Momiji No Kisetsu 001-003 – Manga Review
Synopsis: Momiji Kuramichi’s brother, Sakura, was a genius shogi player famous for his aggressive style of play. But Sakura died from a chronic illness before he could realize his dream to become the Ryuo, the Dragon King. Momiji vows to take on his dream and rise to the top of the shogi world! But there’s one problem- Momiji is really bad at shogi. (Official Shonen Jump Synopsis.)
Warning: Spoilers to Follow:
Let’s get this out of the way: The above synopsis is misleading. In fact, the entire first chapter is misleading. Momiji initially paints itself as a Hikaru no Go type story: Hard work vs Protege. While that dynamic is often gradually skirted in Shonen Sports manga, sometimes finding out our hero has an innate talent for this, or that, there’s still a lengthy depiction of the sheer effort and struggle these characters undergo to improve and change. Yet Momiji paints itself in a similar by the numbers fashion, only to reject all that within the first chapter itself. Momiji Kuramichi, our lead, isn’t actually someone who needs to work hard to make up for his lack of innate talent: He’s got bundles of it, he’s just always been playing wrong.
As we come to learn over the course of the first chapter, Momiji has merely painted himself into a corner, refusing to play Shogi in any other way than the way his brother played it, rather that adhering to his own innate sensibilities. While this plays well with the emotional through-line of the story, wanting to pick up his deceased brother’s broken dream and carry it like a flag barrier to the finish line, the series is inherently misleading early on. While that’s probably the idea, there’s ways the series fails to really play into its reveal that would make the transition away from the facade easier to swallow and feel more natural and meaningful.
But that’s only one of Momiji’s problems. Its first chapter is rather by the books with on the nose exposition, forced fan service comedy and stunning levels of coincidence when the greatest female Shogi player also just happens to have been the student of Momiji’s dead brother (Why exactly does Momiji not know his brother had pupils? Was this some great secret or something?)Momiji has also managed to piss off a vocal few who find the series frustrating for its lack of Shogi explanations. The series makes no effort to clue audiences in on how to actually play Shogi, and while that isn’t a true prerequisite to enjoying the story, it does make some of the surprise tactics lose weight and meaning. As someone unfamiliar with Shogi, I still get the sense that tactics used here aren’t meant to be all that detailed, fleshed out, and analyzed anyway. What is shown feels fleeting, as if given just enough attention to include Shogi in the story. You could probably sub Shogi out for Chess, Go, Checkers, what have you, and it’d all basically play out the same way. The depiction of the sport is so simplified that it’s inclusion in the story is dangerously superficial at best.
It’s actually after this first chapter, perhaps too by the books, that the series seems to improve. The comedy feels a little more natural in places, and the story plays into Momiji’s more violent tendencies (banging his head against everything) as an actual character trait that has relevance rather than pure comedic value. It starts to play into people’s perceptions of Momiji, and if this can get greater focus and relevance in the story, could make Momiji stand out more so as a character in his own right. Also the manga’s more emotional focus on Momiji, and the dynamic he shares with Icho Ichihara, the major female Shogi player, becomes the series strongest asset. However, when turning our attention to the Shogi elements, the series still falls short, providing little more than the classic reversal to showcase that Momiji is actually incredibly skilled now that he’s playing to type rather than against.
Chapter 003 finishes the series basic build up to its ongoing story, introducing our primary rival for Momiji, another secret pupil his brother once held (What is with all this freaking secrecy?) while injecting a surprising amount of bathroom humor.
Ultimately Momiji’s greatest offense is never quite feeling like it’s got something new to say. On the one hand Momiji’s lesson that he needs to play true to himself is a great story for teenage audiences, yet doesn’t feel like a notion that can carry an ongoing manga. That lesson’s been learned, and the series doesn’t give a great sense that Momiji’s upcoming obstacles mean much. His relationship with Icho, while lively, hinges on their connection through his brother and her training him in Shogi, but by keeping the mechanics of the game out of sight, it feels like a hollow, off-page, relationship.
Shonen Jump needs more variety, with the U.S. magazine consisting of majority Battle Shonen, a harem, a sports manga, and little else. Sadly I don’t think Momiji is a title that’ll satisfy those hungry for other sports-esque titles. It’s uninterested in sucking players into the game, and doesn’t have enough heart to grip readers emotionally. It’s a thoroughly middle of the road manga, one I expect isn’t long in Japanese Jump anyway.
That’s it for today. Please let me know your thoughts on Momiji No Kisetsu in the comments below!
Momiji No Kisetsu is published as a Jump Start in Shonen Jump.