The Olympics may be over, but I'm still in the mood for more sports action, so let's take a look at some sports manga this month! Today's review a series that we desperate need more of: sports stories about girls.
DIAMOND GIRL (Shiramata Shojo), by Takanori Yamazaki. First published in 2007 and first published in North America in 2010.
Tsubura just wanted a fresh start in a new town. What she didn't want was her past catching up with her, which it does when a stray baseball flies through her classroom window and she throws it back like a pro. The school's hard-luck baseball club wants her to become their star pitcher, but Tsubura just wants an ordinary life without baseball. Why is Tsubura so talented, and why does she hate baseball so much?
It's kind of criminal that Diamond Girl never really got a chance at success here because while it's not an incredibly original premise, it's got all the right parts in the right measure to become a charming classic.
Do you know how hard it is to find sports series about girls? It's harder than it frankly should be regardless of whether you're dealing with manga or anime, and harder still if you take out the examples that exists more as vehicles for fanservice and light yuri ship-teasing than as actual sports stories. Diamond Girl mercifully avoid those pitfalls, as it's equal parts about Tsubura and the high-school antics of her wanna-be teammates. Honestly, this isn't far removed from the high-school-club-based slice-of-life shows that are so common these days, although its focus is more on comedy than on warm, fuzzy feelings.
Still, it's Tsubura's story that grounds their antics and gives Diamond Girl its heart. Unlike most sports stories, she's not seeking to become the greatest pitcher ever. Instead, she's a prodigy forced into the sport by her father. Over time, his demands and her success put too much pressure on her and she rebelled by running away to her grandmother's place to attempt to build a 'normal' life for herself. It's pretty obvious how her story arc is going to play out: she's going to have to confront her past (and her father) instead of running from it, all while learning that baseball can be fun and social instead of an endless grind where success and advancement are the only things that matter.
Despite how predictable that may be, I don't mind because the characters are strong. They're not terribly deep, but they're written with charm and humor. Combine that with the focus that Tsubura brings and you get a manga that's far stronger than any of its given components.
Diamond Girl's story is good, but its art is FANTASTIC. It's also very obviously influenced by Bleach creator Tite Kubo. It's most obvious in their faces, although Yamazaki's character designs are softer-looking and less geared towards fashion and fanservice. It's also kind of obvious when you look at Tsubura herself, as her short hair, equally short stature, great strength, and social awkwardness might be a callback to Bleach's Rukia Kuchiki. Without confirmation, this is all just conjecture on my part, but if so then he at least he took away something from Kubo's best quality as an artist.
Yamazaki's art is also distinguished by its liveliness. Every movement, be it small or large, is imbued with life through sheer skill and good choices in panel layout. Even their faces are full of character and charisma, which goes a long way towards helping the comedy. Even the backgrounds are well-drawn, and I have to wonder if the old hillside home where Tsubura's grandmother lives isn't based on an actual location.
It's kind of criminal that this series was released so late in CMX's lifespan and that Yamazaki never made it big as a mangaka. He makes Diamond Girl into something special through well-balanced storytelling and incredible, vivid art. The only thing holding me back from calling this an instant recommendation is that this was the only volume in English we ever got.
This series was released by CMX. This series is complete in Japan with 5 volumes available. 1 volume was published and is currently out of print.