Shakunetsu no Takkyuu Musume – Addendum

Kumami spoilers

This article is for fans of the ping pong/fairly yuri manga Shakunetsu no Takkyuu Musume (灼熱の卓球娘, Scorching Ping Pong Girls) by Asano Yagura (朝野やぐら) who have caught up to the latest chapter of the series. Of course, it is full of spoilers; don’t read this before reading the manga, dude! Read [this] instead, if you are curious about the series and have yet to pick it up.

If you’re totally good to go, click [this] to get into the main content of this article.

Spoilers start here.

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That’s the stuff.

So upon reaching the conclusion to the Kumami/Agari match, I felt like writing something. That’s not actually too usual for me, but that is what made me start this site in the first place. Of course the biggest reason was Kumami’s character and the revelations she provides along the way, as well as her twisting development and just, holy shit begging for analysis character, but there’s a lot else. The matches of Suzumegahara versus Tsubame have so much to love, along with the flashbacks they come with. There’s that time Kiruka and Munemune held hands in the rain, there’s that time Hokuto became a mahou shoujo, there’s the time 100% AGARI god damn. I really want to talk about what Asano-sensei did with his “really should’ve just been one-note” characters, because he clearly invents characters on a basis of one note (“I’m really hyper”, “I want to go to sleep”, “I eat food”), but does more with them anyway (at least for those characters in major focus). It’s an odd way of doing things, but boy do I like it. Also, we must talk about the elephant in the room: the sex metaphors. That will bring us to Kumami. So, essentially, the aim of this article is to hopefully bring up things maybe people haven’t thought about, or they have thought about it and they want some good ol’ confirmation bias.

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If you just want my thoughts on Kumami, click [this].

Other than that, I guess I’ll go in a set order and mention that, though it’s an obvious route, having Hanabi lose so badly for the team’s opening game that she loses her smile was a nice way of cementing Suzumegahara’s close-knit feeling that any team-based shounen sports manga should have (this is seinen now, but it used to run in a shounen magazine so…).

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Hanabi is so lovely.

Overall, I really like that her backstory is that she was a sickly weakling, and her best/only real friend was Hokuto. I feel like overall her and Hokuto’s relationship, as well as the basis of it, is pretty standard fare, but there’s just something about it… I hate to say I can’t put it into words as a person whose hobby is putting thoughts and opinions into words, but it’s just really sweet?

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I mean come on, ;_;

Nowadays Hanabi is healthy, so she gives it her all, but she literally refuses to not have her friend with her at all times at least in the form of a very hard to get charm, leaving it on and truly believing in it and what Hokuto meant in giving it. I mean, isn’t that just great? It’s just the best. I don’t know if you could call it just friends or yuri love, but it’s special regardless and you can totally understand why although this is ultimately “just a game”, Hanabi is utterly devastated when she loses and the feelings put into her now-broken charm are mocked.

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That it serves to make Hokuto’s next triumph even more satisfying is really just a bonus.

I won’t go through this in extensive detail mini-arc by mini-arc, honestly I just want to say that although I wouldn’t say she’s my favorite character in Shakunetsu I greatly enjoy how Hokuto is mainly pretty quiet and calm, but in truth she’s a bundle of righteousness and sentimentality. From the little story we have with her in her family’s shop when Koyori goes to work there for a bit, to any of her flashbacks where we see how sensitive she is, she’s just so incredibly nice. I’m not surprised that “magical girl/warrior” is what came to Hanabi’s mind when watching her figure out her new best serve in the middle of a match.

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Yes, that’s right: I did just want to post this picture. What do you care?

That match ties up sweetly, reconfirming how much of a sweetheart Hokuto is, and then we get the next match featuring the doubles team: Kiruka and Munemune, the senpai pair.

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As for them, I just want to note how… hm, surprising it is how these two got as good as they did, or rather how they stayed. Present-day Suzumegahara is really accommodating and friendly. It’s a good team, but you can see why it’s also a very popular team. They encourage improvement, but no one is ever harsh. Obviously I say “present-day” because it wasn’t always like that. There are many first years in Suzumegahara now, and they’re all happy and they all work hard. Meanwhile in the past.

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It was like this. And more notably

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the senpai weren’t the nicest.

