There is one sports series I really, really like. Chihayafuru. I love Chihayafuru. I haven’t yet read the manga but perhaps I will, one day, when it finishes. Assuming we’re living in the very sad world where a third season really doesn’t happen.
This is perhaps the opposite of Chihayafuru. In terms of sports and main characters.
Well Chihaya is a josei and this is a seinen so there are those differences there and even ignoring the different sports, Natsuo and Chihaya are total opposites.
But I brought that series up for a reason. I thought it was interesting that the two sports series I ended up liking feature two unconventional sports. Keep your cycling and basketball manga, I’ll take the good karuta and mma stuff.
I was so intrigued I could not help but start reading this when I first heard about it. A manga about female mma fighters? How can you not?
Luckily the manga assumes you don’t know much about mma and teaches you the rules and moves through characters in the story. It’s a lot more complex and involved than I would have thought!
Don’t get me wrong, male mma looks so dumb. The only way you could make it look more homoerotic while keeping clothes on would be to grease em up with lotion or oil or something. Just douse em in it.
You would imagine, then, that a female mma manga would play on that and be fanservicey in it’s own ways but no. The manga takes itself really seriously and I appreciate that. It wouldn’t be enjoyable if it didn’t.
On top of the unusual sport choice, we’ve got an unusual protag. Well, I would assume she’s unusual for a sports series. Just in general, I find it hard to compare her to anybody.
She’s talented in everything. Anything she wants to do and puts her mind to, she can do with ease. That may sound annoying but the way it’s presented is fantastic. She’s a coldhearted, sadistic bitch who comes off gruff and rude to pretty much everyone but her only school friend. She beats the hell out of people and looks down on those who don’t provide any challenge (or rather she becomes disappointed in them and doesn’t want to associate further). And while she does show sadistic tendencies, other characters joke she’s actually a masochist because one of the only things to get her stupidly excited is the idea of someone defeating her and defeating her hard.
It may not sound like it but she’s a very compelling character. She got a few screws loose and can be uppity at times but she’s feral and strong and just so cool.
However I could easily see why other people wouldn’t like her (and I could see why people wouldn’t like this manga in general because the females aren’t feminine at all and aren’t conventional beauties but hey fuck those people like seriously don’t be someone that gross). I just happen to be firmly in the camp that thinks sure she’s an awful person but still rad as hell.
Not to mention, for all those things, she still breaks down and cries at the way her brother treats her. That she was a kind, fragile girl who just wanted to help her insecure brother (I guess you can’t really blame him, as much as you want to). When her brother said he hated people like her and turned on her for what she had done and she snapped? Thinking she had to defeat her friend Sanae since in her eyes she had bullied him? That whole sequence was so intense.
After one of her matches where she has a dream that really shows a lot about her character and that makes her a lot sadder of a character. In it, she’s her version of perfect. Her brother loves her and she has a good personality (her knowing she’s an awful, unlikable person is pretty sad then) and lots of friends. And Yuzuko is miserable and completely different. It was a surprising insight and if I hadn’t already been a fan of her, it would have sealed the deal.
It was kinda cute when she wanted to tell her mom all about the event she had participated in too.
There’s a big cast of supporting characters who, unlike the main character, are anything but beautiful bishoujo. They’re all full of personality and quirk. Some are intimidating and strong while some hide it and appear deceitfully weaker than expected.
At first I was disappointed that Yuzuko didn’t get much show after Natsuo starts going to the gym. She’s not particularly interesting but Natsuo just hates her so much and without seeing her do much, it kinds makes her rivalry lose importance. But then the flashback shown through Mario shows that Yuzuko might not be all she seems and that there’s something not quite right with her and suddenly she’s interesting too. Hearing them say she’s at her breaking point is pretty exciting. Like Natsuo, I kind of want to see what happens when she can’t take it any more.
The characters at the gym including KYAMERON DIASU are all a colourful bunch with their own rivalries and fights that contribute to Natsuo becoming stronger. Too strong, they worry at times.
Yeah, the way that the protag is regarded as a threat and villainous by even the people in the gym you would consider her allies is just what makes her so interesting. It’s almost like we’ve got the typical sports story (because Yuzuko is almost exactly what I had pictured a sports protag as) from the point of a villain. I’m not saying that’s exactly what it is because Natsuo isn’t ‘bad’ per say, it’s just her motives and ambitious are a little bit skewed.
Protag does have one true friend though and that’s one of her classmates whom she had been in volleyball club with. Despite knowing nothing of MMA, she attends her first real tournament match and is enthusiastic and supportive (while realizing, accepting and pointing out who a bitch her friend is) and she’s just so precious. She’s a small part but a great addition to the manga and cast.
The karate side arc was kind of annoying, to be honest. I was happy when it was out of the way but that it kept getting dragged on with an unlikable childhood friend and an even more (hella) unlikable teacher. Sanae eventually getting defeated (alongside the reveal of Natsuo’s past and why she became the way she did) and the other karate girl accidentally confessing again was a nice end to it all though. Better than expected.
All in all, it really won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but I recommend it even if you don’t know anything about mma (as I didn’t). It’s written and presented in such a way that the sport is accessible to newcomers while still providing an interesting story filled with characters who feel fleshed out and different. They definitely don’t fit the mold. If you’re looking for a sports manga with a twist and don’t mind a horrible but likable and charismatic protagonist, you can’t go wrong here.