Animanga History #1: Attack No. 1




Hello and welcome to the first instalment of this series of articles I’ll be posting either when I feel like it, or when I find something cool. There’s no real ‘purpose’ to the creation of this, other than I got a taste of how interesting research is with my series of posts about Tooru Iwazawa. Anyways, the focus of this post is on Attack No. 1, a shoujo manga from the end of the 1960s that redefined success within the demographic and even inspired some to become professional volleyball players. This period is an incredible slice of history that shows an incredible transformation of the shoujo demographic to something that was by women for women, and works like Chikako Urano’s Attack No. 1 are perfect examples of that. Of course however, similar to wanting to bake a cake from scratch, if you want to talk about the history of Attack No. 1 you must first invent the universe- or in this case, the winners of the first ever instance of Women’s Volleyball which appeared at the Tokyo 1964 Olympics.

The Origins of Attack No. 1: Nichibo Kaizuka

It’s a pretty incredible story, and speaks to the changing tides of feminism and the view of women in Japan during the post-war era, specifically around 1953. Even back then however, Japan retained surprising similarity to the modern day with ideas such as sports teams associated with companies, a la Salaryman’s Club. It’s with one of these corporate sports teams in 1953 that women’s volleyball team Nichibo Kaizuka was formed- a factory volleyball team from Dai Nippon Shipping (which became Nichibo before ultimately landing on Unitika). For mostly everywhere else in the world, the women’s team had a different name that is a touch out of date, provided by European news outlets of the era, but that’s another story.

All the same, Nichibo Kaizuka was formed by coach Hirofumi Daimatsu, a WWII veteran and a hard ass of a coach. In 1954, their first year as a team proved a struggle, with middling success. After intense training and practice however, Nichibo managed to win 3 different titles in their second year- overshooting Hirofumi’s goal a single title within 2 years. From there, successes continued to pile up until Nichibo became an unbeatable force in the domestic Women’s volleyball circuit, accruing an insane 175 win streak with the team. From there, sights were set on the international stage, and a pivot was made from Japan’s 9-player volleyball to the more accepted 6-player system.

So fast-forward to 1960, and Nichibo and Hirofumi enter the 6-player international circuit, managing to make it all the way to the finals of the FIVB Women’s Volleyball World Championship, only to be thwarted by the Soviet Union. The team’s first crushing loss, they return the following year with a vengeance, heading to 24 consecutive wins leading up to a 1962 rematch against the Soviet Union. History would not repeat itself and Japan routed the Union and took their first gold medal on the international stage. But that wasn’t enough, not by a long shot.

The Nichibo women saw even greater potential with the introduction of volleyball as an official Olympic sport in 1964, the same year that Tokyo would play host to the Summer Olympics. In an electric run that drew up to eighty percent of Japan’s population to various televisions around the country, Nichibo’s historic team trounced the Soviet Union in a straight three sets, forever cementing volleyball as a central sport in Japan.

Nichibo Kaizuka’s competitive run was such an incredible and astounding feat that it provides an integral step in the agency and independence of women in Japan, and alongside the incredible rising tide of volleyball, gave rise to series like Attack No. 1 and The V Sign!. And so finally, we can begin the history lesson in proper.

Attack No. 1: Why Not Sooner?

It’s a valid question, truthfully. Nichibo Kaizuka was a popular athletic force even prior to winning the gold on home turf. Even then, it took 4 years for Urano’s first chapter of Attack No. 1 to appear in Margaret. So, why did it take so long? Well, that in and of itself is a very long story that’s been extensively covered in papers such as The missing link of shōjo manga history: the changes in 60s shōjo manga as seen through the magazine Shūkan Margaret (which I’m dying to chat about later), but let me provide the short of it. Shoujo in the 50s was male dominated, and was used more like a reinforcement of societal norms than the counter culture that challenges the status quo as we see it today. In the 60s however, women began reclaiming their demographic, catering to older readers (before shounen did), and reaching out past the limitations imposed by men in the medium. This was not an immediate change, and because of that the 60s themselves were a very transient period for women’s manga in comparison to the more locked down 50s and the far more expressive 70s. It’s really only towards the latter half of the 60s that we see series like Attack No. 1, as they represent the early tidings of a changing industry. Though, that doesn’t mean that they weren’t popular.

Attack No. 1: Sensations and Rivals

Attack No. 1, much like Nichibo Kaizuka, is something that really changed what it was a part of- and that comes with both respect and rivalry. Perhaps one of the most interesting cases of that is Kodansha’s answer for Attack No. 1: The V Sign!. The work itself is very very curious, as Kodansha specifically requested the work as an answer to the considerable success of Attack No. 1, but lacking confidence in butting heads directly and attempting to carve out their own niche, it found itself in quite the different direction. Rather than the high school setting and a focus on the original The V Sign! found itself tracing the footsteps of Nichibo quite closely. Except, of course, for the supernatural volleyball powers and the fact that the main character’s sister died during a volleyball practice. Yes, Haikyuu! was not the first, and The V Sign! is also potentially where it got its exclamation mark from.

Animanga Firsts

Either way, The V Sign! was considered a rival of Attack No. 1, and had a lot of interesting things going for it. For example, its drama series saw an audience rating of nearly forty percent in comparison to Attack No. 1‘s measly 19.9%. But that’s for the drama. Attack No. 1 has something much, much better up its sleeve: an anime. Not only did Urano’s manga get an anime adaptation while The V Sign! did not, it was the first shoujo sport series to see an anime.