This is such a MEAN thing to say, even if it’s true, even if it’s in private, especially given after declaring they wanted to be the best, Kiruka and Munemune were the only two new recruits to the club that remained and persevered through the harsh training regiment. No note is given to their efforts, only results are demanded. They don’t harp on this point, but this is the mindset that Agari gets broken OUT of in chapter 1. Although Kiruka and Munemune kept the ranking system of the old guard when they became captain and vice captain, the system seems more encouraging now (although it’s used in the same way in the end: to determine who will play in competitions). They carefully monitor all the members, nobody has quit it seems, the club vibe is relaxed although the work is hard. No character ever says any of this, it’s not ever noted, it’s just something you can observe about Suzumegahara since those two took the reins, and that’s… really, really neat. I think ordinarily, most stories would say it like this: “Suzumegahara used to be a much harsher school. Training was rough and the seniors were callous. Ever since Kiruka and Munemune came to be in charge, the club has gone in a much more pleasant direction!” That would be it, a case of tell instead of show, and more importantly I wouldn’t mind. I mean it’s just setting establishment, and that’s used as “tell” almost all the time. Showing it is definitely more effective, though, since you can miss it (and if you don’t it makes you feel like “Ohhhh…”). Kiruka, who narrates the flashback, isn’t bitter about her old days. She felt hurt, yes, but she doesn’t praise herself for taking the club out of a “dark age” or something. She still aims for Nationals, she’s just a really good person and a fine captain. That right there, that’s great writing.

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We also have “rival” and “enemy” characters of course, and they’re mostly “fun” to “pretty great”. The pair Kiruka and Munemune face has a cute habit of patting and poking at one another, and after they get beat it’s nice seeing how deeply frustrated they are that their teamwork just isn’t as good as the doubles team we already know and love. Could’ve just had them lose and forget about it, but hey! These kids have dreams too (on that note, sorry Kururi’s school)!

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Personally, I quite like Nemuri and Irori’s very “I won’t admit it to her face” dynamic.

Yeah that’s a heartbeat (ドクン). Yeah it might be my quiet OTP.

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Alert! Wife in danger!

Alright, Bear Namek: Tsukinowa Kumami.

Kumami is infatuated with Kamiya Agari, the first person who showed her she wasn’t the best at something, and that she could improve. Kumami also opened her heart to a warped and perverted desire after she improved beyond our ACE’s measure, and wounded the girl’s pride.

Kumami is kind of like… a much, much more deeply fucked up Natsuo from Teppu. In Natsuo’s case, a lot of her twisted nature is the result external factors. Not to spoil anything, but Natsuo has a bad personality as well as a bad past. Now, Kumami… yeah, her mother was a bit overeager with the realization that her kid was a little genius and thus excelled at anything she put her mind or hand to, but her past is very innocent and clear. No, external influence has nothing to do with Kumami’s character: Kumami is a legitimately bad person.

The true twisted personality is not something I see explored properly in fiction nearly enough. Not the yandere, the genuine “something is wrong with this person, and it’s not archetypal” character. I think the “wants to hurt others” trait is a good starting off point for characters who can be called wrong or bad, and a favorite character of my own writing is that sort of person too. There’s something fascinating to me about a person who sees this

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Sore loser ACE.

and really gets off on it. That pain and anguish that they caused really excites them. This interests me because, objectively, this excitement isn’t wrong. I mean in terms of society and logic sure, but they’re probably really innocent in wanting to harm someone else. That is their nature, and it’s an even more compelling one when, rather than turning into a standard evil McEvil villain, they do want to be nice and do realize that it’s not good to hurt another person but they also really, really love to. After all, that’s significantly more believable, perhaps even relatable should you yourself possess any vices.

So throw out what I said — Kumami isn’t a bad person, insofar as she has no truly “ill intentions” (uh… mostly). She demonstrates cruelty, sadism, ego, and lust but also understands that all of those aspects of her range from genuinely dangerous

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to just plain fucked up.

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She just came. There’s no way she didn’t just cum then and there. Jesus Christ.

She doesn’t really “get over it” either. She is who she is, hence the page I really started this article off with. “Twisted” is right, and I love it.

As I’ve said many times, what really blew me away about Shakunetsu no Takkyuu Musume was what Asano-sensei did with the idea of ping pong = sex. A funny ha ha idea to be sure, he decides to say “no wait”, take the idea and go to the darkest, most bizarre places with it, getting you to actually think about rape and fucking deflowering in a ping pong sports manga.

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Kumami’s manner of describing Agari and describing what she wants to do with Agari is overtly sexual. While not ever blatantly using the word “virginity” or going far enough to say “I want to do her”, the “subtext” is clear. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that readers have noticed that Asano-sensei has made her not only a thematic counterpoint to one of the protagonists, Koyori, but a visual one as well.

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Asano-sensei also crafts this metaphor so seamlessly that it is hard to not think about the manga in terms of sex, and it’s really difficult for me to talk about without wanting to switch from saying “Koyori loves ping pong” to “Koyori loves… ping pong (sex)”. In my review for the series, I called Koyori mysterious and compelling. She still is, really, and honestly even more so as we get the introduction and expansion of Kumami’s character. Now that we’ve seen the inner workings of someone who is waaaayyy into the excitement and feelings that come from a match, or the results of one, we have to wonder “what exactly is Koyori thinking?” She could just be an innocent and all the subtle “did you catch that?” hints are all red herrings, but nonetheless it’s interesting thinking about how Koyori is a powerful player and how that makes her feel, given how Kumami tends to feel. It’s awesome stuff, in the sense of “experiencing awe upon reading and realizing”, and the parallels are obvious to readers even without putting Asano-sensei’s winks and nods side by side (that said it really is cool how he does that, flippin’ sweet).

