Punch! Vol. 1 (Viz Media/Shojo Beat)

punchheaderFeisty Elle has lived a rough and tumble life as the kid of a wrestling champ and a boxing champ, but now she's looking for a boy who's not a brute. But what will her childhood fiancé have to say about that?

 

192 pgs B&W; $8.99

(W/A: Rie Takada) 

 

 

Elle Nagahara knows a thing or two about fighting. With a wrestling mother, a boxing father, and a Muay Thai kickboxer grandfather (champions all), violence courses through her veins. After growing up in such an environment and working at the Nagahara family gym all her life, Elle wants nothing more than a normal boyfriend, but for someone in her situation, that's asking a lot.

 

The conflict at the heart of Punch! isn't a boxing match, but rather a tried-and-true love triangle, as a new boy vies for Elle's heart, something her fiancé will only give up over his dead body. Said fiancé is the awkwardly named Ruo Eschuck, a pretty boy boxer who is the grandson of a family friend/rival and the unwilling Elle's betrothed since before she was even born. Unfortunately for her, Ruo is the possessive type and every time she goes after a new boy, that boy ends up on the business end of a beating courtesy of Ruo's cronies. Elle is at the end of her rope, with no interest in marrying Ruo but no way to escape. Enter Kazuki Shindo, a street-fighting tough who Elle first meets when he gets jumped by three toughs and proves they picked the wrong guy to mess with. Elle is both drawn to his steely gaze and repulsed by his violent behavior, but when Kazuki finally stands up to Ruo, she begins to see that beneath his thuggish exterior beats a heart of gold.

 

The latest manga from Rie Takada (Wild Act, Happy Hustle High), Punch! is a fairly standard romantic comedy that doesn't try anything particularly new or different, but it succeeds overall because what it does it does very well. Anyone who has read more than one shojo romance series will find few surprises in this first volume, but the book's brisk pace gives little time to dwell on the story's clichés. Elle is a likable and, most importantly, believable protagonist. Like most teenage girls, Elle views every event as a life-ending crisis, yet she never devolves into a clueless ditz like so many manga heroines before her. Much praise goes to Janet Gilbert's excellent adaptation, which wonderfully captures the nuances of Elle's many internal monologues. While Elle soars, however, sometimes Takada can get a bit heavy handed with her male characters. Ruo is occasionally far too preening and villainous, and Kazuki's warm-and-fuzzy-ness goes a bit overboard (oh, he's fighting to get money for his blind sister? Groan…), but in terms of setting up the conflict she still does her job solidly.

 

The art is also stereotypical for this kind of story, more often than not resembling Yuu Watase's more real world works like Absolute Boyfriend and Imadoki. Takada's art shines brightest in the comedic bits. She constantly super-deforms her characters, especially Elle's grandpa Gigi, who looks like a goblin until a dramatic flashback morphs him appropriately into a grizzled old man. The layouts are clean and crisp, which makes reading Punch! a breeze.

 

The only problem with the books relentless pace is that it gives readers very few chances to catch their breath. The first chapter runs 48 pages, then there isn't a single chapter break anywhere in the remaining three-quarters of the book. Though it doesn't take more than a half-hour to charge through the book, a few pauses would help some of the more dramatic revelations sink in deeper.

 

Appearances to the contrary, Punch! does not spend much time on boxing action, preferring to concentrate on affairs of the heart. Fans of teen romance may not find much original in this story, but they will certainly find plenty to enjoy.

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