Shudan! 001 – Manga Review

Reviewed by: Tom

Synopsis: Shudan! is the story of a youth soccer club in a prefecture that’s come to be known as the “Soccer Kingdom.” One sixth grader, Soshi Sakurada finds himself on the Hamanishi FC youth soccer club as one of its top members now that he’s entered sixth grade. The club isn’t anything special and in fact often performs below average. But that seems destined to change as a girl, Akira Nanase, joins the club and spurs everyone into giving it their all.

Warning: Spoilers to Follow:

Review:

Shudan!’s first chapter has issues; primarily it lacks the elements required to give the series significant lasting appeal. Every good story has a gimmick. And by that I mean an element that gives it a seeming uniqueness. For example: Naruto isn’t just a story about ninja clans, politics, and their eventual war: rather it’s about a boy who’s an outcast, gradually growing to become a truly powerful ninja.

While other manga copy this, say Black Clover, even those copies take that element and gradually find a way to twist it and have it become something of their own. Another example is the Days anime/sports manga, about a young man who’s absolutely crap at Soccer becoming a strong player through sheer practice and determination.

Coupled with that is drive. Lead characters need drive, a goal to fight towards. Luffy wants to be King of the Pirates, Naruto: Hokage, Light to force his ideals upon others, Gon to find his father, etc, etc. It’s through these goals that we can easily see the direction each of the above manga wants to go. While it may be obvious that Shudan! will send its protagonists up against adversarial soccer team after team, without a clear goal for our heroes to strive towards it lacks definition.

Hey, honesty is the best policy.

Shudan! sells itself on the story of this group of boys, and a singular girl, and their soccer team. The chapter opens with a tease for the future, the team preparing to head into an official match up. It’s all well enough, but lacks that unique, gripping element that says “okay, this is going to be a unique and interesting series.”

From there we learn that Soshi’s soccer club is pretty bad, having never won a game, to the point where even his mother laughs at the idea. We then quickly rush into introductions for all our characters, the coach Tatsuya, protege and arrogant Roku, and others. It’s all fairly standard stuff, trying to extol their character out in just a few lines of dialogue.

The manga then gets quite exposition heavy during the practice match, as narration further expands the setting. It’s weak writing no two ways about it. There’s more natural ways to convey this information, but rather than working it into the setting it’s plopped here in the chapter and really bogs down the flow.

The manga then finally introduces something that could be considered unique, but really underplays its importance/impact on the scenario. Everyone starts to notice a girl standing next to the coach. After the team captain Yamato injures himself due to use of his reckless power, coach subs her in. Akira Nanase is the girls name and immediately most of the boys are antsy about her joining, questioning if she can even join the team, or wondering if they can treat her as an equal, etc.

Saying a girl is cute hardly counts as getting along.

It’s all vaguely sexist, though in all honesty that’s probably fairly realistic. Nanase quickly pisses the boys off with how good she is and only urks them further when they don’t take her seriously. It makes it hard to like Soshi, who’s at the forefront of this latent sexism. This is an undercurrent the manga continually drips in through this chapter, culminating in a stretched joke about Soshi being a feminist because he chose to pass to Nanase?

It’s clearly not meant to be offensive, as the manga is actually pretty positive on Nanase and even portrays her as perhaps equally arrogant as Roku and Soshi. Overall the manga has that going for it, outside of the feminism joke, an excellent air of feminism in itself, giving plenty of positive light and opportunity for Nanase to shine as a female player on the field.

In some ways it feels like Nanase should actually have more attention. She’s the entire reason the team shows any kind of actual determination during this match, bolstering their resolve to play hard by her sheer strength and determination as a player herself. the match really heats up as Soshi and Nanase turn the tables on Roku when they finally decide to stop underestimating each other and give it their all. It’s a heartwarming moment and produces some great character development, but feels like little more than a beacon of hope in an otherwise dull set up.

When you guys actually try, yeah.

In some ways Shudan! feels less like a true sports manga and more like a slice of life story, with Soccer just happening to sit at its center. Like we talked about before though, there’s no ‘gimmick’ here to make Shudan! feel like it’s unique or has an overarching path/point. The opening pages make it clear that we’ll be following these characters into larger and larger match ups as the team improves, probably due to Nanase’s presence, but it still feels hollow compared to other entries in the genre.

It doesn’t help either that Roku and Soshi feel too much alike at this point. Sure one is all smiles compared to manly brooding, but both are extremely arrogant characters and neither really gets any positive elements included in their portrayal. This is a symptom of the manga’s focus in this first chapter: The game. We spend so much time on the field, or wallowing in narration used to explain the setting, that we hardly get any time to really explore our characters and truly get to know them.

Right now I feel like Shudan! is kinda weak, with not enough of a unique idea to form a truly compelling continuing series. I think this could be rectified if we focused more on character in the next few chapters, learned about goals, dreams, ideas etc. Things other manga put at the forefront of their character arcs. if we can establish what’s driving these kids, and how that’ll impact the setting, I think Shudan! could turn itself around. But what’s here is weak and aimless for now.

Let me know your thoughts on Shudan! in the comments below!

Shudan! can be found in Shonen Jump and will be available to read for free at Viz.com.

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