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Blue Box #117 Manga Review

7 min read
A badminton guy falls for a basketball girl. Do these sports-crossed lovers have a chance?
AO NO HAKO © 2021 by Kouji Miura / SHUEISHA Inc.

“A Big Step”

Creative Staff
Story/Art: Kouji Miura
Translation: Christine Dashiell
Lettering: Mark McMurray

What They Say
Taiki Inomata loves badminton, but he has a long way to go before he can reach nationals. When Taiki sees upperclassman Chinatsu Kano practicing her heart out on the girls’ basketball team, he falls for her hard. After an unexpected turn of events brings the two closer together, sports might not be the first thing on their minds anymore!

Taiki admires Chinatsu from afar, but he doubts that she sees him in the same way. Yet somehow, he musters up the courage to tell her to never give up on her dreams! After such a bold declaration, will Taiki’s fleeting high school romance finally begin?

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
With this series launching back in the spring of 2021 in Japan as Ao no Hako, it’s moving really well through its third year as it’s only getting better and better. Mangaka Kouji Miura definitely has some talent here in the storytelling and the visual design side, presumably with her team of assistants, to give us something that feels really rich and detailed. I had randomly picked the title in the late teens from the Shonen Jump site as something to try out a few chapters ago and got hooked on it – which is why I’m still here talking about it. Though the relationship aspect is simple and the sports elements aren’t deep, the combination of what we do get with the artwork ended up delivering something that made me want to keep coming back for more.

Taiki’s match against Mochizuki takes an interesting turn as it plays out in this installment in a couple of different ways. For Mochizuki, we get the brief nod about his mindset with this because when Yusa was sent to the tournament abroad, he overheard Yusa being told the first-year tournament doesn’t matter. And now that Mochizuki is facing a real challenge in this match, he can’t bring himself to believe that he’d lose in something that doesn’t matter and he’s putting in some effort. But he’s not been putting in the effort for so long while Taiki has been full of drive so we get a situation where Taiki’s able to push through it. And it’s a significant surprise considering their schools and general reputations and with Taiki still being a relative unknown. It delivers a hard moment for Mochizuki but you can see how coaching can impact things as well as how the athlete themselves has to determine the value of the tournaments and games.

Taiki’s victory in this match pushes him forward to the next part of this tournament and it’s played off-panel, which I appreciate, and we learn that he won the tournament. And that Chinatsu was the first person he texted which is why she’s waiting outside to congratulate him and walk home with him. It’s a great moment as we see them just talking together about it and some little bits of nuance, but also see Taiki’s confidence as he drops the senpai from her name when talking about how she’s one of the big reasons he’s gotten better – which she said the same about herself. The reaction to the honorific drop is comically cute from Chinatsu and that she says other things before telling him not to drop it is great. It felt just as unnatural to him as well, though hopefully these two are in for the long haul and we can see them moving away from it naturally in the future.

In Summary:
The progress we see from these two both in their athletic journey and their relationship journey delivers a lot of great material. The things we get with this installment are solid as Mochizuki’s given a bit more depth without overdoing it while Taiki gets some earned confidence but is still struggling with parts of it. I loved Chinatsu’s role in all of this and just getting to see them spending some time together without antics from others messing it up is an absolute delight. I’m hopeful for some more meaningful time together soon but these early tentative days are wonderful.

Content Grade: B+
Art Grade: A-
Text/Translation Grade: B+

Age Rating: 13+
Released By: Shonen Jump
Release Date: September 17th, 2023