Though many fans of manga and anime might not be fans of sports, sports series such as “Slam Dunk” and “Haikyu!!” are consistently some of the most popular in the medium. A good mangaka can take something that many may consider boring (such as football, volleyball, chess or go) and make it into some of the tensest fiction you’ll ever read.
Rookie mangaka Mikiyasu Kamada and relatively seasoned artist Ashibi Fukui have teamed up to make “Nine Dragons’ Ball Parade,” a new “Weekly Shonen Jump” series revolving around America and Japan’s favorite pastime: baseball.
“Nine Dragons’ Ball Parade” follows Tamao Azukida, a rising high school freshman with dreams of playing for Japan’s top high school baseball team: Hakuo Gakuin. He spends two years doing nothing but training his mind and body for his chance to play on the team.
When tryouts don’t go as expected, all seems lost, but, a newfound connection with pitcher Tao Ryudo may change Azukida’s life forever.
“Nine Dragons’ Ball Parade” does a fantastic job taking worn out tropes and making them feel fresh. Nothing about the series’ first chapter is all that unique (except for, perhaps, the twist ending), but Kamada is still able to draw viewers in completely.
Manga live and die based on their protagonists and, luckily, “Nine Dragons’ Ball Parade” seems to have likeable ones. Azukida is the tried and true “physically weak but mentally strong underdog” architype. In the mock game played in this chapter, he turns everything around for his team through pure strategy alone, making him someone easy to root for.
Though we didn’t see much of Ryudo in this chapter, it feels as if he and Azukida will play off each other wonderfully. Ryudo’s carefree attitude paired with his raw pitching skill make him a ton of fun to read. His brawn paired with Azukida’s brain has the potential to lead to something great.
The first chapter makes readers expect the series to go one direction but then completely destroys those expectations in the final few pages. Though the initial direction that Kamada was clearly setting up may have been interesting to read, the new direction introduced at the end has far more potential.
Though Kamada’s writing in the first chapter is certainly excellent, it would not be nearly as impactful without Fukui’s art.
Though the art doesn’t particularly stick out as unique compared to its contemporaries, Fukui clearly knows how to design a good character. Just about every character featured in the first chapter is visually distinct. Even if they weren’t introduced by name, it still feels as if Fukui put thought and care into their designs, which is far more than can be said for most manga.
Out of all of the new series that have debuted this year in “Weekly Shonen Jump,” “Nine Dragons’ Ball Parade” has the most potential. Through the short game played in the first chapter, Kamada demonstrated that he knows how to write tension and suspense, making baseball interesting even to those that detest the sport.
If you only pick one new series to start reading in “Weekly Shonen Jump” this year, make it “Nine Dragons’ Ball Parade;” chances are you won’t be disappointed.