In many ways, H2 is a typical sports shonen manga. It’s execution and narrative construction, however, elevate the manga, and transform it into a classic well worth reading. Even the art in H2 serves to further our understanding of the underlying narrative and characters, as the author, Adachi Mitsuru, engages his readers with well crafted character designs and background art capable of conveying complex emotions without exposition.
Like many other sports narratives, H2 divides its story into subplots, comprised of individual matches, tied together by longer, underlying story arcs. Within each match, there is an exposition, and the building of dramatic tension before the ultimate conflict and resolution.
While this basic plot structure is not unique to the sports genre, by dividing each individual match into a subplot, many sports narratives face a common pitfall: redundancy.
Readers need a reason to care about the characters beyond their first win. Who are the characters? Why should we root for them? What is at stake for each of the characters? What are the consequences of losing?
Many sports narratives in manga and anime are about improvement—improvement of the team, improvement of individual athletes.
When the protagonist scores their first win, we cheer. We’ve seen their blood, sweat and tears, and care about the win.
Too often, however, we run across an author who will not allow the protagonist to lose. And, the efforts by the protagonist’s team to improve becomes meaningless and redundant. We need something more.
For example, in Ganbare Genki, the main focus of the story is not about self-improvement and winning. It is about the protagonist’s struggle to reconcile the fact that by winning, he crushes the dreams of his opponents.
H2, on the other hand, deals with this dilemma by successfully building dramatic tension into every individual match. In H2—much like Chihayafuru, Baby Steps, or Slam Dunk—the protagonist struggles to win, and often loses throughout the series.
We cannot take for granted that our protagonist will end up victorious, and therefore, each subsequent match is just as exciting as the first.
H2 begins by introducing the protagonist, Hiro Kunimi, a 1st year High School student at Senkawa High School, and his childhood friend Atsushi Noda. We quickly learn that Hiro and Noda were a famous “battery” (pitcher-catcher pair) in middle school, but quit after being told by a “doctor” that continuing to play could cause permanent physical damage.
Hiro and Noda choose to attend Senkawa High School, specifically because it doesn’t have a baseball team. They want to avoid any temptation to play.
Having been torn away from his life’s passion, Hiro is searching for a new sport to become passionate about—he chooses soccer for no other reason than it is also popular.
Given that every early volume of the manga’s cover features Hiro in a baseball uniform, I don’t think I’m giving away too much by saying H2 is a baseball, and not soccer, manga. Hiro, obviously, finds his way back to baseball.
Although that particular outcome appears predestined, the duo’s journey to creating a whole new baseball team—and the various interesting characters they recruit along the way—make for a great early story arc.
Each time the team is defeated, we see their genuine need for improvement. And as new characters are recruited, each with their own unique skill set, we see what was missing.
For these reasons, as the team grows gradually stronger with each addition, the gains by the team feel deeply satisfying. And with each loss the team suffers, it both adds a sense of realism to the manga, while also serving to build up the dramatic tension.
The manga also centers around the personal rivalry and friendship between Hiro and his former middle school teammate, Hideo Tachibana (top left). Hideo is dating Hiro’s childhood friend Hikari Amamiya (bottom right), while Hiro has his own budding romantic relationship with his classmate Haruka Koga (bottom left).
For any other manga author/artist, the large cast and string of subplots and multiple long-term story arcs, could easily become overwhelming or contrived.
Adachi Mitsuru, however, navigates around this problem by using the art work to tell parts of the story. The pacing is kept brisk through his excellent use of symbolism and artwork.
For example, consider the page below, told from the perspective of the character, Kine.
In the top frames, you can see Kine reminiscing about his dismissal from his Little League baseball team. You can see the contrast between Kine’s emotions and that of his team. Kine’s team seems unconcerned, and even cheerful, seeing Kine off—as indicated by the playful background and the smiling expression of the coach.
In the next frame, you can see the lonely Kine holding his bat and bag, separated from his team through the chain-link fence. There’s a darkness to that memory which is symbolized by literal darkness. Kine’s childhood shadow is superimposed in the third frame against Kine’s current long, black hair. It’s the same long hair that we see in frame four: Kine’s high school self. Together, it symbolizes the continuing impact of Kine’s dismissal on his current psyche.
Where many other mangas would require multiple pages of dialogue to explain what is going on in Kine’s mind, Adachi’s economical use of symbolism allows that story to unfold rapidly, in a matter of frames.
Additionally, the action packed moments in the manga further generate excitement through Adachi’s effective usage of closeups and changing perspectives. They create a visceral sense of movement on the page.
Above, you can see the first time Hiro unleashes the full strength of his fastball. You see the closeup of Hiro’s pitching hand, which then quickly switches to the perspective of the batter seeing the incoming ball, and a final slamming of the ball into the mitt. It emphasizes the immense power of Hiro’s fastball, which is then followed up by a third-person reaction of the batter on the 2nd page.
While this type of framing is common in action manga, Adachi Mitsuru takes it to another level. Each frame is concise and fast paced.
Much like the artwork, H2's themes as a sports manga don’t exactly break new ground. It’s a classic underdog story, where an interesting team gets together to match their rivals, and does so with a touch of romance and comedy. But, it’s the quality of execution that really sets H2 apart from most of it’s competitors.
Title (English/Japanese): H2
Author: Adachi Mitsuru
Published: 1992 - 1999; 34 vol.
Genre: Shounen, Sports, Romantic Comedy
Available at: MangaFreak (Scanlation)
Note: It should be noted that the manga assumes the reader has a working understanding of High School baseball in Japan.
There are two major national championships that are held in the Summer and the Fall. In both cases, a qualifier is held regionally, and the winners of the regions gather for a single-elimination “main” tournament. This tournament determines the National Champion. The Main Tournament is held every year at Koshien Stadium in Osaka. Consequently, qualifying for the Main Tournament is often referred to as “Going to Koshien.”
The Summer Tournament is, from the qualifier stage, a single-elimination tournament involving almost all high schools in Japan. The Fall Tournament involves a league-based qualifier (where a loss does not necessarily mean elimination), followed by selection in each region based on performance, by a selection committee.
This is the second in a series of reviews of manga classics. My goal is to introduce the finest manga from the 70s, 80s, and 90s to a new generation of readers. The focus will be on manga that do not get much continuing attention (i.e. no Dragonball or Parasyte).
For other entries in the series, click the link below: