Review: Yowamushi Pedal vol. 1

While I’m a sucker for most sports manga/anime, I did not think I would like this particular one. I mean it is about bicycling. The craze for this sport has long since faded after numerous doping scandals and frankly, my general lack of interest in the sport. Then I read it. Is there any sport that manga can't make intersting? IS THERE!?!

Then I hated the ending because it meant I would have to get the second volume to find out the conclusion of the storyline. Since when did manga start having cliffhangers? How very dare you.

yowamushi-pedal-volume-1-coverIf you didn’t figure it out from the above statement, I actually enjoyed the hell out of this story. It’s not the typical “I'm already a sports prodigy” character, but rather about an Otaku that has no idea how good he is.

We meet Sakamichi Onoda as he starts high school and is excited to join the manga/anime club. He’s also very excited because he’s closer to Akihabara and with the money he saves by not taking the train he can buy an extra capsule toy. Clearly, he’s a young man with his priorities in order. He nearly gets run over one day by a rich kid’s driver because no one was expecting him to be on the huge hill leading to the school… on a “mommy’s bike.” Mommy's bike is the term that the book uses for what’s typically called a “cruiser bike” here in the states. It's the last bike you’d want to ride up a steep hill on because it’s heavy, only has one gear and… did I mention it's heavy?

Eventually, we learn that our rich kid is in the bike club, and that’s he’s looking to go pro. He rides his bike on a custom treadmill because that’s how intense this dude is. His path continues to cross with Onoda’s, and he’s just baffled how this kid can do what he can on a mommy bike, so he challenges him to race. The catch is that if the rich kid loses he’ll become one of the members of the anime/manga club that Onoda is trying to get started… because the old one was closed due to lack of interest, thus crushing Onoda who had looked forward to joining. Their race is what takes up a lot of the book and is the most interesting part. You’ll learn about bicycling in a way that you never knew possible and certainly wasn’t explained during the cycling craze years ago. That’s where a supporting female character is introduced as she begins to help Onoda during the race and changes how he sees cycling. Like me, you’ll have to wait for the next volume to find out if the rich kid joins the manga club.

The pacing of the story is the biggest strength of the volume. There’s enough downtime between cycling talk that you get to know Onoda quite well. He bikes to save money for his hobbies and yet there’s more to that. He’s waited for high school to find like-minded friends and felt the ultimate disappointment only to keep going and press on. There’s a charm to him and his ambitions that I’m sure a lot of people reading this particular manga can understand.

The art was also surprising because it has a western feel to it. If it weren’t for the tropey facial expressions and other aspects you could easily forget you were reading a manga. The art is detailed, but gritty giving the world a lived-in feel. It’s not your clean looking world with everything in place. It feels like a real town, a real high school with students. It’s the first time I’ve read a manga set in high school and thought, that’s a real high school. Mostly because the story isn’t so laser focused on Onoda that it forgets to build the other students and setting around him.

I will likely pass on the anime because I really want to keep reading the manga. I don’t want this unique reading experience spoiled for me, because again, it has a very different vibe than other manga I’ve read. It understands the genre but changes things just enough that it feels familiar, but not cookie-cutter.

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Yowamushi Pedal vol. 1 Creator: Wataru Watanabe Publisher: Yen Press Price: $24.00 Format: TPB; Print/Digital


Review: Prison School – Vol. 4

If you’ve been following my reviews for Prison School and still haven’t checked it out, then I don’t know why you’d be back to read this review. If you need one last thing to convince you to read this fantastic series… then this is the volume that will convince you. If you watched the anime, then me put volume 4 in perspective for you. It has two of the best comedy sequences contained within this one volume. As we learned in volume 3, the boys were set up to fail, but upon learning this have launched a defense to save them from expulsion. This requires a distraction involving the Vice President. They devise a plan to arm wrestle here and figure that they can stall for ten minutes… they’re wrong of course, but there’s not one, but two incredible bits of comedy during this sequence.

The first is between Kiyoshi and the Vice President and sets the stage for the second gag. It’s a gag with layers. What’s also really funny about this entire sequence is that all of the guys feel the need to take their shirts off and show off the muscle they’ve built while working at the school. The second gag involves Andre and his nipple. It is hilarious because he and the Vice President trade position over and over. She can’t get over something disgusting about him and he gets weak when she yells and spits at him for being disgusting. All the while Gackt is installing the free software that should recover the documents. It doesn’t work and they lose hope.

Prison School vol 4At least for a while. Gackt goes crazy which is just really, really funny. For his last meal he orders deep fried grasshoppers and the Vice President not only catches them, but cooks them as well. Kiyoshi comes up with a plan to stall for more time for them which works… because he’s an ass man and there’s no such thing as a bad ass man. Again, another great bit of humor and perversion.

The final and funniest and yet strangest sequence involves Hana who has remembered the incident in the nurse’s office. On the guys last night, when they need to get the documents, Hana strikes against Kiyoshi. He uses this to his advantage for the most part, but much like with Andre and the Vice President they trade positions of advantage. The sequence and the outcome… are both shocking, hilarious and probably nothing like I’ve seen in a manga or anime before.

What is just truly great about this series time and time again, is the fact that the story and storytelling are wonderful with or without the fan service. The scene with Hana doesn’t technically have genuine fan service and even if it were censored, it would still be an incredible scene between these two characters. The fan service really exists to make the story funny. Without it, this would just be a really serious prison escape story set in high school. And it would be wonderful just as that because of the meticulous planning with the plot and the attention to detail. Even more so this story stands out to me time and time again because no character is left undeveloped. Sure, some of them are at different points in their development, but for a cast of characters this large that’s still incredible. Everyone grows, every has changed from the beginning of the story to this point and nowhere is that highlighted more than when Gackt lists all of the embarrassing things he’s done. As he puts it though, it was all worth it to find friends he feels that he belongs with. I was choked up and that brings me to Akira Hiramoto’s artwork.

This scene… this scene between these boys on the cusp of becoming adults is extremely touching. It shows you that for all the fan service, for all the gags and gross-out humor, that there is so much goddamn heart to this story. Hiramoto’s range of skills is on full display this volume. From action, to every evolution of humor, to the heart and soul of our characters. Even the Vice President at one point seems to think she’ll miss our peeping toms. Of course you’ll gather as much for yourself between panty shots and nipple slips. Oh, and the fan service is incredible. It’s not that I don’t appreciate it. In fact, I think I’m completely spoiled on this series to the point that if fan service isn’t handled with this level of detail and care that I just won’t waste my time with it. Hiramoto is one of the few manga artists that has a style that stands out as being original and unique. He is one of the few that I will follow until the end of their career.

At this point if you’re not willing to check out this manga then I don’t know why you’re reading the review. Hopefully this review will get you to read it but if not I’ll be back for the next volume. If you are following the manga or maybe you watched the anime, then we’re one volume away from venturing into new territory. I’m excited about that. Knowing what’s coming in the manga hasn’t made it less enjoyable, but knowing there’s something new makes reading it all worthwhile at this point. That and these thick ass books look great next to each other on a book shelf. I know I recommend a lot of stuff to read. You can go broke reading everything that comes from this site and I understand that. But you will not regret picking up Prison School. It is the one favor I can give you to recommend this series. And I will tell you this, I’m spending my money on it. I’ve never gotten a review copy and instead have purchased and pre-ordered every volume I could. Hopefully that means something to you because it does to me.

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Prison School – Vol. 4 Creator: Akira Hiramoto Publisher: Yen Press Price: $20.00 Format: TPB; Print/Digital