Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Kenka Bancho Otome: Love's Battle Royale
Hinako has grown up in an orphanage, where she's always felt ostracized because she's both willing and able to beat up any bullies she comes across. Her first day of high school, at a girls' school, no less, seems to her to be the perfect opportunity to start afresh. Unfortunately for her, on the way to school she's stopped by a boy claiming to be her long-lost twin brother. Hikaru needs Hinako to switch places with him, because he's about to enter a boys' school for delinquents and he doesn't like fighting. Before Hinako quite knows what's happened, she's “Hikaru” and fighting her way to the top of the class. Is this really how she's going to make new friends?
Kenka Bancho Otome: Love's Battle Royale is the manga adaptation of the otome game of the same name, and some of you may already be familiar with it from its 2017 anime version. As you might guess, the story is a reverse harem where the heroine finds herself surrounded by a bevy of handsome guys, all of whom are potential love interests…or, in the case of this story, who might just want to beat her to a pulp in order to claim the status of the strongest in the class. That's because this series is in turn a spin-off of a fighting game, Kenka Bancho, which follows a bona fide boy on his quest to punch his way to the top of the delinquent ladder.
It should come as no surprise then that this is a goofier take on the reverse harem genre. The story follows the unfortunate Hinako, a fifteen-year-old girl who has grown up in an orphanage, reasonably assuming herself to be an orphan. That turns out not to be true when a boy with her exact same face stops her on her way to her first day of high school – it seems that he's her long-lost (and raised by their father) twin brother Hikaru, and he has a little favor to ask. He doesn't want to attend the school he's supposed to as a member of the Onigashima family, so he'd like Hinako to put on his uniform and pretend to be him – and as a loving trade-off, he'll slap on a wig and a girl's uniform and pretend to be her. Hinako really doesn't want to comply, not the least because she's been looking forward to a fresh start at an all-girls' school, but Hikaru doesn't give her much choice. Before she quite knows what's happening, Hinako's standing outside the gates of Shishiku Academy, which turns out not only to be an all-boys school, but also to specialize in delinquent thugs. Hikaru, it seems, didn't want to have to fist fight his way to the top of the food chain. Much better to let his sister do it instead.
That's actually a very nice reversal of gender norms, especially since Hikaru isn't horrified by the fact that his sister's tougher than he is; in fact, he's pretty thrilled. Likewise the one boy at school who isn't fooled by Hinako's disguise doesn't care that she's a good fighter, and at no point in this volume does anyone say anything along the lines of, “But girls shouldn't fight!” (There is a line about avoiding facial scarring, but nothing's perfect.) Granted, this isn't trying to be anything like deliberately progressive and Hinako's prowess is much more used as an element of the series' comedy, but it's still very nice to see it on the page.
As it turns out, Hinako's skills make her a highly desirable friend to a couple of the boys at her new school. Of course her pretty and unmistakably feminine face does help, but before she quite realizes it, she's got two firm friends in Totomaru and Konparu. Since this is really all she ever wanted, friends who like and accept her despite her skill at beating people up, she's willing to put up with the masquerade. Previously people were afraid of Hinako because of her fighting skill, and she lead a very isolated life outside of the orphanage. That's largely why she was so excited to start at a new school, and the fact that the very thing that made her problematic for her former classmates is what makes her appealing here. Of course, she also has to go to great lengths to hide her true gender from her new friends, something that at least two of them are on the verge of figuring out. (One of them actually does, but she's able to mislead him again.) That gives the volume a comedy of errors flavor that helps to make it a lot of fun.
Unfortunately for viewers of the anime (as of this writing the game is not available in English), this manga version is only two volumes long and as such doesn't look like it will go much beyond what the anime covered, although there is a good chance that it will pick a route and have a more conclusive ending. In fact, the book follows almost the exact same pattern as the TV series, which is perhaps not surprising given game roots, but has the unfortunate side effect of feeling like enough risks aren't being taken with the available dialogue choices. The four-panel comics in between the chapters are funny, and the whole volume is very enjoyable, but overall the manga doesn't add much to the experience if you've already watched the show.
Kenka Bancho Otome: Love's Battle Royale is still a fun read, despite these issues. Hinako doesn't have tons of personality, but she feels more like a real character than many similar reverse harem heroines, and all of her romantic options are good uses of their respective types. If you're in the mood for a story about a girl who can give just as good as she gets on the field of high school battle, this is a good fast read that delivers just that.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : B
+ Fun story, pleasant art, none of the main characters shame Hinako for her fighting skills
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