The Spring 2018 Manga Guide
Kenka Bancho Otome
What's It About?Orphan Hinako was hoping her high school debut at an all-girls school would bring her newfound friendship, but when she runs into the conniving Hikaru she meets not only her long-lost twin brother but is also shanghai-ed into attending a school for delinquents in his place.
Hinako finds herself working her way up the pecking order in a school where fistfights are encouraged to establish dominance, but she'll have to keep her gender under wraps from her allies and foes, that is if an old acquaintance doesn't out her first.
Kenka Bancho Otome: Love's Battle Royale is based on Spike Chunsoft's PlayStation Vita game with story and art by Chie Shimada. Viz Media released the first of two manga volumes in April. An anime series titled Kenka Banchō Otome: Girl Beats Boys, also based on the game, premiered last year on Crunchyroll streamed the series as it aired. Funimation is releasing the anime on home video in June.
Is It Worth Reading?Lynzee Loveridge
So, spoiler, I watched the anime version of Kenka Banchō Otome back when it streamed on Crunchyroll because the idea of 10 minute episodes featuring a girl punching dudes in the face while simultaneously being wooed by hunky delinquents sounded really appealing at the time. The show mostly worked by sticking to a simple plot and each episode ending before it wore out its welcome. Not so much for this manga adaptation. Despite having the same source material, the manga has neither engaging fight sequences or the necessary padding to flesh out the admittedly stale love interests.
Hinako works her way through her new violent environment, defeating dudes and collecting them like friendly Pokémon along the way. Each chapter sees another ally added to her growing troupe but this leaves little room to establish her friends and potential love interests beyond a singular character attribute. Totomaru remains her ever-loyal buddy who is in complete denial of his attraction to her because he thinks she's a guy. Takayuki Konparu is a superficially cold guy that wears headphones and likes his siblings, proving that of course he's got a heart of gold under all that gruffness. Rintaro Kira is the handsome childhood friend that's always there to catch Hinako when she's in a jam. Lastly, Yuta Mirako is the long-haired, charming idol who swore off male friendship. Out of our quartet of agile fighters, Konparu probably has the weakest back story, if you can call it that. The others fare a bit better but are still decidedly unoriginal for a shojo romance.
Kenka Banchō Otome has action elements but its heart is all soft. See, while Hinako is an adept fighter, she still often finds herself fainting, falling or getting into other precarious situations that requires one of her guy pals to catch her, hold her, or some other lovey-dovey scenario. The forced romantic situations are about as stale as the vanilla guys rounding out the cast. It didn't have to be this way; if Chie Shimada could have diverted some from the original plotline, or built up some kind of natural tension between Hinako and any of the male characters she fights, it could have lead something a bit more exciting. Girl who constantly trips while in the presence of a cute guy wears out its welcome really fast.
I found myself unable to get invested in Hinako or any of her potential love interests in this first volume. Each male character was mostly self-contained to his chapter before fading into the background for the next one to show up. At only two volumes, Kenka Banchō Otome might have worked better as an adaptation of a single route from the game instead of a general overview of the entire story, where a single pairing is planned. The approach taken here is too broad and shallow to deliver a satisfying romance.
If you're hoping for a more in-depth version of Kenka Bancho Otome: Love's Battle Royale than we got in the anime version, you're in for a bit of a disappointment. This is a fairly straight adaptation of the anime with basically the same characters and events, and with only one more volume to complete the series, I don't think that's going to change. But if you'd like to relive the story and see the boys drawn slightly differently, this is still just as much fun in its premise and execution as the show. Still following Hinako in her cross-dressing adventures as her twin brother Hikaru at notorious thug school Shishiku, the manga does look like it may choose a route to follow rather than opting for the anime's more ambiguous ending.
The premise of the story, that Hinako's long-lost twin forces her to take his place because of her fighting skill while he attends her school, is just silly enough to suspend our disbelief. Hinako learned to brawl at the orphanage where she grew up in order to defend herself and the other orphans; a boy she was close to taught her before he was adopted. Naturally that young man is now at Shishiku along with several other hot guys who develop an interest in “Hikaru” because of his skills…at least, at first. At least two of them are convinced that Hikaru is really a girl (and she has to go to great lengths to convince them otherwise, being only moderately successful), and all of them are attracted to her whether they'll admit it or not. For her part, Hinako is much more interested in being friends with them, not because she's that committed to her disguise, but because previously she didn't have any friends. Ironically the reason behind her having them now and never before is the same: her fighting skills scared off kids at her old schools. She had actually planned never to fight again before her brother found her, so that the skill she resents is now the reason why she has a friend group is a bit of a conflict for her. Mostly she seems not to think about it.
The story is written in a breezy way, which really works for this as a light-hearted romance. Everyone's physical skills are ridiculous, people are stupidly attractive, and just about everyone could get an A in “Obliviousness” when it comes to hidden motives. In other words, it's just a lot of fun. Chie Shinohara's gag comics between the chapters do give a few more insights into the stories (mostly silly), and her art is fairly standard shoujo romance fare. Gray space can get a little out of control at times, but it largely works, making this a fun, goofy bit of reverse harem fun with a volume count that, although a little disappointing, at least means that you can read the whole series relatively easily.
A lawless all-boys “school for delinquents” is as innovative a setting as any for an otome story—not that there haven't been series where the main character cross-dresses and attends an all-boys school before. With the additional element of the bishonen all being delinquents and engaging in fisticuffs—an homage to the original beat 'em up game it's based on—at least there's a clever twist on the same old formula. Hinako makes for a compelling enough center of a harem: she's strong but not a showoff, and she's eager to make friends, but she'll also stand up to bullies without fearing social consequences. The fact that she's railroaded so ham-fistedly by her long-lost twin, Hikaru, into swapping schools and posing as each other is bizarre, but it drives the comedy and it doesn't feel glaringly out of place.
Each of the bishonen introduced so far is relatively one-note. There's the emotionally reticent rival-turned-devotee, the taciturn protector, and the playboy idol, and each get enough time on the page to establish themselves and their interest in Hinako. The only member of the harem so far who's lacking is Konparu, and there's some overlap with him and Kira since they're both reserved. Still, this is clearly just the beginning of the (two-volume) story, and perhaps there's room for him to grow. He does at least make a good foil for bubbly Totomaru.
Thus far, the plot has zeroed in on introducing one bishonen at a time, with Hinako's goal of developing true friendships driving her own actions along the way. However, it gets particularly clunky when each chapter begins with Hinako's narration explaining the gender swap. True, it may have been helpful for anyone reading it in chapter form—though it'd be unlikely they'd forget from one installment to the next—but it drags down the pace of the story within the context of a volume.
Shimada's art perfectly suits the shojo style, even with all the tough guys populating its pages. Each character manages to be both beautiful and rough around the edges. While their soft designs detract from any sense of danger the school might actually pose, that still works since it's largely a comedy.
Kenka Bancho Otome: Love's Battle Royale volume 1 will please shojo fans who aren't satisfied with one clear-cut romantic interest for the heroine. Spunky and with a slight undercurrent of comedy, the overall vibe of this series is pleasant, and it exhibits a fairly original execution of familiar tropes. I can't speak to what fans of the original beat 'em up game would think, but you don't need any familiarity with the game to enjoy this loose manga adaptation.
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