Sunday, January 16, 2005

 

From the manga stack: WHISTLE!

First things first: I hate team sports. Childhood experiments with baseball and soccer were a mixture of boredom and anxiety, and I got out of them as soon as I could. As a result, I never expected to have any interest in sports manga.

With that background, I was surprised by how much I liked the preview of Daisuke Higuchi’s soccer manga, Whistle!, in a recent issue of Shonen Jump. Great characters managed to overcome my disinterest in the subject matter, and I put the title on my “to try” list. I’m glad I stepped out of my comfort zone, because Whistle! is a real charmer.

Shô Kazamatsuri has transferred from the prestigious, private Musashinomori School to Josui Junior High. An avid soccer player, Shô was confined to the bench at Musashinomori because of his size. Driven by a desire to actually play the game, he makes the surprising switch to the lesser school in hopes of being a real member of the team.

Unfortunately, the Josui team’s coach makes incorrect assumptions about Shô. Eager for a more competitive team, Coach Katori mistakenly praises Shô to the skies as a Musashinomori star come to change Josui’s fortunes. She pressures Shô into a scratch game at his first practice, and he’s trounced. Things get worse when one of his team-mates, Tatsuya, reveals that Shô never made it off the third team at his old school.

Shô never meant to be dishonest, but he got swept up in circumstances and couldn’t find an opportunity to correct the misconception. He’s humiliated by his lack of skill and Tatsuya’s revelation. Coach Katori feels terrible about her role in the events, but Shô runs off before she can make things right.

Not to worry, as Shô has determination to spare. After the initial sting of embarrassment wears off, he commits himself to being a worthy member of the team. He undertakes an exhausting training regime, impressing Tatsuya with his passion for the game. When Tatsuya comes to admire Shô’s approach – hard work and clever strategy to minimize his disadvantages – it leads to a shake-up in the team’s status quo. Tatsuya, one of the team’s best players, takes a group of alternates under his wing to challenge the complacent seniors.

That illustrates the premise at the center of Whistle! Heart and discipline, Higuchi argues, are just as valuable in a player’s arsenal as skill and physical strength. It’s not a wildly original premise by any means, but Higuchi conveys it with wonderful energy and sincerity. The cast of underdogs is uniformly appealing, and Shô in particular is a marvel.

He’s just a great kid: optimistic, decent, and willing to work hard to achieve his dreams. It’s easy to believe he’d be an inspiration to his team-mates. He wants to play soccer because he loves it, and that love has an infectious quality that transfers to the people around him (and to readers). Tatsuya is a fine foil for Shô. He’s a great player and a natural leader, but he’s got a blunt manner that puts people off. At the same time, it gives him the freedom to shake up the status quo, which drives the events of the first volume.

Higuchi doesn’t skimp on the supporting cast, either. Shô lives with his older brother, Kō, who works as a male escort. He’s amusingly sleazy, but he’s also unfailingly supportive of Shô’s dreams. The brothers have a great relationship that’s touching, funny, and believable. Coach Katori isn’t fleshed out quite as well yet, but she has a delightful scene with Kō that hints at a lot of spark and charm. During Shô’s private practice, he befriends a crusty old stall chef, Oyassan. Even this taciturn codger sees something special in Shô and does his best to help him.

The illustrations are filled with energy and detail. Higuchi supports character development with a real facility for facial expressions. Scenes of practice and competition are exciting and always clear, even to a soccer ignoramus like me. The visuals really balance humanity and action well, which is just what a title like this needs.

The best feature of this story is that you don’t need to know anything about soccer to enjoy it. Heck, you don’t even need to like soccer to enjoy it. The enthusiasm and determination of the characters and the believable scale of events make for an almost ridiculously engrossing story. Is it formulaic? Well, sure, it’s a “root for the underdog” manga. But even a formulaic story can soar when it’s told with this much craft and care.


Comments:
I'll have to give Whistle a shot at some point. I also never did any sports myself, but have found some manga/anime on the subject to be very fun.

At times like this, I always have to recommend the Princess Nine anime series, about a school that starts up an all-girls baseball (not softball) and competes against the boys. As with all of these things, it is the cliche of the underdogs, the troubled coach etc but the characters are good and it is overall very well done. I never felt like my lack of knowledge of baseball was a problem, and really the time spent on the field isn't all that much.

One of my favorite aspects is the dynamic between the energetic positive-thinking pitcher and the batter who is a prideful rich girl. The latter would usually be one-dimension or even a villian but ends up being the most interesting character in the series.

I don't know if you even watch any anime and I've heard the dub isn't as good as the original track, but I mainly bring it up since the box set is so insanely cheap ($36 on deepdiscountdvd.com with free shipping for a 26-episode series). It is a shame when good series like this go below the radar..

Oh, I also got the first volume of the Slam Dunk manga, which seems good so far, about a guy who doesn't even like basketball but joins up to impress a girl and ends up being a natural. Too bad that its future seems uncertain with Gutsoon's problems..
 
Whistle! is a GREAT manga!!!! Right now the 7th book just came out, so i'm going to go buy it. Whistle! is about this boy named Sho and how he never gives up no matter how the odds are stacked up against him. It's like he can do anything he wants to and has no limit whatsoever. It's amazing actually his steadfast determination and you can really imagine this happening to someone. Unlike SOME stupid manga. *cough* ^_^ Anyway just read this series and I promise you won't regret it. If you like Whistle! (sports genre) then I suggest
girl got game, slam dunk, prince of tennis, hmmm what else... oh yeah and hikaru no go (a chinese more complex checker like game)
 
Eyeshield 21 is another good sports manga. It's about football and, lets just say, I can't stand football. The characters are addicitive and so incredibly cute so often that you just can't help but learn to love them all and the game they are OBSESSED with.

I have read Whistle! as well and I loved it to tiny pieces. But then again, I was raised playing soccer so everything they were doing and their devotion to soccor made a huge amount of sense to me.

Read on!
 
I just started reading Whistle today and I love it! I used to paly soccer and it was a deep passion of mine. But after several injuries and a concusion I can't play anymore. I never thought of reading a sports manga until I picked this up in the library and fell in love with it. It has quickly filled the gap in my heart where I cant play soccer anymore. I find it simply amazing and can't wait to start collecitng it.
 
Whistle has got to be one of my favorite manga, and I just started reading it a few days ago! It really is amazing! I just can't find anything past volume 14... if anyone knows where i can read it (preferably online), PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE TELL ME!!!!!!!!!!!!! ^.^
Another good sports manga is Prince of Tennis. That's also one of my favorite manga. It's kind of like Whistle, but the main character is something like a "genius", and a hard worker combined. It's pretty interesting!
^.^
 
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