“Schoolgirls engaging in team tournaments” is a fairly specific yet common premise in manga that I really enjoy. Whether it’s a beloved series like Bamboo Blade or underdogs canceled early like Haru Polish and Hana Kaku, I’m always up for stories in this vein. On top of that, I’ve also found a casual interest in reading up on and researching martial arts in recent years. So when I saw Mabataki Yori Hayaku!! (Faster than a Blink!!), a manga about a girls’ sport karate club with cute art and solid action, it immediately felt like something right up my alley.
Kohanai Himari, a perpetually clumsy girl with a caring heart, is inspired to join her school’s karate club after a girl retrieves Hima’s umbrella from a guy who swiped it on a rainy day. Everyone—including Himari herself— thinks she’s a hopeless case, but the club’s veterans notice that there might be more to Himari than meets the eye. While she’s lacking in athleticism, knowledge, and experience, Himari has unusually sharp and perceptive vision—an X-factor that might turn her untapped potential into something more.
I’ve read four volumes so far, and one thing I really like about Mabataki Yori Hayaku is how slowly and gradually Himari improves, and how she isn’t just an overnight sensation. Not only are there girls physically more capable than she is, most are also more practiced and dedicated. She still feels very much like the underdog in all situations, and not the shounen hero kind who will pull out their secret technique and turn it all around. But the manga shows how her initial hesitant steps into the world of karate get larger and larger—as her enthusiasm grows, the confidence shows in her body.
The other characters also range from endearing to entertaining to compelling, whether it’s clubmates or rivals. The club president is a surprisingly rough-and-tumble sort who loves karate but has family issues with her sister. Another girl in the club, the razor-toothed and twin-tailed Izawa Sora, has both experience and a disdain for those who don’t take karate seriously, a feeling that we eventually learn hits all too close to home. A couple of characters from other schools see Himari’s latent potential, and they want to bring it out. No one seems boring so far, though one girl is the requisite “explain for the newbies” character, and there are times (especially when their hair is down) that it can become difficult to distinguish between characters. However, the characters are still generally expressive and memorable.
The artwork itself also goes a long way in conveying that character charm, especially when it comes to the portrayal of karate itself. There’s a dramatic sense of action that exaggerates just enough without feeling like it’s parodying sport karate, which is about landing light hits in a points-based system, full-contact karate. The author, Funatsu Kazuki, actually has more experience drawing horny titles, though that largely doesn’t factor into the art in Mabataki Yori Hayaku!!—kind of tough when literally every girl is in a baggy gi. That said, the thirst does occasionally shine through, especially in the high kicks.
As for the decision to use sport karate instead of full-contact, it reminds me of the criticism sport karate can get for not being like a “real fight.” But this is actually depicted as an appealing quality, and it’s one of the reasons gentle Himari decides to take up karate in the first place. This is a series about competition, but no one wants to prove they’d win on the streets.
Whether Himari grows into a champion or not, following her journey is entertaining and uplifting. Now, if only this series doesn’t end too early.