Hinomaru Sumo #236-246

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By Kawada

A ton of stuff has happened since we last visited Hinomaru and the September Tournament, and it’s safe to say that it’s been amazing.  Concluding Round 11 was the match between Jin’o and Mikazuki. While Jin’o ends up victorious in the bout, the match serves to show how much of an impact Saenoyama’s victory against the Yokozuna and Dojikiri’s speech have had on the competing wrestlers.  Even with Jin’o’s reaffirmed resolve to win the tournament, it’s clear that his bouts are becoming tougher. That being said, Jino’s comments after the match make it clear that he is not wavering in the slightest and is ready for anything his opponents have in store.

Day 12 shifted focus towards the match between Hinomaru and Mikazuki.  At the beginning of the series, Mikazuki served as the first major obstacle for Hinomaru to overcome and prove his worth as a National Treasure on the high school stage.  Now that they are both in the professional world, their hierarchy seems to have reversed. After losing to Hinomaru twice in high school, Mikazuki now views Hinomaru as the wall he must surpass to further his sumo career.  These parallels are further supported by Kawada’s artwork, which references memorable moments from their previous matches. As both give their all in the ring, Hinomaru eventually overpowers Mikazuki and comes out victorious.  What’s most interesting about this outcome though is Jin’o’s reaction. While he has been continually criticizing the abilities of his fellow sumo wrestlers throughout the arc, he has seemingly been entranced by Hinomaru’s sumo.  It provides a conflicted picture of Jin’o motivation, as he desires a new opponent within the sumo world, but it is that same world that he wishes to leave.

Following Hinomaru’s victory, the story jumped to the final day of the tournament, where Hinomaru must face off against his old friend and captain Shinya Ozeki.  Despite his large presence in the high school portion of Hinomaru Sumo, Ozeki has been mostly absent from the Professional Sumo arc. Chapter 239 in particular explores Ozeki’s struggle to survive in the sumo world over the past two years, and how Hinomaru’s resolve in the face of severe hardships is what kept him going.  For both these wrestlers, this match means more to them than simply a chance at winning the tournament, but rather it is conflict of the bond that they’ve made through sumo. What follows is a fierce battle between these two friends, with both of them holding their own within the ring. Even while Ozeki is dealing with Hinomaru’s onslaught of attacks, what sticks out most is how much Ozeki admires Hinomaru.  It’s safe to say that Hinomaru changed Ozeki’s life, giving him the confidence to compete in the ring and even the motivation to pursue sumo as career. As Ozeki is finally pushed out of the ring by Hinomaru, what’s left on his face are tears of joy. For Ozeki, this match was never about simply winning, but facing Hinomaru in the ring as a genuine equal. The ending scene of both Hinomaru and Ozeki finally properly speaking face to face after so long makes the ending of this long-awaited match all the more satisfying.

With the conclusion of Hinomaru and Ozeki’s match, the fate of the remainder of the tournament finally unfolds with the match between Kusanagi and Jin’o.  Kusanagi has had a pretty rough time since we last saw him in the ring, having a majority losing streak for the tournament overall. That being said, with the tournament’s victor and Jin’o’s retirement in the balance, the weight of this match for Kusanagi is still overwhelming.  It feels fitting for the fate of the tournament to be decided by these two wrestlers. Being the son of Yamatokuni, Kusanagi represents not only the new generation of sumo wrestlers, but also the legacy of sumo prior to Jin’o’s reign. Of course, Jin’o’s strength has grown even greater than during the days of Yamatokuni, leaving Kusanagi with an uphill battle.  In the face of Jin’o’s overwhelming power, Kusanagi makes the choice to win no matter the cost, with or without his ideal sumo. Kusanagi understands that it is best for the sumo world that Jin’o not retire, not only so that he can get stronger, but so that his fellow wrestlers can push past their limits as well. The bout ends with Jin’o throwing Kusanagi to the ground, but not before Kusanagi forces Jino’s foot to brush the outside of the ring.  Thus, Kusangi is victorious, and Jin’o achieves his second loss, allowing for a tie-breaker play off to be done between Hinomaru, Jin’o, Okanehira, and Saenoyama to choose who will come out the champion of the tournament.

With the play offs beginning, the first two matches are Jin’o vs. Okanehira and Hinomaru vs. Saenoyama.  Jin’o and Okanehira’s match ends shockingly quickly, with Jin’o easily overpowering his fellow stablemate.  While I would have liked to see a more drawn out fight between the two wrestlers, Okanehira’s character arc had reached a fitting conclusion with the fight with Hinomaru.  If anything, this match helps establish the continued mystery behind Jin’o’s genuine strength. Even after spending years training with the Yokozuna, Okanehira still could not stand a chance against him in an official match.  Jin’o truly appears as an unstoppable force, making him the perfect final obstacle.

The subsequent match between Hinomaru and Saenoyama is one filled with raw emotion and passion.  Saenoyama was the first professional that Hinomaru ever fought against, and their evolution to genuine peers over the course of the series has been heartwarming to see.  This match encapsulates those emotional stakes, with both Hinomaru and Saenoyama bearing their entire strength within the ring. Kawada’s use of fire and water within the match helps further convey the conflict, showing the opposing forces of Hinomaru’s offensive sumo and Saenoyama’s defensive sumo.  As the match eventually reaches a standstill, Saenoyama unleashes one final push against Hinomaru, but he counters with his own throw as they near the edge of the ring, forcing Saenoyama to the ground and making Hinomaru the winner. Hinomaru’s reaction at the end of the match makes it clear that even he is surprised at his own victory, but conversely, Saenoyama acknowledges it as a sign of Hinomaru’s own strength.  Hinomaru has finally surpassed the pro that he has admired since his days of high school sumo, and can now go forward with confidence towards what lies ahead. With that, the final match of the September Tournament is decided: Hinomaru vs. Jin’o.

Throughout these numerous chapters, it’s hard to pick a singular visual highlight, simply because Kawada’s artwork has been fantastic from start to finish.  Just as the stakes of the matches have increased over the course of the tournament, so have the intensity of the scenes depicted within the manga. This is particularly evident in Hinomaru’s match against Saenoyama, where you can feel the impact of Hinomaru’s finishing throw through the two-page spread.  As usual Kawada understands perfectly how to captivate readers within the sumo matches, and leave them begging for more at the end of every bout.

It’s been a little over four years since Hinomaru Sumo first joined the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump, and it now seems like we’re heading towards the final battle.  Hinomaru has faced numerous hardships in his life, whether it be his height, injury, or trauma, but he has continued to fight against the odds to bring himself closer to his dream.  Now, that resolve will be tested on the ultimate stage, and I’m excited to see the outcome.

 

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