By Masahiro Totsuka and Aguri Igarashi. Released in Japan by Square Enix, serialized in the magazine Young Gangan. Released in North America by Yen Press.
Throughout the 14 volumes of Bamboo Blade, we’ve seen its heroine, Tamaki Kawazoe, grow and evolve. She’s always been an amazing kendo student, but that’s not her goal, or her passion, or even her hobby – it’s just what she does. Meeting with Kirino and the others has helped bring her out of her shell, and she’s learned the value or true friendship, but they aren’t able to challenge her enough in regards to kendo. Now, after her defeat by Erina in Vol. 13, we come to the final volume, where Tama-chan spends half of it asking: why do people do kendo?
Everyone’s answer is slightly different, but they all end the same. Azuma uses kendo to improve herself (and make up for her hopeless study habits); Miya-Miya, in addition to finding beating the hell out of everyone fun, wants to see how strong she can be and how far she can go. Saya, who’s suffered from being the ‘comedy character’ in a manga filled with them, finally admits that kendo gives her discipline she needs to grow up. Kirino, of course, simply lives and breathes kendo. It’s surprising to realize that, like Tama, she hasn’t had a real reason for doing kendo beyond “I love it!”, but given her simple and direct personality, this fits. Yuuji and Kojiro-sensei both chime in briefly, but are savvy enough to note that Tama-chan has to find this answer by herself.
Everyone’s final ‘real reason’ for doing kendo is elided out at first, and we only hear it once Tama-chan is back in her bedroom, watching a tape provided for her of her mother on a kendo TV show years ago. Her mother is asked the exact same question, and notes that she wants to make everyone feel the same joy and satisfaction in kendo that she does – its ideals, it’s disciplines, its purity – and that she teaches to to this. And then we flash to the end of everyone’s answer, the one thing all the other girls said. They want to be like Tama-chan. She is their goal, what they are pushing themselves to. And as she breaks down in cathartic tears (part grief over her mother’s death, part simply feeling the weight of everything, and part because she now has that goal), she knows what it is she wants to do kendo for. To be a teacher.
And this ties back in with Kojiro-sensei. I’ll admit, when the series began I had little time for him, putting up with his waffling and goofball tendencies because I liked the rest of the cast so much. But he’s grown just as much as Tama-chan has, and it’s also due to kendo. Seeing him strive to teach the girls how to use kendo to further themselves, and realizing what he can and cannot do in that regard (much of the series has been his angsting about not finding the right way to teach something), he knows he wants to keep doing this – but not with these girls, who he feels have learned all they can from him. He’s leaving for a different school to start with a new class of beginners. We only see Kirino’s reaction to this (and she outright says she’s refraining from saying what she thinks…), but I think they’ll understand his reasoning, just like they did with Tama-chan.
Despite the comedy throughout (even the last climactic battle features Saya (of course) getting herself in trouble by not having eaten for 48 hours prior out of nerves), Bamboo Blade has been almost the pinnacle of idealistic sports manga. If someone is at a loose end in life, or trying to make a change, or needing to find something within themselves… all this can be found through kendo. It’s a trend we see in a lot of sports manga, be it baseball, soccer, or what have you. but despite the idealism (or because of it), this is a manga that really makes you feel good about yourself, and have confidence in the lives of its cast. And it’s not just our 5 heroines – even the ‘rival’ characters such as Sakaki and Erina find strength and fulfillment in kendo, and in bringing kendo to others. Filled with emotional moments, goofy comedy, and of course awesome sports battles, anyone who likes to see humanity striving for a goal should read Bamboo Blade, where kendo will have the answers.