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“I’m better than her (Kumami), that’s why…”

That doggo is hiding something, I swear it. Regardless of her true intentions or her still as of yet unrevealed past, it was a phenomenal twist on things to have ACE essentially carry the pupper’s strength and will into her match with the bear through her doggy wristband, whereupon said bear had to ultimately accept, in a largely pleased manner, that (like ACE) the way she thought things were supposed to be wasn’t actually true, and that there was still more joy to be had in table tennis. Certainly that was what initially had her enticed by another school, as its club captain was so good a player Kumami found playing exciting, but she hadn’t entirely resolved with herself what kind of things made her heart truly race. While it is about seeing Agari cry, it can also just be about having a gay old time on the court. That overall challenge, and the satisfaction of having to struggle, is why she decided to focus on ping pong over all the other endeavors her mother had her participate in. That said undoubtedly my favorite moment of the series so far was Kumami being confronted with the fact that 1) Agari was no longer a weak person she could hurt and 2) the reason for that was Tsumujikaze Koyori.

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This page… is just perfect. That pure agony on her face, the encroaching realization of regret, the whispers of denial. Fuuuuck, Asano-sensei nailed it. It’s so bitter and resentful yet almost irreparably broken. She’s upset that “her woman”, the person she for all intents and purposes fell in love with, was taken from her and “tainted”. Her obsessions, her admiration, her compulsions: all of it is falling apart then and there. Aaaaagggh, that’s crazy! That’s nuts! In a good way of course — I’m complimenting the writing!

Other little lovely visual subtleties or notable moments include Kumami having a crescent smile when in sadist mode (a visual reference to the chest marking of the moon bear she’s named after — her hairpin also features crescent shapes), how Kumami switches her bear pin that she talks through to the right side of her head after coming to terms with herself, or how Nemuri squeezes on Irori’s sidetail when anxious. The one that seems to intrigue and confuse most people is the hairpin switch. I don’t know if there’s a popular theory or a common interpretation (I’d imagine most would think it’s sort of like a hair cutting scene — just a choice to “change” something physically to represent a character development), but here’s my take:

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As you see in the first image of this article, and as you see throughout the manga, Kumami hits Kumanosuke, her pin, when she thinks “he’s” acting up. Kumanosuke is just Kumami of course — she’s a ventriloquist — but really what Kumanosuke is is Kumami’s deeper, typically darker thoughts. When they’re getting too dark, she hits him to “shut him up” (shut her feelings down/suppress her darker leanings). Having moved Kumanosuke to the right side of her hair, the same right side she holds a paddle in, she is forcing herself to no longer actively or subconsciously suppress Kumanosuke (her dark thoughts). Since her right hand is occupied, she can’t silence him with her right (even if she tried with her left, “he” isn’t on the left anymore), and she doesn’t even want to. She is accepting her sadistic, twisted self, and will no longer hold it back.

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Wait well shit, I was right. As a reader pointed out, chapter 25 has a page subtly confirming this. So like I’m observant, but not observant enough. Asano is a sneak.

One more thing: the latest chapter after this article was made (chapter 27) also has a huge revelation of a sort in that Kumami’s obsession wasn’t necessarily JUST sadism, but also a desire to get that feeling of defeat that SHE experienced at the hands of Agari over and over and over again. That feeling that drove her to be serious about something in the first place. That passion and love of the game, and that frustration from feeling you could’ve done better and knowing that you were crushed despite trying your best. In this way the feelings Kumami has aren’t as evil as they originally seemed (since the core is ping pong passion), but as she admits, her “self” is both evil and good. So yeah! WOW it’s complex.

And… with that… I think I have nothing more to say? Nothing more than, “ACE”.

ACE (7)

No really the 100% Agari sequence was incredible.

Where the FUCK will the series go from here? I hope it’s somewhere as crazy good as this.

Shakunetsu no Takkyuu Musume is available for purchase from CDJapan, Bookwalker (guide), honto (guide) (only two volumes available here for some reason), and/or ebookjapan. If you haven’t bought any of it already, please do so. New chapters of the series can be read on Tonari no Young Jump’s website. Asano Yagura’s website can be found here, and his pixiv account here. Thank you very much for reading. So much! This is a total indulgence. I hope you enjoyed reading it! And, if you’re a crazy person who ignored all my warnings and read this article without reading the manga… uh… enjoy?

See ya later, galpals.

Koyori butt

Chaimu~ ga houkago wo shirasetara (Hibi~itara~♪)

^ Spoilers above. ^

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