How to Recognize A Great Manga (In Just 1 Chapter): Nine Dragons’ Ball Parade

Disclaimer: I don’t understand baseball yet. Intended for those who have read the chapter.Read Nine Dragons’ Ball Parade on Viz’s website here:

“Power should be used to protect the weak who deserve to live.”- Meruem, Hunter x Hunter

Man vs World. A Dream of Strength. Total Domination. These are the ingredients used to make a compelling sports series. Kuroko no Basket established itself as peak fiction with its main character prodigy duo as the foundation. Now a new duo in real life seeks to take on the role of successor- Mikiyasu Kamada & Ashibi Fukuki, writing the next greatest sports manga about the next greatest team…potentially. Nine Dragons’ Ball Parade has reminded me, as someone who doesn’t know zilch about baseball, that you don’t need to know the rules to enjoy a story as long as there’s proper drama, to paraphrase Togashi Yoshihiro. But enough of the abstracts; time to get into the concrete ways one can tell that Nine Dragons’ is a great manga, just based on one single chapter.

What If I Became Strong?

Right off the bat (pun intended) I have to say I’m a huge fan of our detective Conan looking protagonist, Tamao Azukida. The main thing that sold me on him, and has the potential to make him one of my all time favorites, is how he woke up one day and just decided to be strong. No tragic backstory, nobody in particular pushing him, just all on his own deciding “what if…strength?”. It’s not as passive & specific as Kuroko’s (from KnB) mild “I just thought it looked cool and wanted to try it” (though he develops deeper reasons for playing later) but it’s also not as single-minded as other jump protagonist. It’s pure-hearted in a way that’s rarely seen, and even often denied by the majority of people even if the feeling does pass them by. He could have lived a comfortable, if inglorious life of playing it safe, however he chose to go beyond the person he was then.

And this shows the true foolishness of Hakuo to reject him even AFTER proving himself materially. More than just denying his hard work, it also shows a lack in their ability & vision to tell what they really need if they are going to prosper, not unlike a number of superpowers today. Such is the self serving nature of empire- self servings not in the sense that it strives for the best for itself, as is right and proper, but that it does so at others expense rather than win-win cooperation. It’s true that there will always be a formal loser in a competition, but in practice true winning is about being happy with oneself & in honest competition that’s possible for both teams. But not if the potential for growth is undermined by cheap methods of domination. Strength is any advantage you have, and one ought to use their full strength against an opponent if a competition is meant to be considered honest. Matching dolls to orders from faceless analysts who have no personal stake in a fight is cheap. That’s not being strong. We’re alive, more than capable of surpassing whatever image could arrive in one’s mind.

A Cannae Like Epic

Case in point I’d like to make an extremely rough comparison between the try out match & the ancient battle of Cannae, as history is the only way a non-sports nerd like me can still nerd it up. For those not in the know Cannae is basically the top track of ancient warfare’s “greatest hits”. Back before war became lame you had good ole fashioned hand to hand combat where you looked your opponent in the eyes before killing them, (or at the least someone busted their ass to make and know how to use a bow) doing what was done in this battle was virtually impossible unless you had EXTREME skilled. In the most simple of terms a larger army was surrounded by a lesser army due to superb positioning and timing, and the use of psychological warfare to pressure the enemy into doing exactly what the general wanted. That general was able to make the absolute best use of his diverse army possible to realize the biggest tactical win in military history. That General’s name was Hannibal Barca.

Tamao trained himself up from nothing, overcame try-out tribulations, and was able to use his wits to direct weaker players to beat stronger ones. There are parallels to Hannibal, who crossed the alps, stretched his supply lines, used their confidence against them to reduce the capacity of a greater army, and ultimately came out on top with cunning & quality direction of his elite troops. Of course from what we can tell Hannibal was charismatic on his own, and wasn’t above aggressive self assertion when needed, as seen when he LITERALLY dragged a fellow aristocrat off the stage as he was giving a bad speech proposing horrible policy. But him & Tamao also share a lot more similarities as mentioned before, though perhaps the biggest is that both of their greatest tactical victories (so far) didn’t result in their ultimate goal being realized despite being able to completely outplay the competition with limited maneuverability. Indeed perhaps we CAN’T reach the gods through effort alone. But we need not despair, comrades. For even a child can look down on Rome, so long as they’re willing to take the first step.

In conclusion: Read Ad Astra! AND Nine Dragons’ Ball Parade!

Say Hello to Joker

And that first step as always starts with a trickster. Naturally there’s a reason I saved talking about Tao Ryudo for last. I do wonder if there’s any significance to that name but also I don’t speak Japanese & my Daoist philosophical understanding is a bit rusty, working on that. Let me know if yall find anything. Naming conventions aside however it is clear Tao plays the role of the trickster archetype here, beginning the breakdown of the old established order of Hakuo’s total domination and sparking a new dream of dynamic competition. Tao allowing us to view the try-outs from a place of chaotic instability was actually a far more reasonable introduction to the baseball world then the alternative of just watching Tamao struggle as an underdog against talent by himself. He is the crack that exposes both Hakuo’s rot & Tamao’s true potential. The trickster represents the competent within the psyche that overthrows systems according to psychoanalyst Carl Jung, the unexpected vector that’s always throwing curveballs (pun intended) at preconceived ideas. Spontaneous, creative, tricksters set the groundwork for (sometimes) necessary change. Most notable about the character however is his social intelligence matched with his extreme kindness. He was able to gain prestige among the team and then direct that admiration to the correct outlet, quite literally embodying how all power, social or otherwise, should be used. Truly an outstanding move & he’s quickly becoming another favorite character of mine!

Tao & Tamao’s friendship is going to be simply fascinating to watch develop since it’s hard to think of a more effective core for a team. You have the reliable one who will more or less consistently be able to get results from everyone, and you have the one who will allow for quick adaption as even their best laid plans collapse immediately after contact with the enemy. The necessary foundations & basics along with charming randomness will be what is needed if they are to shake up the world. Through all training & strategy, they’re motived by a pure-hearted dream they truly believe in to their core, & that’s what I think has me won over more than anything else & what I look for in fiction. And that’s why I got excited to get up to bat for this 1st chapter!

One of the best covers out there, an absolute fav and banger.

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