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Reviewby Carlo Santos, Nov 23rd 2006
G. novel 1
Elle Nagahara just wants an ordinary teenage life. But that's hard to do when her entire family consists of wrestlers and boxers! Living at her grandpa's boxing gym, Elle has been forcibly engaged to Ruo, a flamboyant fighter and the grandson of an old-time friendly rival. Unfortunately, anytime Elle takes an interest in another guy, Ruo and his buddies immediately scare him off—but all that changes when she meets Kazuki Shindo, a street thug who has the skills to match Ruo. Elle didn't mean to get involved with Kazuki, but it seems that he actually wants to help her. Soon enough, Kazuki joins the Nagahara gym, and Elle slowly learns more about this mysterious fighter with a sensitive heart.
Don't worry about the sports angle. Punch! isn't really about boxing. At the most basic level, it's about a girl who has the bad fortune to be surrounded by complete boneheads and finds herself drawn to the first guy to show any sign of decent human behavior. It just so happens that this revolves around a boxing gym. (Perhaps they're saying something about the intelligence level of people who take up the sport?) In any case, romance is the main point here, and dislike-at-first-sight is definitely one of the classic formulas—polite girl meets boorish boy and eventually warms up to him. Unfortunately, this first volume fails to do anything interesting with that formula, and you can only look at the cute artwork for so long before realizing that there's not much else to back it up.
When it comes to romantic fluff, though, this story pulls it off. For all his faults, Kazuki is just too hard to resist—unlikable at first, but gradually showing signs of kindness (fending off Ruo at any cost, helping out his little sister) until readers start to see his appeal. He's the classic tough guy with a heart of gold; what's not to like? His tenderness towards Elle is sure to set off warm feelings among the sentimental-hearted and have them rooting for the couple. On the comedy side, Ruo brings the laughs with his pompous attitude and spontaneous floral backgrounds whenever he shows up. However, the cast of characters isn't developed much beyond these basic personality traits, and it's all too clear that this is shoujo-by-the-numbers: Elle is just an average girl who gets a few lucky breaks, and the lead males are nothing more than the archetypal "good guy" and "bad guy."
Meanwhile, the story itself has some sweet moments, but lacks a strong motivation behind Elle and Kazuki's relationship. The first half of the volume is mostly just casual encounters—at school, at the boxing gym, at the store, at someone's house—how is this supposed to be interesting? Regular teenagers already do this all the time. When Ruo drags Elle to Tokyo for one of his matches, the tension finally starts ramping up, only to fizzle out when Ruo decides to back off. Kazuki moving into the gym and transferring to Elle's school adds romantic potential, but by then the volume is almost over, despite ending on a promising note. The overall effect is a story that lacks dramatic energy, and worse yet, is way too predictable.
So powerful is the essence of romantic fluff that it carries right over into the art, which is at its best when being cute and humorous. Sure, there are some decently drawn bishounen and the usual smattering of "dramatic realization!" full-page spreads, but the super-deformed characters and comedic expressions are in a class all their own. Elle's baby-sized pouts and goofy grins make her that much more appealing, and when the cuteness is squeezed into a single character—in this case, Kazuki's pet dog Choppy—it's almost too much to bear. But in a good way. Minimal backgrounds and straightforward paneling make for easy reading, although there are some points where the visual flow seems to choke—the rectangular panels don't always lead into each other, and it's easy to miss one while skimming down the page.
Fast and easy reading is helped by a clear-cut translation, with Elle's tumultuous feelings expressed in simple words. However, the dialogue has been "de-Japanified" almost to a fault—no honorifics, and Elle's grandpa is nicknamed "Gigi" (surely "Jiji" is the more common romanization). The translated and edited sound effects are no problem, though, having been blended smoothly into the artwork with a variety of fonts. A clear, big-lettered font for the dialogue also helps the reading process. Print quality is top-notch, with the lineart about as sharp as it can get, and sturdy paper and binding as is typical for a Viz volume.
There's no doubt that Punch! has a certain kind of appeal—mostly to dreamers who long for a cool, tough guy that turns out to be a sweetheart on the inside. Not that there's anything wrong with wanting that, but in the end, such guys are merely the stuff of fantasy, and it's clear that this series plans to stay in that fantasy world. Yes, the polite girl meets the boorish boy, and they are gradually drawn together by a series of cute and casual moments (with a touch of drama as needed). It's very cute, but very light, so anyone expecting a deeper involvement will have to keep looking. As far romantic shoujo manga goes, Punch! is a featherweight at best.
Overall : C
Story : C-
Art : B-
+ An intriguing male lead and cute artwork with touches of humor.
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