Medalist Volume 1: All On The Rink



Medalist reminds young athletes of every sport what life was once like. There’s the incredible highs of chasing greatness and a dream beyond belief, but I think the more gripping aspect of this series is how it drags the reader down into the depths of competitive sports for kids. I can remember plenty an evening spent on a court or field where parents would be thrown out of games, where police would be called over disputes. The silent car rides home with a parent grilling you over how you played that night, or heaven forbid having a parent as a coach and them yelling at you during the game. The constant, never ending practices where you’ll never be good enough, or the times where you just want someone to believe in your passion.

Medalist wraps up that incredibly complex, fickle, and ugly yet perplexingly beautiful life, and cranks it up to 11 through figure skating. For those that never skated, you really don’t know what you’re getting into- especially with Japan. Where something is a slap in other sports, it’s like getting choke-slammed through a door in figure skating. It’s probably the most psychologically brutal sport in existence, and that’s what makes Medalist such an incredible read.

Failure and never reach far enough are universally known feelings in skating, and is something that was felt by 1 of our 2 lead characters, the figure skating coach Tsukasa. His character doesn’t really ever get expressed clearly in this first volume, but god, if he isn’t the rock to our little figure skater Inori’s character. He’s coaching himself out there, throwing away everything he ever dreamed of so he can do it all over again. All those hours training, practicing, dreaming– all of it is personified by Inori, and I think that’s incredible.

Conversely, Inori represents the sheer anomaly that Tsukasa desired himself to be- in the literal sense. The idea of politics, of family involvement, pedigree and history, none of it occurs to this little girl putting her heart out there out of sheer passion. But she’s also not a blank slate. She too, has her struggles and hurdles to overcome that isolate her from Tsukasa, and I really like how they handle that. The politic side of things remains clearly divorced from Tsukasa, which forces Inori into finding her own way to deal with it. The result is a little shaky, and is easily swayed by Inori’s passivity, but it’s incredibly important groundwork that’s meant to be reflected in her daily life as well.

Okay, Tsukasa-energized tirade has come to a close, let’s take a step back and really address this manga. Medalist is a manga that has a lot for everyone, and everything for a select few. You might say that it has a narrow appeal thanks to being figure skating, but I guarantee anyone that picks up this manga that’s interested in sports will be enamored by it at the end. Moving forward, Medalist carries an incredible amount in the balance with this first volume. The density of pages varies from nothing but skating all the way to so much information you can’t believe it’s a manga. You might think that as well is a challenge, but the sheer passion dripping from each word and every panel is enough to suck you in.

It also does help that Tsurumaikada’s visual work is impeccable. The flow of the pages is really incredible, and the art style is so fluid it’s almost elusive. Once you’re far enough into the volume, you’ll be questioning which style is the “regular”, and it really adds a lot to your perception. There’s a lot of extremes to Medalist, and that really meshes well with how… extravagant, and free, Tsurumaikada’s art is. It turns it all the way up to 11 when need be, with incredible perspective, detail, and layouts, but it’s also perfectly happy being silly or sketchy or loose, or whatever other adjective you can think of.

Visuals like the above really work wonders when employed with the incredibly technical approach to figure skating. Once more using the same adjective, it’s truly impressive how accessible and palatable Tsurumaikada made all the nitty gritty in Medalist. It rolls off the tongues of the characters and the kids have a fittingly naive understanding of it all, which really makes it a great first experience with the sport. It finds all the right ways to fit little details and bigger explanations into the story without them feeling hamfisted or awkward. I do have to reiterate just how well fitted the explanations are. When you’re dealing with something that has to be explained, but isn’t very accessible to first timers, it’s definitely not a walk in the park.

Though, to come full circle, those explanations are made worth it by the visual work with them. Medalist is aware of both aspects apparent in a “show and tell”, and provides truly stunning work with perspective and depth. My personal favorite trick employed to convey that will always be overlapping layers in a page, and Tsurumaikada doens’t shy away from them in the slightest. It works perfectly with their strong perspective, and really forces you to realize just how outstanding the posing, blocking, and anatomy is when Tsurumaikada decides to turn it on.

So, uh, yeah, go read Medalist.. is what I would say if I was a coward and couldn’t write a conclusion. Medalist‘s first volume perfectly reminds readers just why this is an award winning manga. Much like Inori, Tsurumaikada has an incredible talent and drive behind them on this work, setting their sights on manga stardom and never settling for anything less. So while Tsurumaikada and Medalist‘s story is just beginning in English, it’s promising to be one that everyone should have their eyes on.

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