The Spring 2020 Manga Guide
Knight of the Ice
What's It About?Chitose is trying to make a life for herself in the big city as a journalist for health magazine SASSO, but there's just one problem: her childhood friend, Kokoro, is a champion figure skater and he can't function if she's not there to cheer him on. This means that Chitose is stuck running between work and Kokoro's competitions (some of which are in other countries), and it's starting to take a toll on her job. But life's not easy for Kokoro, either – he has to hide his love of a children's anime that gives him strength (or so they keep telling him), and his childhood friend Chitose has no idea that he's been in love with her for years. Will either of them be able to succeed in their careers, or are they doomed to fail in both their jobs and their personal lives?
Knight of the Ice is written and illustrated by Yayoi Ogawa. It was released by Kodansha Comics in March and is available both in print ($12.99) and digitally ($10.99).
Is It Worth Reading?
Despite my initial concerns, Knight of the Ice does not appear to be related to Yayoi Ogawa's previous figure skating series, Kiss and Never Cry, which, as of this writing, remains unlicensed. It does, however, feature a couple of cameos by Sumire from her series You're My Pet (previously released by Tokyopop as Tramps Like Us), although honestly that's just a bonus if you've read that series. It could also be a joking commentary on Ogawa's part about the fact that these two heroines are so very different: not only is Chitose the visual opposite of Sumire, but she's also far, far more honest and earnest, which just goes to show that Ogawa's more than a one-trick pony.
This volume feels largely introductory, however, which is how I remember feeling about You're My Pet's first book. The story mainly seems to serve to introduce the two main characters and their central issue, which is that Kokoro can only be a champion figure skater if he has Chitose's support, and while she appreciates that and really does want to help him, she also has her own life to live, and that gets in the way sometimes. Their relationship stretches back to their childhoods, when they both took figure skating classes and were into the same magical girl anime, leading to Chitose pretending to cast the transformation spell from the show on Kokoro, which in turn meant that he became a better skater. That's stuck around, which is an interesting statement in a few ways. One is a testament to the power of the transformation in a magical girl show, something I wrote an entire dissertation on back in grad school – it's basically a gateway to learning to believe in yourself. But for Kokoro, that became wrapped up in his crush on (and later love for) Chitose, and now he can't separate the two in his mind. He thinks it's still the spell that has the power for him, but really what he now relies on is the support he feels from the woman he loves: knowing that she's there watching him skate is the real magic spell. Kokoro essentially relies on his otaku love for the old show as a way to manage his anxiety otherwise; Chitose is the one person he truly feels comfortable with.
That gives this series plenty of room to grow, especially since Chitose is less clear on her feelings for Kokoro and is also fighting with the adult world to see past her adorable exterior and take her seriously. She wants to be successful all on her own, and a piece of her isn't sure that being at Kokoro's beck and call is really working for her anymore, and that's not even getting into the romantic subplot. Ogawa's art takes a little getting used to, but it's also a draw here; she has a much better grasp of bodies than she does faces, which makes some of the skating scenes look very nice. This probably isn't going to scratch any Yuri on Ice itches, but it is a very enjoyable book with the potential to keep developing its story and characters, so if you enjoyed You're My Pet, it's worth picking up.
The thing that most struck me about Knight of the Ice is its commitment to relatable humanity in the face of a premise that is classic rom-com cheese: a world-famous ice skater is skyrocketing to athletic success, but only performs well when his childhood crush invokes a spell from a magical girl anime they used to watch together. Despite this concept which, in different hands, could be outlandish or sensationalistic, the manga instead imbues the core story with the relatable, awkward authenticity of two people who obviously like each other, and yet, are too scared to admit their feelings.
This surprising candidness of the approach is best seen in the characterization of our two leads. Chitose is a workaholic from the countryside who has no problem being frank and getting her hands dirty (and making god-tier reaction faces), and Kokoro's pretty boy exterior belies his dorkiness and obsession with obscure magical girl ephemera. This is unique characterization that defies a lot of archetypal writing for leads in romances. It is made even more distinct by a lot of the difficulties their relationship faces involving fewer dramatic twists of fate and mistaken circumstances than simple anxious deflection (like when Chitose says she thinks of Kokoro as a brother when her feelings are broached). It is refreshing to see romcom drama that comes from such an honest, emotional place.
While I am fond of how Kokoro and Chitose are characterized, however, I do wish the side cast was given a little more interiority. Kokoro's staff suffers the most; his manager is an eyebrow-raising stereotype of an all-business opportunist (who, among other things, offers to be an outlet for Kokoro's sexual desires after she discovers him and Chitose in bed together, saying ‘he's of the age for that’, which is a little gross) , and the coach's gimmick of incomprehensibility-to-everyone-save-Kokoro is never really fleshed out or seen through a lens other than traditional athletics-training harshness. And the love triangle between Kokoro, Chitose and Chitose's boss (the power dynamics between Chitose and the boss are questionable enough as is, much less how their entire relationship seems to consist of him chiding her for ‘not being pretty enough’) does get a bit tiresome, especially since the other wedges driven between them are so organic and based in real, human anxieties. But even with these quibbles, I cannot help but be endeared by Knight of the Ice. There's something about how its art evokes a fairy-tale wistfulness yet is still plausibly human; there's something about how it frames its key romantic moments (like when Kokoro kisses Chitose through a mask when she's sick) that scans as real and deeply amorous. It is a unique shojo romance, to be sure, but one I cannot get of my mind, and one whose story I will be happy to follow to its conclusion.
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