Full Drive 001 – Manga Review
Synopsis: Dan Tamashiro moves back to Japan with his mother, after his grandfather passes away. While practicing Ping Pong, Dan meets one Marin Shiraishi, an up and coming youth table tennis star. While Marin initially sees Dan as a meek, shrimp of a kid, there’s a lot more to him than meets the eye. Dan is actually the grandson of recently deceased, world renowned, former table tennis star Hagen Wulf, and he taught Dan everything he knew.
Warning: Spoilers to Follow:
Full Drive is Shonen Jump’s latest Jump Start and one that near perfectly nails its opening. It operates under the premise of ‘trimming the fat.’ There’s no attempt to establish Dan Tamashiro’s ordinary life and how he gets sucked into table tennis. There’s no attempt to obfuscate his not so humble origins, and a generally fast pace to introducing his backstory and our primary characters. It’s a tight opening, one that still makes use of Shonen’s more common tropes, but in a way that keeps them from bogging things down.
It helps that Full Drive’s art is a visual feast to look at, with pleasing character designs and art that gives a sense of real power and speed behind the players as they whip the ball across the table.
Opening the chapter is a flashback to when Dan was just a kid who struggled with bullying. His grandfather gives him a table tennis racket and asks if Dan would like to play with him. This begins a series of periodic, but not overused, flashbacks showcasing how Dan’s Grandfather, a world famous table tennis player by the name of Hagen Wulf, taught him table tennis as a way to grow Dan from a meek boy into a more confident individual. It’s perhaps a bit one note a lesson, tying self worth to ability and success, but overall is a positive message for the Shonen Jump readership, encouraging readers to go out and strive to become strong at whatever their passion may be.
Otherwise the chapter chronicles Dan’s return trip to Japan with his mother, as the two are moving back after spending time with Hagen Wulf during the last four years of his life. Dan’s mother, who only appears during the early portion of this chapter, is a bit of a hard ass as example above. She exhibits tough love on Dan, reminding him if he doesn’t stand up for himself he’ll always be bullied. It’s all part of Dan’s introduction as this unassuming meek, and laid back individual who doesn’t mind getting walked on.
What I like about Dan’s characterization is that he hasn’t fundamentally changed between when he was a kid and our present day story. He’s still a meek, unassuming guy. But there’s a difference, as he’s confident enough to not let bullying bother him and that feels more real a characterization than him doing a 180 and confronting the bullies head on. It’s also not the kind of shonen lead we often see. It makes Dan feel more unique amongst the usual, boisterous shonen line up.
We quickly jump to introducing our other lead, one Marin Shiraishi, a young and beautiful table tennis star. We also meet a table tennis reporter and pseudo lackey for Marin, Tohru Matsuzaki. We quickly find our three characters thrust together as Dan stumbles upon the two who are heading to the same table tennis practice hall he’s trying to find.
We get a quick couple pages to witness Marin’s ability and receive our first true taste of the series’ wild art for table tennis matches. It’s incredible how much force, power and speed in conveyed in each panel, really selling the frantic and fast atmosphere.
It doesn’t take long after that to pit Marin and Dan against each other, as Marin notes that Dan is a meek boy who could never be strong. As he practices by himself he quickly proves her wrong, to the point where she just has to try him out. When Dan gives his name Tohru runs off to confirm his suspicions and that’s where it’s revealed, although it was heavily implied earlier, that Dan is the grandson of the former master player, Hagen Wulf.
From there the chapter plays out as one big match up between Dan and Marin, showcasing more of the excellent art and style used to convey the actual play of Table Tennis. The series then wastes no time setting up Dan’s big foray into the competitive scene as Marin invites him to come see the elite, private table tennis school she’s enrolled in: Setagaya Table Tennis Academy. (I refuse to believe such a thing exists outside of manga though.)
It’s a solid opening that gets us to the point and skips a lot of the usual bog standard set up. Likely though Chapter 2, heading to a school environment, will start to inject some of the more traditional elements we jumped right over. But that might actually be okay since we’ve been introduced to the meat of the story, and our characters motivations in a highly effective, laser focus manner. It’s okay now if the series gets bogged down in building up Dan’s day to day life a bit, because we’ve seen already exactly what the series promises. I might even say it’s one of the strongest Jump Starts included to date and I’m crossing my fingers it’ll find its way into the Western line up.
That’s it for today. Please let me know what your thoughts on Full Drive in the comments below!
Full Drive is published weekly as a Jump Start in Shonen Jump.