Art and Story by Koji Miura
All chapters available on the Shonen Jump app
I’ve been doing my best to catch more manga in the early stages so it feels like I’m actually reviewing a new series, not just what’s out there and popular. Unfortunately, that’s pretty hard if you’re not fluent in Japanese; by the time most series get officially translated, there’s a godo chance they’re already well-known.
Luckily, Shonen Jump has done me the favor of releasing their current lineup on their app, so I’ve been picking up the most promising for my reviews. My Kaiju No. 8 review originated from that, as well as a few more. I’ll try to avoid anything past the 100 chapter mark, as most big Shonen Jump manga get their anime announced, so why would I go and review the manga?
Blue Box is a strange one amidst Jump’s usual offerings. It is a hybrid romcom slice-of-life/sports story that wouldn’t be out of place in a shojo magazine. It’s common for Jump to keep at least one romcom in their rotation, but Blue Box doesn’t seem geared towards their key demographics in the same way as something like Nisekoi.
But dipping into multiple genres is a tall task, and in a magazine full of magic battles and monsters, how does Blue Box stand up to all of it?
Taiki Inomata has a crush on his senpai, Chinatsu Kano. They’ve barely spoken, she doesn’t even know his name, but he admires her work ethic. She’s always the first one in the gym each morning, earnestly practicing to achieve her goal of taking the basketball team to nationals. It helps spur him towards his own ambitions in badminton, and to try and get to know her better.
But right after their first real conversation in which she finally learns his name, Taiki is devastated to learn that Chinatsu’s family is moving overseas. Their budding friendship is spared by the fact that she’s staying in Japan by moving in with a family friend. He’s elated, and soon horrified once he realizes the family friend she mentioned is his mother, and he’s got to live within spitting distance of his crush. Most gambling anime don’t have this kind of high stakes.
Taiki is forced to navigate the complicated web of getting a girl to like him and then admit it, without putting Chinatsu in an awkward situation if he were to confess and get rejected. The pressure is alleviated when she tells him she doesn’t date to avoid distractions from basketball, so he resolves to go to nationals before pursuing his feelings.
That’s hard enough when his apparent rival for Chinatsu’s affection isn’t the star of the badminton team, but Taiki isn’t so lucky. It doesn’t help either that he has a childhood friend who is gearing up to do the thing that every childhood friend does in a romcom. Needless to say, this will be an uphill battle.
Roughly 20 chapters into the story, mangaka Miura hasn’t set into a routine. She’s found a comfortable niche, but it doesn’t feel formulaic, particularly because she avoids most of the details of the sports her characters play. The sports are incidental to the story; they’re important to character motivations, but the finer aspects are largely glossed over. If you’re coming in looking for a technical approach to either basketball or badminton, you’re going to be disappointed.
However, this isn’t exactly a sports manga; it is a romantic comedy with a sports coating. It’s good fuel for the cast, but you could just as easily swap it out with shogi, karuta, or knitting. Blue Box is only really interested in exploring its characters and their drives to succeed, all while tangling with their own social connections.
That’s a little disappointing; exploring the sports in more detail could allow Miura to delve into the characters better and how their personalities inform their playing style, but I won’t get hung up on it. The character interactions have plenty of good comedy and drama on their own, particularly how Taiki and Chinatsu try to conceal their living situation to avoid stirring rumors.
Really, Blue Box gets extra credit for being this kind of sensitive story with its heart on its sleeve in a magazine where that’s rare. Despite its short length thus far, Miura wastes no time in making you feel for these characters, and not least because of her excellent art.
If I weren’t such a fan of this art style, I might call it typical shojo design. That being said, I like it a whole lot, so I’ll instead praise it for being expressive, with interesting character design and really excellent shading. The art does just as much of the heavy lifting for making these characters sympathetic as the writing does.
I’ll reiterate that it doesn’t feel much like a shonen manga, particularly in how it glosses over almost-fanservice. Most of it plays out in Taiki’s head, and he’s the painfully innocent type, so it plays to Miura’s strong comedic chops rather than anything remotely ecchi. His idea of a hot date is seeing Chinatsu in the most modest dress I’ve seen outside of a convent; he’s a respectable young man, I’ll give him that.
There’s also some superb background work here, so hats off to Miura and her assistants. They’re almost rare in their application compared to other manga, but it falls in line with the target of each important panel. Each page’s emotional beat usually follows a closeup or a full-body shot of the character we’re focused on, so casting aside unnecessary details helps sell the strength of the mangaka’s art.
And the panel layout is really something else. There’s ways of arranging panels in a way to communicate to the audience, but Blue Box regularly gives you entire thought processes in its use of perspective, focus, and expression. One of manga’s greatest strengths is its capacity to use its own unique conventions to tell wordless stories, and Miura has that down.
In summary, I really like Blue Box. Each chapter acts as a cathartic chunk of story, while being a satisfying step in a larger journey. There’s a lot of complex motion going on in the background here, and it helps illustrate the emotional nuance of each character and conversation. I’m excited to see how the story develops from here, and the new angles from which we’ll explore the cast.
There was a little lost potential in basically ignoring the sports aspect, but that’s more of a personal choice than anything against Blue Box itself. That isn’t to say there’s no chance Miura could delve into that in the future; Shonen Jump’s competitive nature often forces manga artists to keep changing, but I wouldn’t bet on it. For now, I’m willing to accept and enjoy Blue Box for the charming story and characters it presents.
Blue Box walks away from this review with the solid rating Neutral Pleasing, and I’m definitely going to keep up on this one. If you enjoyed this review, like the post so I’ll know to keep at it with manga reviews, and to follow the Otaku Exhibition on Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku to get lots of extra thoughts that usually don’t make it to the finished piece.
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