Sports manga while well respected in the fan community is in general sales poison. Moe has a vocal dedicated fandom that talks with their wallets but in generally maligned by the critical fandom. But moe being this Sriracha sauce of anime can be combined with almost anything. But much like Sriracha sauce moe hardly goes with EVERYTHING despite what some advocates might tell you and adding it to some things turns some people away without question.
I don’t necessarily dismiss a series just because it adds moe elements despite not having a blanket approval for anything that incorporates it. This applies to the sports genre as well. Some manga like Saki and its derivatives positively bathe in the aesthetics and form making it an acquired taste indeed. But Bamboo Blade wisely avoids that pigeonholing and reaches out to a broader fandom. At its heart Bamboo Blade is a manga about kendo and friendship first and foremost and a series about cute girls and their problem second. This lets the story appeal to more than a simple niche audience.
Despite the odd picture some people paint being a teacher is hardly to path to being a fat cat millionaire. This is a fact that kendo teacher, Toraji Ishida, knows all to well living from paycheck to paycheck. So when an old classmate bets him a years of sushi he is determined to make his all but defunct girl’s kendo team into a championship winning machine. But he needs more than the single genki girl he has. The problem is the girl with the most powerful technique at school has no interest in joining the team. One top of that they need three other members as well.
Like any good sport series the key is balancing characters and sports action. To0 much character focus and a sports manga becomes the nonparody version of My Heavenly Hockey Club (the hockey manga where Morinaga Ai makes sure they never play hockey). Too much sports and it becomes a slog hopping from match to match like the world’s worst paced shonen fighting manga. No series ever gets this balance perfectly, especially considering everyone’s taste on this mater is different, but Bamboo Blade walks the line fairly well although it tends to lean towards the characters when push comes to shove.
But in the manga’s defense the characters are Bamboo Blade’s greatest strength. Tamaki comes off as this boring emotionless Rei Ayanami like kendo prodigy at first. It seems like she would be tough for her to carry the shows as the main character. But soon her tokusatsu fandom and strong sense of Amelia-Wil-Tesla-Saillune-like love of justice proves that she has the chops to be a fun protagonist. As the series goes on Tama-chan eventually breaks out of her shell and learns a good deal about herself and kendo.
The rest of the cast is energetic to balance out Tama-chan as well. Kirino is a fountain of pep, Miya-Miya uses her darkness to good comedic effect even if she is the weakest member of the team, Sayako plays off of Kirino well (which also leads to some shipping between the two of them), and Satori rounds out the team and might secretly be the most moe of the bunch. But a rarity of rarities is that this girl focused sport manga actually has two guys who are also part of the kendo club. Yuji and Danjuro don’t get much kendo time but they are strong participants in the story. And the coach goes to the classic good teacher with a bit of a selfish heart school of education.
Some combinations can bring out the hidden qualities all the ingredients. Bamboo Blade does well by mixing the strong narrative base of the sports show with the gentle charm and memorable characters of a slice of life show. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea but those who can give it chance will really enjoy this.