Manga Review: My Darling, Miss Bancho! (vol. 1)

In order to relieve her recently divorced mother of tuition cost, the young Souka decides to transfer from a private high school to the local vocational school. However, when she shows up to her first day of classes, she is shocked to find out that she is the only girl enrolled there!

There’s a reason why all the girls had dropped out of this tech school. The boys are very tough and fights often break out between the different classes. But amid all this chaos, there is one unwritten law that all the boys abide by, and that is the role of the bancho, or gang leader. Simply put, there is one bancho who rules over the entire student body, and in order to dethrone the leader and take his place at the top of this pecking order, you must knock the crap out of him in a fight.

Needless to say, the poor innocent Souka wants nothing to do with the feuding between the classes or power struggle of the bancho. However, because she is the only girl in school, all of the boys go out of their way to make her feel warm and welcomed. So she decides to stick around the school and eventually becomes friends with the cool Katou-kun. But one day, she accidentally knocks out the school’s current bancho, which means that she takes over as the new gang leader. Can the sweet girl actually rule over this student body of thugs and riffraffs?

My Darling, Miss Bancho is the first (and so far only) comic by shojo artist Mayu Fujikata. While her inexperience is evident on every page of this volume, it ultimately ends up being her greatest strength as CMX Manga releases another winner in this shojo title.

First of all, I am not sure exactly how much prior experience Miss Fujikata had before this series began its serialization in Lala magazine, but she obviously had not mastered her art skills quite yet. This comic looks hideous, and it is most obvious in the way she draws faces. Eyes and noses are drawn either too big or too small, and are often slightly off from where they are supposed to be. This leads to a very inconsistent look to the comic that does not settle down until the final chapters.

But while her art still needs some refinement, Fujikata’s inexperience totally pays off with her fresh and original sense of humor. Rather than filling the plot with melodrama, complex love triangles, flowery backgrounds, or anything else that defines the shojo genre, she simply allows herself to tell a funny story. A really freaking funny story.

She gets her inspiration from the “tough guy” shonen action genre and totally parodies it. Kind of like Cromartie High School, except without any of the really wacky surreal elements. She understands how to keep her humor subtle rather than screaming it out to the reader.

A majority of her jokes come out of random events occurring at the worst possible time for the characters, and Fujikata has just the right sense of comedic timing to pull this off. This is a refreshing change from the traditional tsukkomi-boké (straight-man, idiot) formula we see all too often in Japanese comedy. In fact, she even riffs on that traditional formula by instructing the readers to play the part of the straight-man themselves because none of her characters will play it for them.

She won me over with her unconventional writing style, so I was totally hooked on her story about this crazy high school full of boys and one female. However, as wonderful as it was to read, I had to take issue with the English adaptation and the way it handled one of the hardest concepts to translate between Japan and American high school systems.

You see, in America, we have four years of high school: freshmen, sophomore, junior, and senior. Beside for just establishing seniority within a student body, these titles hold very specific cultural meanings. Being called a freshmen has a certain significance because you are considered new, naive, and inexperienced with life within the school. Likewise, being a senior implies that a person is at the very end of their education, and so has limited time remaining at the school.

The Japanese school system is different in that they only go to high school for three years. Rather than giving them titles, they are simply called first year, second year, and third year students. So in theory, their first year students would be just like our high school freshmen, and their third year students would be equal to our seniors. But then what does that make second year students, sophomores or juniors?

This was not clearly established in this translation as our hero of the story is simply called a sophomore while her class was feuding with the juniors. Does that make Souka a first year or second year student? That is a key bit of information missing. Being a sophomore implies a higher level of experience that you do not have in your first year of high school. I felt that this detail was critical in a story about hierarchy and power struggles within a school.

I believe that American manga readers are experienced enough with Japanese culture that you do not need to translate high school classes into American standards like that. If you just simply say first or second year, we will understand.

* * * * *

The Good: Fresh and original comedy.

The Bad: Poor artwork and an awkward translation.

Final Verdict: My Darling, Miss Bancho breaks from typical shojo conventions to tell a story that is really freaking funny. Read it!

Review copy provided by CMX Manga.

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