1/8/2010. Contributed by Phil Jones
(pub: TOR/Forge. 208 page small enlarged paperback. Price: $ 9.99 (US), $10.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-765-2182-4)
check out website: www.tor-forge.com
Hayate Kurogane, having enrolled at Tenchi Girls' Academy, has discovered the pupils have an unusual after school-activity, sword fighting. The girls pair up choosing a sister-in-arms and commence battle with other pairs. Her sister, Nagi, was the one meant to be going to the Academy but had to drop out due to injury. Sword Bearer Program or Hoshitori has girls wandering round the campus in search of battles. Winning earns cash prizes and improved ranking and prestige. A sort of battle royale without the bloodshed or death to win they have to knock off and gain the opponent's star. The girls still get bruised and battered with opponents using complex moves and often tricks and under-hand tactics to gain the upper hand.
Having teamed up with the older Ayana, an unlikely pairing, she is beginning to regret their partnership as Hayate is quite clingy. For a while, the two are separated at the start of volume two and relief turns to jealously for Ayana and she ends up giving Hayate a hard time about it. Hayate's roommate, Momoka, is also struggling as she may be thrown out of Tenchi Academy unless she can defeat her best friend's rather moody and abusive partner.
Things turn for the worse when the foster home where Hayate grew up is under threat due to mounting debts. The yakuza have their eye on the land and if the repayments aren't met they'll take it all. Hayate realises that sports day is coming up with the chance to earn double points and the chance to win enough to cover the repayment but some people have other ideas.
Sitting underneath a fairly straight-forward storyline is a lot of humour and silliness. The real problem I have with this manga is it's not really sure what it wants to be. It would be hard to pigeon-hole this. There is action based elements, school girl comedy and some distinctly yuri (girls love) based banter thrown into the mix. The story and characters get a little lost at times under these different components. I found it hard to care about these characters with only the comic asides especially of Momoka lifting it from the mundane. The artwork is dynamic but sometimes that can feel a bit muddled as well. The lack of clarity can sometimes leave you struggling to work out what's going on and often warrants a second or third reading to grasp what's happening. Even the layout seems to struggle with dialogue being placed somewhat randomly at times.
The humour and visual gags are what keeps this afloat. Also, the banter and dialogue between Ayana and Hayate are often really enjoyable. Does a series with sword fighting school girls work? I think the real question is, does it stand out enough from other manga and I would have to say at the moment, no. Hopefully, in future volumes, we'll see more impressive sword fighting scenes or even a bit more romantic entanglement to lift this series from where it is now.
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