Ninja Baseball Kyuma
written by Shunshin Maeda
Ninja Baseball Kyuma takes a couple of clichés—the scrappy underdog baseball team and the warrior who doesn’t know the war is over—and mixes them up with plenty of action and a really cute dog.
Kyuma Hattori is a young ninja, the last of his clan, who lives alone in the mountains with his dog, Inui, waiting for the messenger who will come someday and give him a mission. While he waits, he sharpens his ninja skills by throwing shurikens (throwing stars) with Inui.
Down below, in the city, the Moonstar City Club baseball team has just been handed yet another drubbing by their opponents, the sixth-graders. Their captain immediately challenges the winners to a rematch, but it’s clear that the Moonstar team needs some extra juice in their lineup. The captain goes up into the mountains, sees Kyuma, and recruits him for the team, not realizing that Kyuma is a real ninja who thinks he’s going into a real battle. Kyuma agrees, and hilarious complications ensue.
Kyuma, of course, takes the game way too seriously and doesn’t have a clue as to how baseball actually works. He’s a strong hitter, sending the ball 100 feet—straight up. He learns the rules by breaking every one of them, with his teammates shouting encouragement and corrections as he goes. As bemused as they are by this new player, they are also inspired by his manic dedication to the game. And when the team wins the game, without a drop of blood being spilled, Kyuma realizes that he likes this new type of battle and resolves to continue.
The team really bonds in the next chapter, in which Kyuma, trying to be helpful, smoothes out the baseball field with explosives, obliterating the pitcher’s mound in the process. He spends all night dragging dirt from the mountain to rebuild the mound. In the morning, his teammates show up with bags of dirt, each having come up with the idea of rebuilding the mound on their own, only to find the mound rebuilt and Kyuma fast asleep in his wagon. This chapter ends with a nice save, as Luo, the temperamental pitcher, ends up praising Kyuma for his work.
This book is a bit more complex than the other Udon kids’ manga books, with more panels and word balloons on each page and more complex action sequences. The artist makes heavy use of Japanese sound effects, which are left intact and also translated. Readers who aren’t used to manga may find this confusing at first.
Ninja Baseball Kyuma is pretty much a one-joke manga, but Maeda milks it for all it’s worth, and the result is some pretty funny sequences. We don’t really meet the rest of the team until fairly late in the story, which is a shame, because they add a lot. Perhaps Maeda realized that he can only carry the clueless-ninja joke for so long; it will be interesting to see if he uses the team to bring more depth to future volumes.