Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Kinichiro Imamura hasn't had the best high school experience. Constantly judged for his appearance, he never made friends and felt like a freak for the entire three years. His one regret is that he never followed up on the school's oendan, a traditional cheer club, which ultimately led to its demise. But he won't have to live with those regrets much longer – on graduation day, he and a girl named Aki take a tumble down the stairs and wake up to find that they're about to do high school all over again. This time Kinichiro isn't going to let that lost opportunity haunt him.
High school occupies a special place in pop culture, both eastern and western. Despite the fact that for many of us it hardly lives up to the hype of “the best days of your life,” those three or four years at childhood's end hold a persistent romance, quite possibly because that's when most people can really remember first making a choice that had a lasting effect. For Kinichiro Imamura, protagonist of Mitsurou Kubo's manga Again!!, that choice is when he walked right past the girl trying to get new members for the school's oendan, a traditional, primarily male cheerleading club.
Longtime readers of manga have likely seen oendan without realizing it before, largely as special costumes for sports festival storylines: people wearing old-fashioned over-sized male school uniforms leading a specific cheer or chant. It's not as flashy as modern cheerleading, and Again tells us that it's on its way out: in fact, when Kinichiro begins high school the oendan has only one member, a girl named Usami. In the future Kinichiro has already lived out when the story begins, the club dies when Usami graduates or gives up (which isn't clear yet), something Kinichiro regrets. This isn't necessarily because he likes oendan all that much, but rather because he's fascinated by Usami herself.
Although Kinichiro is the main character here, it is Usami who is the hook. We don't know much about her by the end of the volume; just that somehow she is responsible for both maintaining the oendan and for its near-destruction prior to Kinichiro's freshman year. In part this seems to be because she doesn't fit the comfortable definition of what a high school girl ought to be: not only did she join the oendan, a traditionally male club, but she's also active and abrasive about it. Usami sees tradition as being key to maintaining the club, which is interesting in and of itself as she would not “traditionally” be a part of it, and in her zeal she's driven off former members and kept away potential new ones. She puts on a good show of not being bothered by the way she's seen around school, but Kinichiro finds out that it really is just that: a show. Typically of the age, however, no one can see that the more that the belittle Usami, the more difficult and obnoxious she becomes, a coping mechanism to maintain both her own dignity and the club she loves.
This is where the time travel conceit truly comes into play. When Kinichiro and another graduating senior named Akira fall down the stairs (and very possibly die), both are transported back to their first day of their first year of high school. Kinichiro sees this as a chance to right what he's always felt was his major wrong of those years: this time, he's going to join Usami's oendan. That it will also likely change his high school experience from a terrible, isolated one to something more enjoyable is a second thought for him – his main goal is to help Usami, which is an interesting statement about his character as well as a direct contrast with Akira. She had a good time in high school, and while she's at first upset about the time travel (her boobs got smaller, oh no!), she quickly decides that this is going to be a good opportunity to relive her glory days. Unfortunately she's not considering the aspects and implications of her trip back in time in the same way that Kinichiro is, getting herself into trouble she doesn't want or need.
Thematically this is the most interesting part of the book, the contrast between Kinichiro's and Akira's visions of reliving high school. Kinichiro is able to see it as an opportunity to do something for someone else; that he finds himself making friends is almost coincidental in his mind. Akira, on the other hand, is a much more selfish character from the start, shallowly believing rumors about Kinichiro in the future and blaming him for her own actions in the past. Where he is able to move forward, she's stuck in her own vision, jeopardizing the happy years she remembers. In some ways it's a statement about “peaking” in high school, and it will be interesting to see how it pans out in future volumes.
Mitsurou Kubo is the co-creator of the highly successful Yuri on Ice anime, and there are definitely signs of that here. We can see it in the attention to the details of oendan, but also in the character dynamics, most specifically between Kinichiro and Usami. Although it is early days in the story, it looks very much like the two of them will begin to work together to revive the oendan and to help Usami understand what it is that she needs to do in order to facilitate that revival, not unlike how Yuri has to change to truly shine at his sport. It would not, however, be a good idea to go into this expecting a repeat of that series.
The art for this book is nicely dynamic, albeit a bit crowded at times on the page. We can easily see how first year Kinichiro and Akira grew up to be their third-year selves, and Kubo doesn't skimp on the fiddly details in either the background or characters' expressions. Body language is also particularly well done, and you can really feel the power of Usami's performances…and the subsequent second-hand embarrassment on the part of those listening to her.
Again is off to a good start in its first volume. With an interesting use of both the typical high school storyline and the time travel conceit, along with a couple of misunderstood protagonists who clearly deserve better than they got, this is an engaging read. Even if you never want to relive high school, it's worth following Kinichiro as he does.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : A-
+ Engaging characters, oendan is an interesting subject we don't see much of in manga. Nice details in the art. Good use of time travel conceit.
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