Okuda Nanao brings us a story of unexpected romance with a sports theme. What makes this so much fun is that the game itself is not so much a convenient plot device, but an integral part of the story. I have to admit I am not a huge sports fan, but I quite enjoyed getting to actually observe key portions of the team's practices and games. Basketball is what drew these two within the sphere of influence of the other, therefore it plays a key element to who they are as it is the pursuit of the game persona that propels them towards each other. Thus, getting to watch them play and observe what is seen and felt during these moments greatly added to the three dimensional feel of the characters. Of course, it also gave a bit of eye candy, as we get well built young men in shorts and jerseys running, leaping, and what not all about the place. This is a romance after all, so observing this bit of yumminess is (cough) essential and not something that should be missed presentation wise. Speaking of presentation, the art and the panel layout are rather interesting. Okuda sensei's drawing style is rather unique. The bodies are lean and somewhat angular, with long tapering fingers, comparatively swan like necks, delicate facial features on almost elfin faces, and legs that seem to go on forever. It is wonderfully suited to the expected lanky frames of basketball players, twinning the physique of an athlete with the pretty boy aesthetic of the more traditional androgynous bishounen style. The comic panel layout echoes the lines of her drawings, angular, long, and wide, flowing naturally across the page in harmony. It carries a cohesiveness that caught my attention only after the fact, as the two blended together so seamlessly that it was only when I cast a critical eye over the frames afterwards that I noticed it. The story itself is rather text heavy by comparison to other titles, but not needlessly so. There is a lot of conversation and thought pieces, as well as narrative, thrown in, making this more what one expects of a "graphic novel" as opposed to a "comic". That is, it is plot heavy, with lots to read and not just to observe. Despite this, it doesn't drag on, rather giving a feel of real substance to the story being shared. With so much text to be scrubbed before being reset with the translation, it would not be surprising to find a bit of blurring or other minor flaw in the images, but graphic designer Michelle Mauk obviously spent a back breaking amount of time cleaning and repairing the frames to restore them to original condition, with the English text nestling in place as it it had always been there. Not that she did this alone, as translator Sachiko Sato and lettering specialists Replibooks provided the text for input and a damn good job they did with it too. Altogether, they have provided a seamlessly smooth and visually sharp piece that was easy to read without visual niggles, syntax errors, or other distractions. Character wise, I found myself quite liking the protagonists of the story, finding them easy to relate to and sympathetic to the ups and down they encountered in trying for each their personal life goals. The romance aspect was not suddenly sprung on the reader, but followed a natural deepening of the colleague and then friendship motivations between the young men. The related side story relating the first love of two fellow team mates was tenderly sweet, giving a glimpse into the workings of the inner team dynamics previously unguessed at. With sweetly tender yet slightly awkward love scenes and embarrassed confessions of love, this is one tale of of love that melts the heart.
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