The perfect manga for fans of ‘Mean Girls’ and ‘Bring It On.’
Sometimes you read or watch something because it was recommended to you. Typically in these situations, you don’t do a lick of research because you take the other person at their word–“You will like this.” This made reading Again!! Vol. 1 quite an experience for me because I didn’t even know what the club the main characters take part in was about.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Kinichiro isn’t even that bad. It’s just that on the first day of high school, his narrow eyes made him look shifty, so people assumed he was trouble. Now it’s graduation, and he’s looking back on three years with no friends. He never even joined a club. But after a bloody collision and an accidental fall, he wakes up a high school freshman, with the chance to try it all over… AGAIN!!
Why does this matter?
This tale is set in a high school with some time travel business going down to flip the script. It asks a question I think we’d all answer yes to: “If you could go back to the beginning of high school would you?” That includes keeping all your memories (class is going to be easy) and experiences (time to date the popular girl). Wrapped around this is the main character’s desire to try out a club that ended up being abandoned by the time he graduated.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
The first quarter of this manga is excellent and does a great job setting up the time travel premise and the two main characters. It opens with Kinichiro heading to high school graduation knowing full well he has no friends and that high school was the worst. He soon interacts with Aki in the street which confirms nobody likes him. Soon he’s wandering off whimsically and finds himself in the old clubhouse building. Once there he’s attempting to look into the Ouendan club room, is caught by Aki, and the next day he wakes up three years in the past. As the story progresses Kinichiro figures out what is going on and decides to approach the Ouendan club leader as he’s taken by her determination and her beauty. Aki then approaches him and readers realize she time traveled, too. Kubo then shows us Aki’s point of view, and it’s comical as well as enlightening. Kubo explores a different perspective on experiencing this weird time travel mechanism and how Aki looks at it all.
Truth be told this manga is more about Kinichiro than Aki, but she tags along and adds a perspective that can relate to Kinichiro’s. You might be wondering what Ouendan is and I was too, for a good two-thirds of the manga. I had a guess, that it’s sort of like cheerleading, but it’s more shouting and drumming. The translation notes do a good job explaining what it is and I recommend going there first get a better grip on what is going on. Kinichiro is interested in this somewhat foreign (at least to Americans) club and there’s an interesting gender dynamic since the club leader is a girl yet Ouendan is usually an all-male group. Kubo adds some interesting misunderstanding elements between Kinichiro and the club leader (he tells her to dress more like cheerleaders to get new applicants…not a good idea since wearing boys’ clothing is a way to show she’s the same in a usually all-boys club) and their dynamic is quite fresh.
There’s some conflict between the club leader and Kinichiro, but the real drama comes via the cheerleaders. This is where the story gets a lot more mischievous and, at least by high school terms, dangerous. Kinichiro is, at least mentally, three years older than these other characters and can probably outwit them, but Kubo does a good job building up the cheerleading captain and her insatiable desire to trick boys. She enacts a few clever plans which don’t reach their conclusions in this volume but will surely be hard for Kinichiro to combat.
The art in this manga is good at highlighting the beauty of these young characters. Kubo does a great job establishing their shyness, awkwardness, and other traits one would expect from high school characters. Kinichiro throws off some of the customary loud expressions we’ve all seen in manga and that gives him a comedic tilt at times.
It can’t be perfect can it?
It would have been nice to get a primer in Ouendan, otherwise known as Cheer in America, because it had me scratching my head while reading this manga. Maybe I should have looked it up, but dammit I was expecting some kind of details on this strange club. Now that I know what it is, it seems rather silly how this club has taken over the story. This is more about the melodrama between characters of course, but it all hangs on Kinichiro’s obsession over Ouendan. Kubo hints that Kinichiro’s got a crush on the club leader, but it’s never confirmed so we have to assume he really does care about this club. The cheerleader characters are a great addition, but their plotting doesn’t enter the story until perhaps later than it should have, reducing the dramatic effect until the latter half of the manga.
In regards to the premise, it does seem somewhat fishy that the time travel element is abandoned after the first quarter of the manga. The drama of high school ends up being the focus, but the first quarter is so good you’ll want more about how time travel is messing with the characters. They could go win the lottery or amaze classmates with knowledge, but instead, they keep it under wraps. That seems like a missed opportunity.
Is it good?
Once I figured out what Ouendan is I ended up liking this manga more than I would have ever expected. Creator Kubo has a great handle on the characters, who are so strong you’ll sometimes forget this is a time travel story. Overall, this is a good character drama that reminds us of the cunning and cruelty of high schoolers much in the way of Mean Girls and Bring It On.