By Takuma Yokota
Soshi has some growing up to do. This chapter marked a nice step forward in his maturity, and a good closure to the past three-chapter arc of him accepting Nanase’s presence in the team. Soshi doesn’t know how to reconcile his discomfort around girls with his respect for Nanase as a player. He avoids her not out of dislike but because he doesn’t know how to treat her. He can’t separate the Nanase who plays soccer with him with the Nanase who’s his classmate and neighbor as being the same. Ultimately, he learns to get over thinking of Nanase as “a girl.” Her gender doesn’t exclusively define who she is, nor does it have anything to do with her as a player. Soshi realizes that he should see Nanase as a teammate and friend the same way he does his male companions, and not be so embarrassed to the point of distraction and awkwardness because of her gender.
Nanase continues to be the MVP of the series. There’s this sense that she’s had to repeatedly combat sexist preconceptions of her abilities by proving herself on the field. Witnessing her joy at being taken seriously as a threat by an enemy team already feels like a satisfying validation of the respect she’s strived to earn. She also doesn’t let Soshi avoiding her bother her, keeping her head in the game and exploring other friendships. When Soshi apologizes, she sighs and admits frustration and gives him a good punch to the gut to knock some sense into him. Unlike Soshi, Nanase has a clear head on her shoulders and is just focused on playing the game, not letting anything or anyone distract her from having fun. Nanase’s straightforwardness makes a great contrast to Soshi’s overthinking, and highlights just how fun a pair these two are as the leads of this series.
Yokota can expertly communicate so much action with so few panels. His paneling really guides your eye to the trajectory of the ball, as well as communicate a subtle passage of time within a single panel itself. During the scenes where the Tenryu players gang up on Nanase, he’s able to demonstrate how they’re aggressive hits are hurting her in ways that seem genuinely painful but also amusing. He also knows when to slow down and emphasize the most important moments, such as Nanase’s joy at being taken seriously and her retort to Soshi’s apology. There are a lot of fun, energetic panels that are not only fun to read in sequence but enjoyable just on their own. Combined with the irresistibly adorable character designs, this is one of the most aesthetically pleasurable series in Jump.
There’s admittedly an unclear sense of where Shudan! will go now that Soshi’s reservations about Nanase have been settled. There hasn’t been a clear goal for the characters to strive for yet, nor is there much direction for the character arcs. These three chapters feel almost too self-contained, making it hard to imagine the story possibilities beyond it. I trust Yokota to take the story and characters in new and interesting directions, but I can understand how the current lack of narrative momentum might not make some people clamor to read what happens next. Still, I’ve enjoyed the Jump Start run of Shudan!, and would love to see the series added regularly to Viz’s Shonen Jump lineup. There are many elements to its premise that set it apart from other sports manga the magazine has run in the past, especially the gender-inclusive aspect which has few precedents as a focal point. Shudan! has a lot of potential, and I’m excited to follow how it does and where it’ll go.