Reviewby Carlo Santos,
My Heavenly Hockey Club
All Hana Suzuki ever wanted to do with her life was eat and sleep, but somehow she's been drafted into her school's field hockey club—a team of five exceptionally good-looking guys. There's just one problem: they seem to spend more time traveling the country than actually playing hockey. A summer trip to Okinawa turns deadly when Hana gets lost in the jungle with one of the guys, and a hot springs stay becomes more work than play when the owner guilt-trips the boys into doing menial labor and providing host-like services. However, none of this can prepare them for the arrival of Tamako, who's had her heart set on marrying team leader Izumi since they were kids! Can Izumi fake a relationship with Hana long enough to drive Tamako out of the way?
One does not read My Heavenly Hockey Club for the hockey. In fact, anyone who's gotten this far in the series should have noticed that by now, as Volume 3 doesn't even contain any hockey. What it does contain, however, is the usual stream of harem madness as one (mostly) sensible girl tries to deal with a gaggle of cute but (mostly) misguided boys. The first half of the book continues in the usual episodic mode—the club decides to go someplace, and terrible and hilarious things happen to them—but the second half shows early shades of character development as Hana and Izumi get caught in this half-joking, half-serious love triangle. It's not going to get into heavy melodrama anytime soon, but are enough hints now that you start to wonder. That slight romantic undercurrent, along with a steady flow of sitcom gags, is what keeps this series chugging along.
The first chapter in the volume finishes off the Okinawa trip that began in the previous installment, with a healthy requisite of the usual "lost in the woods" humor. Losing one's glasses, fending off snakes, and peeing in the bushes—it's all covered here, along with a bumbling rescue attempt to cap off the chapter. The story after that, where the hockey club goes to a hot springs inn, is a clever deflection of the usual hot springs scenario: instead of having the boys lounging around undressed in the water, they spend most of the time doing thankless work instead. Don't worry, there's still a fair share of fanservice—but in a crazy, unexpected way. But it's only in the last two chapters where Ai Morinaga really starts to flex her comedic muscle, taking a rags-vs.-riches love triangle and wringing every possible joke out of it (competing for love, meeting the parents, and even drunken behavior). It may be a highly conventional setup, but that's why it works: by relying on familiar sitcom elements, Morinaga is able to concentrate more on maximizing the humor rather than worrying about things like ... say ... drawing jungle leaves. There's even time and space to concentrate on character relationships, as seen in that interesting little tiff between Hana and Izumi near the end.
No matter where you are in the story, though, there's always the inevitable comparison to Ouran High School Host Club: same highly unlikely setup, same cast of male characters, same rich-poor dichotomy betwen the girl and her harem. That's why the laughter sometimes rings hollow for this series—it's funny, yes, but only because someone is copying a clever little formula (even if unintentionally). Consider, also, that this is about as plotless as it gets: just stick the girl and her boys in the right scenario and toss out as many jokes as can be created from that scenario. If the storyline is that weak, who's to say it couldn't just be written in short, 20-page chapter bursts, or even a series of 4-panel strips? Yet there are some things Morinaga does far better than the average manga comedy: the humor is more direct and physical, and the scenes leading up to a punchline are always well-timed. The art of joke-telling is highly refined here; it's just the stringing of them together in serial format that's a problem.
To see the art of joke-telling in action, turn to any page and look at how the panels are laid out. In just a page or two, a scene flows perfectly from setup to punchline: all it takes is a couple of beats and maybe a slight pause before hitting that pivotal "Gyaaah!" and a wacky reaction face. These quick, light gags may not be the funniest in the world, but pack them together in rapid succession and they do add up. Sadly, this great sense of visual timing is hampered by the compulsive desire to draw everything: too many characters and background details create a needless amount of clutter, along with random screentones being slapped on every dialogue scene just to avoid the plainness of a white background. Believe it or not, white backgrounds can be a good thing, especially in a physical comedy like this where there's so much going on. Bold lines and a wide range of facial expressions add energy to the work, and the character designs—although conventional in style—are varied and attractive enough to please the eye.
In a goofball comedy like this, much of the dialogue revolves around one easy formula: someone says something dumb, and then someone else comes back with a sharp retort. This translation brings out most of that wit in lively, conversational English (just read through Izumi and Hana's back-and-forth exchange when they're forced to kiss, for example). There's maybe one point in the text where a pun doesn't quite work—but at least it's explained in the glossary, which also covers other various aspects of Japanese culture. The physical humor of the series also lends itself to lots of sound effects, all of which are translated here; however, some of them have simply been transliterated into what the Japanese characters say, which doesn't really help in understanding the actual sound.
Like the rest of the series so far, this installment of My Heavenly Hockey Club is good fun, but not terribly deep. For a "bishounen harem" comedy, the jokes are certainly executed well—quick timing, lively characters, and a constant supply of new material keep things from getting boring. However, anyone expecting a deeper storyline or more shades of romance are only going to get teased and disappointed again: Hana gets awfully close with some of the guys in her club, but she just doesn't want to close the deal. It also doesn't help that the story continuity is thin at best; the characters are simply wandering from one scene to the next without anything to really motivate them. (Do they ever plan to arrange another hockey match with a rival school? Yeah, right.) But if cute guys doing silly things is your idea of a good time, then this is guaranteed entertainment right here.
Overall : B-
Story : C+
Art : B
+ A steady stream of quick gags and physical comedy keeps things lively.
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