SAMURAI GIRL REAL BOUT HIGH SCHOOL (Shoukan Kyoushi Riaru Bauto Hai Sukuru), by Reiji Saigi and Sora Inoue. First published in 1998, and first published in North America in 2002.
PLOT: Ryoko Mitsuragi is the most popular girl in school. She's the star of the school kendo team and as such she can take down any and all challengers. Her life is turned upside down when a giant hulk of an Osakan by the name of Shizuma Kusanagi comes to town picking for a fight. He manages to get away from Ryoko, only to show up at her school. He eventually spurs the creation of a school-wide fighting tournament involving both the students and the teachers. Will things ever go back to normal again?
STORY: What a confusing mess. More than once, as I was reading this, I found myself staring in confusion at the pages before me and my only response to it all was "...WHAT?"
Fights come and go from the very beginning. I mean, we've only just met Ryoko, only to see her fight a gang of Nazi whose leader wants to make her a love slave. Later on, we have one-on-one brawls in the schoolyard, complete with color commentary from the AV Club. Near the end, even the teachers start fighting with both each other and with the student body. It's all so utterly bizarre, and worst of all I can't figure out what tone this is supposed to strike. Are we meant to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all? Are we supposed to root for Ryoko or Shizuma as they fight to become the best fighter for...um...er...some reason? I don't get it, and frankly I'm not sure the writer does either.
The characters are extremely one-note, if they have a note at all. Ryoko is the one who comes closest to being fully developed, but she's still a long way off from that. She's quite the tomboy, between her skill at kendo and interest in all things samurai. At one point she plays a ronin in the school play and looks the part to a T. Beyond that, though? Hmm...well, she's got a complex over being so tall and tomboyish, because we are dealing with a culture that values all things tiny, feminine, and kawaii. That's pretty much all there is. The rest are just a collection of single personality tics, such as Ryoko's shy, codependent friend, her sweetly bitchy rival, her milquetoast love interest, and so on. Everyone else just fades into the background.
I do have to comment on the translation. Now, Shizuma is supposed to have an Osakan accent. Normally, this is translated as a Southern accent, because both are stereotypically perceived by their respective cultures to be working-class hicks. Here, they translate it by dropping letters randomly, which either comes off as a vaguely rural drawl or some strange form of Cockney. It's a very odd thing to read, and it's never done in a consistent manner.
In the end, this is a bizarre shallow mess of a story. It's not offensively bad, just confusing. With a stronger cast and some notion of a consistent tone might have helped to give the story some direction, but as is it's like someone diced up a dozen or so other shonen series, threw them in a blender, and hit 'puree.'
ART: The character designs are nothing special, for the most part. The girls are generically cute, adults and random villains are blocky and brutish, and Shizuma looks like the lovechild of Street Fighter's Ryu and Ranma 1/2's Ryoga. I will say that I did appreciate that they gave Ryomo realistic and healthy proportions. She has strong shoulders, muscular arms, and long, shapely legs (and yes, the reader gets more than a few opportunities to take in those healthy proportions, particularly the ones on her chest). Ryomo actually looks like an athlete, like someone who could kick a lot of ass, and it helps to sell the idea of Ryomo as this great fighter. The artist clearly loves drawing her, because no other character gets the level of splash panels that she does, whether she's fighting or at rest.
The action is pretty generic too. It's all speed lines, hit bursts, and sound effects that not only obscure the characters, but manages the strange feat of making all these fights look stiff, lifeless, and busy all at once. The composition is pretty standard, save for those Ryoko-centric splash panels, and the panels themselves are frequently busy-looking and confusing to read. Actually, "busy" and "confusing" sums up the overall artwork nicely. The characters look fine, even if they're as generic as grocery-store brand cereal, but the artist can't draw them in situations that don't make this confused, muddled story even worse.
PRESENTATION: The only extras present here are a couple of character profiles on Ryoko and Shizuma. It's a sad commentary on this story that those brief profiles give the reader more insight and background on the characters than the ACTUAL FREAKIN' MANGA.
My apologies to William Shakespeare, because he doesn't belong anywhere near a crappy story like this, but he summed it up best: this story is naught but a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
This was published in the USA by Toykopop. Six volumes were published, and all are now out of print.
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