summarizing each chapter. Instead I'll just highlight one. In "Catch My Feelings", the school principal is being bullied by the baseball team of a rival school. Since Kinouji (the visual joke here is that a fly has landed on the school's nameboard, making it look like "Kintama-ji", or "Testacles Temple") doesn't have a team, he'll just have to accept the humiliation of a forfeit. Outside, Toyotomi is on the pitcher's mound, striking out the rest of the class. If he goes a full nine outs without a hit, the class will have to buy him ice cream. In desperation, the class asks Sugata to step up, and she smashes the ball out of the field and into the back of the head of the rival school's ace player. The principal races outside to beg Sugata to play on Kinouji's team, but there's just one problem - no one is able to catch her pitches. Toyotomi tries to, but it's a losing cause.

The last chapter of the book is worth mentioning, too. Toyotomi is finding himself playing second fiddle to his family and classmates, and he doesn't like it. Everyone has fallen for Sugata, and Toyotomi is feeling jealous. At one point, he gets a little too riled up and tells Sugata that he hates girls that are stronger than him. After he closes the door to his room, Sugata sets the snacks she'd brought for him on the floor, and then quietly leaves the house. Outside, she finds a stray cat that has been abandoned and they sit in a park in the rain. After a while, Hifumi asks Toyotomi where Sugata is, and he realizes that he may have gone too far. He goes outside with an umbrella and rides around the neighborhood asking if anyone has seen a "countrygirl with big round glasses". Eventually, he comes to a car that is blocking a narrow alley and kicks the bumper, demanding that the driver get out of the way. A huge yakuza gangster gets out, along with a number of his men. The gangster asks why the boy scuffed up his car, and Toyotomi yells out that he's trying to find a nice girl that is too kind to come home out of the rain. A little ways away, Sugata hears the yelling and she runs over to join Toyotomi. But, when she prepares to punch out the ganster, she remembers Toyotomi's words and tries to act more girl-like. The gangster suggests that the two of them go into the car for sex, and gets bit by the cat. The guy kicks the cat into the air, and Sugata can take no more - she smashes the gangster through a couple walls, and his minions all run after him in terror. Sugata then apologizes to Toyotomi that she was too violent again. The boy reaches down to pick up the stray and says, "don't you know? Everyone in my family loves cats." As they happily return home, Toyotomi silently adds "and I love girls with kind hearts".

Overall, this is a very funny, if sometimes raunchy series. The artwork is great, and the characters are immediately identifiable. There are cameos by various popular real-world figures, including Hulk Hogan, and some great fights (can't ignore the hockey-masked Nishioki Brothers, either). Highly recommended if you are over 18 and are not easily offended.

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