On her way to high school, feckless orphan Hinako gets railroaded into attending a boys’ school in male drag. As if that weren’t enough, it’s a school for juvenile delinquents where everyone is in a gang and every school function consists of an all-out student brawl for supremacy. (“Why do delinquents have to fight all the time? School is for studying!”) Another shojo manga heroine might be cowed, but Hinako, it turns out, is superhumanly strong from years of defending herself from bullies at foster homes. Soon she’s a bancho, or gang boss, running her own gang of the toughest and cutest guys in school. Meanwhile, her long-lost twin brother Hikaru, the wealthy son of a yakuza boss and the architect of this whole improbable situation, is attending Hinako’s school and having a great time living as an ultra-femme girl in a long blonde wig.
Kenka Bancho Otome began life as a visual novel before quickly becoming a manga and anime series, because licensors can’t keep their hands off a premise this good. The plot combines the goofiness of a punch-em-up video game with the goofiness of a shojo harem manga, with lots of fistfights and slapstick comedy thrown in for seasoning. All the students who aren’t scary-looking thugs are cute bishonen into whose arms Hinako is perpetually falling, and soon she’s assembled a passel of potential love interests. The fact that most of them think she’s a boy is a complication, but not an insurmountable one. Chie Shimada’s art is standard shojo romance material, but drawn with plenty of energy, a sure hand at action scenes, and a sense of fun. Above all, Hinako, who starts out flustered but soon comes to enjoy a life of punching guys and bonding with her bros, is an irresistible manga heroine. Recommended.
publisher: Viz Media
story and art: Chie Shimada