No One Piece this week, but a new Jump Start! Sports manga seems to be getting some life breathed into it recently, after sort of sputtering in popularity for a long time on this side of the pond. The newest Jump Start is Buddy Strike, a baseball manga focusing on the relationship between a pitcher and catcher, from mangaka KAITO who previously created Cross Manage, a lacrosse manga that ran for over 40 chapters in Jump.
Sports manga need to have a lot going for them. To date, I've been pretty picky about the ones that I'll even check out, but stand-outs are Slam Dunk (given Inoue's sense for character-driven story and great sense of humor) and Eyeshield-21 (because Murata is an unbelievable talent). A lot of sports manga simply don't appeal to me because I either don't find the sport interesting in the first place (no swimming manga will ever grab me, sorry) or there's really nothing interesting about the series outside of the sport itself (recent Jump Start Best Blue was a real bore to me on both fronts for this reason).
Buddy Strike thus has a head start: baseball is one of the most interesting sports to me, especially when it comes to pitchers. As with all sports manga, I'm still skeptical of how to make the sporting action interesting on the page itself, but KAITO's art is really tight, and makes the action on the page pop. The big challenge going forward will be seeing if KAITO can develop intrigue outside of the sport that carries over into the game itself. I'll forever hold up a series like Food Wars as a great example of this kind of thing: even immaculately detailed depictions of some niche subject (food, in this case, but sports are a niche subject too) both in story and art will suffer if I don't care about the stakes before someone starts cooking. Food Wars gets me to care about a shokugeki. Slam Dunk gets me to care about a given basketball game.
KAITO showed us that he can make a pitcher and a catcher look awesome with his artwork. And he's shown at least some understanding of the sport. What needs to happen now is 1. he has to demonstrate a deep knowledge of the sport that makes the set pieces interesting and 2. he needs to get us interested in these characters and their dreams before they suit up to go out on the field.
Kubo is going for broke in Bleach, and I am loving it. When even Nanao is given a chance to shine at a level this extreme in a fight this important with a dude THIS powerful, you know Kubo is really throwing everything he has into these final chapters. Visually this series remains stunning, as Kubo continues to innovate the depiction of big fights in such an elegant manner; however, there's been a big improvement in the character-driven storytelling here as well, and I'm happy to see that Kubo is trying to finish strong with character developments that he has earned.
The turn of events in Food Wars doesn't surprise me, but that doesn't mean I'm not happy about it. The predictable next step is that Soma kicks Eizan's ass in a rigged shokugeki, but it's equally plausible that Eizan will ask for a fair fight and 1. he'll still lose or 2. well, something might just interrupt the shokugeki. Who knows. But I'm loving the direction of the series and the fact that the stakes are infinitely higher for all of the characters.
Pervy Horikoshi stand-in Mineta has a chapter mostly centering around him and the final exams this week in Academia, and it's a lot of fun. Though Midoriya is one of the most cerebral central characters, all of these aspiring heroes are being forced into situations throughout these story arcs where they to have to flex some serious decision-making skills in the face of tactically challenging situations. Horikoshi has a clear vision for the way the different pieces in this series fit together, and it's quickly becoming my favorite series to read each week.