And it was not a short one. While the manga ran for 12 volumes, its anime reached a staggering 104 episodes- an incredible run for a shoujo sports manga of all things. To that end, even though the ratings for the Attack No. 1 anime can’t touch the ratings for the drama adaptation of The V Sign!, its peak of around 27% remains an incredible feat. To that end, most of its rating success is credited to schoolgirls tuning in that had not previously watched TV in any meaningful capacity. And in addition to that impressive rating, the opening theme song for the anime sold 700,000 copies- in the 1970s. It’s really hard to overstate just how incredible of a feat that is for 1970s Japan. Though its music market is only second to the USA, it’s still a sizable enough gap that there’s an argument to be made that the single went the equivalent of gold in Japan.

Though, that’s just an extension of the excitement surrounding the original format for Attack No. 1. Yes, it had a historic first in its sports anime, and yes, its opening theme sold like no tomorrow, but there’s still an aspect of this series that in hindsight is an incredibly surprising feat. It was the first shoujo manga to creep into double digits as a series. It seems incredibly surprising when you consider that Astro Boy began in 1952 and ran for 24 volumes, but shoujo as a genre was perceived as largely being devoid of substance, and was much more flippant and “simple” a genre in comparison to the more generally accepted shounen manga of the era.

In a sense, you could argue that the success of Attack No. 1 broadened the potential of the genre in relation to longer format content, but its success is a symptom rather than a cause. Similarly, Nichibo Kaizuka’s success can be perceived as such as well. These are all pieces that are a reflection of the larger movement towards social independence and capability for women in Japan. Though, that’s not to discount the individual effort that’s appeared through these events. Both Nichibo Kaizuka and Chikako Urano accelerated the feminist movement in Japan, through sport and manga respectively to great degrees, and cemented volleyball as an immensely popular sport in Japan.

Chikako Urano, Attack No. 1, and the Future

Like many mangaka, Chikako Urano did not simply create Attack No. 1 and rest on their laurels as a creator. Though, also much like her contemporaries within the demographic, Urano struggled to strike gold a second time. Being Urano’s second ever serialized work (preceded by Two Outs, Bases Loaded), Urano seemingly struggled to find the spark that set Attack No. 1 off. For several series post Attack No. 1, Urano stuck close to sports- specifically volleyball, though she also made attempts with baseball. Struggling to find comparable success, Urano then began to branch out and explore different, as well as more traditional, areas within manga before ultimately returning to her original success via Shin Attack No. 1 in 1976. Unfortunately, this sequel series didn’t quite stick its landing either, and concluded with 2 volumes (though was extrapolated to 3 with a redraw via Kanon Ozawa in 2004).

This point, more than anything else discussed, drives home the idea of circumstance rather than consequence. Shoujo manga, in its critical and popular form, was still in its early stages of growth and development, and only a chosen few during the 1960s were able to remain figureheads of the medium (Hideko Mizuno for example, whom I’d also love to talk about). A movement is something that is comprised of a great deal of (moving pieces), and not all are created equally. Each is an integral piece to the progression, but not all fragments share the same destiny. Chikako Urano, alongside countless other women mangaka of the 60s, form a foundation for the intense counterculture expressed by shoujo in the 1970s, but are ultimately forgotten in the midst of changing tides and rising stars.

The Impact of Attack No. 1

Chikako Urano may be a part of the forgotten generation of shoujo manga that shifted the medium towards its critical acclaim and commercial success in following decades, but alongside Nichibo Kaizuka she remains an important cornerstone in both the medium and the feminist movement of the era. With humble beginnings as a post-war factory volleyball team and a young manga artist, the two volleyball-related events in japan’s history remain as such- historical events. Together, they provided firsts that hadn’t even been considered up until that point, and were both signals of the potential for women in their futures.


The hardest part of research into this sort of work is that the 50s and 60s are heavily undocumented and under-preserved for manga. The second hardest part is that so many sources remain accessible only in physical format, meaning its hard to verify information online. The third hardest part is that a lot of it is in Japanese. Because of that, I refuse to refer to this as anything aside from a blog post, as there’s a ton of terrible practices in regards to journalism and research. Not that it’s a “I pulled it out of thin air” situation, but that it falls very short in terms of critical analysis. Either way, when referencing historical content and context, sources are an incredibly important, so I’ve included them here to help provide a better picture, and allow readers to dive further into information that wasn’t included in this post (like how The V Sign! dropped its exclamation point in adaptations of the work).

In particular, the Japanese wikipedia page was immensely valuable for gleaning various bits of information and connections, as a great deal of sources remained inaccessible. Though, through research to try and find copies of the works referenced, I discovered that the University of Montreal has an incredible amount of Japanese literature relating to manga. I knew they had a great deal of art books and production materials thanks to a donor, but I didn’t realize they had such a wealth of resources. Really need to visit their library at some point.

The missing link of shōjo manga history: the changes in 60s shōjo manga as seen through the magazine Shūkan Margaret – Dalma Kálovics
Chikako Urano- MangaUpdates
Attack No. 1 – Wikipedia Japan

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