A First Look at Shojo FIGHT!

We’re in the middle of a sports-manga renaissance in the US, with publishers offering an unprecedented range of titles from Kurokuro’s Basketball and Haikyu!! to Yowamushi Pedal and Welcome to the Ballroom. Leading the pack is Kodansha Comics, which is making an astonishing range of titles available through their digital-only and digital-first initiatives. And astonishing it is: alongside obvious choices like the baseball-centric Ace of the Diamond, you’ll also find soccer manga (Days, Giant Killing, Sayanora, Football), rugby manga (All Out!!), mixed-martial arts manga (All-Rounder Meguru), and card game manga (Chihayafuru). Kodansha’s latest acquisition is Shojo FIGHT!, a volleyball series that reads like Dynasty with knee pads.

I mean that as a compliment.

The first chapter briskly introduces us to the three principle members of the Hakuumzan Private Academy Middle School volleyball team: Neri, a talented but difficult personality who has trouble playing well with others (literally and figuratively); Koyuki, a telegenic setter who moonlights on the Junior National team; and Chiyo, a jealous teammate who slots into the Joan Collins role of Queen Bitch. As we learn in the opening pages, Neri’s temper frequently relegates her to the bench, even though her teammates firmly believe that she’s in a league of her own as both a setter and a hitter — a point that Chiyo lords over the emotionally vulnerable Koyuki. Koyuki, for her part, feels isolated from her teammates who say nice things to her face but trash her playing when she’s not around. Though Chiyo bluntly dismisses Neri as “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Koyuki makes a concerted effort to befriend Neri, whom she views as a peer on the court.

The dynamic between these three players would be enough for an entire series, but Yoko Nihonbashi surrounds them with a boisterous cast of supporting characters who run the gamut from Odagiri, a shy Neri fangirl, to the Shikisama brothers, two gifted volleyball players who are, of course, handsome, sharp-witted, and fiercely loyal to their childhood friend… well, I’ll let you figure out that particular triangle on your own, though it’s not hard to guess who she is. While these figures are sketched more hastily than the principle trio, Nihonbashi offers tantalizing clues about how they will figure into the conflict between Neri and her teammates.

What will make or break this series for most readers is the art. As numerous folks have observed, Nihonbashi’s thick lines, wide-eyed characters, and computer-generated fills more closely conform to Americans’ perception of what OEL manga looks like — think Peach Fuzz or Van Von Hunter — than a licensed seinen or shojo title. I think that’s a valid observation, though it’s worth noting that Nihonbashi is a Japanese artist writing for Evening magazine, not a Tokyopop Rising Star of Manga. The boldness of Nihonbashi’s linework, and her dense but well structured layouts, aren’t the least bit amateurish or unpolished. If anything, they demonstrate a good understanding of game mechanics and a flair for drawing expressive, animated faces that telegraph the characters’ emotional states; the malicious twinkle in Chiyo’s eye speaks more loudly than her poisonous words — and that’s saying something.

My suggestion: try before you buy! The first 50 pages of Shojo FIGHT! can be viewed for free at the Kodansha Comics website. There’s enough drama packed into that opening chapter to hook any soap opera fan or sports enthusiast, and if the sudsy plotting isn’t enough to pique your interest, Neri will be: she’s prickly and complicated but appealing, not least because she seems like a real teenage athlete struggling to reconcile her desire to dominate the court with her desire to be part of the team.

The entire first volume goes on sale today (September 26th) via Amazon, B&N, ComiXology, and other digital book platforms.

7 thoughts on “A First Look at Shojo FIGHT!”

  1. Aaron says:

    Oh I was all excited until I found out it’s Digital Only (here’s hoping for a future paperback release) I can’t read Manga on digital platforms due to my eyesight being too bad.

    As I can’t read anything in the background or small print, oh well good for the people who will be able to enjoy it though. Hope it does well I’d love to see another Girl’s Volleyball series do well especially since Crimson Hero never got much of chance here.

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      I don’t know how many of Kodansha’s digital-only/digital-first titles are making the leap to print. I’d love to see Shojo Fight! made available to a wider audience, too, since most of the licensed sports manga in the US focuses on male athletes!

      1. Aaron says:

        We can hold out hope I mean look at a few of the Yen Press titles that started out as digital only and got print releases latter on. So it is possible for it to get a release if a enough of a market is shown.

        Which is why as I’ve heard it before and it bears repeating first week sales and pre-orders are really important in deciding the future viability of the series and subsequent volumes for a publisher.

        So this sort of article is great because it makes people aware of something they may not have known existed. It’s also good to see Sports Manga are at least finding a niche. I can rember reading an interview with Frederik L. Schodt (at Hooded Utilitarian if I’m not mistaken) and he thought there was little to no market for Sports Manga in The West at the time.

        Now Kodansha is advertising Sports Manga Sale (Link: https://kodanshacomics.com/2017/09/26/sports-manga-sale-all-out-shojo-fight/) and two new series we’ve come a long way from the times when series like Prince of Tennis and Eyeshield 21 where looked at more as curiosities than viable franchises by some.

  2. Olivia says:

    Thank you for pointing out the free preview! I’ll likely end up buying this regardless because there’s such a dearth of female sports manga.

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      Glad it was useful, Olivia–thanks!

  3. Kimberly Pham says:

    Technically Viz has the largest back catalog of sports manga historically with Kuroko, Slam Dunk, REAL, RobotxLaserbeam, Haikyuu, Whistle!, Eyeshield 21, Ice Princess, Crimson Hero, etc.

    However the output for Kodansha Comics is no joke! I wonder how many translators that they have on staff or contract in order to keep churning out these volume releases! I’m hoping that enough people buy it so they keep doing it? (like you have to pay the editor, translator, letterer/redrawer but do they have to pay high licensing fees since it’s their US branch??? I don’t know how many hours/weeks it takes to complete a volume overall but not having to deal with print QC and distribution must make it way faster! So the minimum number of purchases is a lower bar to profits)

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      Hi, Kimberly!

      You’re right about VIZ’s back catalog of sports manga: it’s big! In many respects, VIZ was in the vanguard of licensing sports manga for the US market — the first volume of Slam Dunk was released here in 2008, I think, and the Shojo Beat line had several girl-centric titles. I have no idea how well any of their current sports-manga offerings are doing, but perhaps an uptick in sales would help revive interest in Slam Dunk, a title that never quite found its audience in the US.

      I don’t know enough about the corporate structure of Kodansha to know how Kodansha Comics USA is affiliated with it, and whether the US branch pays licensing fees to Kodansha to produce translated editions.

Comments are closed.