To draw out the flavor of food, a person often needs to add salt. To draw out latent abilities in athletes, a person needs a sports doctor with an excellent understanding of the human body. Hiroyuki Shioya believes in this wholeheartedly, and won’t rest until he’s the best sports doctor in all of Japan.
Previously in Sporting Salt: The 2020 Olympics are set to take place in Tokyo, and Hiroyuki Shioya is going to be there. We know because we see him, in full color, watching over the opening ceremonies. And in a shot where we specifically only see the lower part of his face, we cut away to the story that will actually be told in this issue… wait a minute, this is the first issue. There’s been nothing previous, except the start suggests that everything we’re about to see is previous.
It’s a story technique I’ve seen come back into fashion a bit more recently, of telling the ending at the beginning. A famous example is when Shakespeare used this in Romeo and Juliet, where he tells that the lovers die in the beginning of the play, and with the way Shakespeare stole shamelessly, this obviously isn’t anything new. And as with so many things, the story isn’t in the ending, but how the characters get there.
And this story is a simple one. Fifth-grader Manabu is training for his school’s sports day race, and wants to win to impress his good friend and crush, Luna. He’s decided that after he wins the race (if he wins the race), he’ll tell Luna how he really feels. The pressure’s on when Luna finds out that she’ll be moving, and transferring schools. This race might be Manabu’s only chance to tell Luna how he really feels. (…or, he could just tell her, but then where would our story be?)
It’s when Manabu and Luna are walking home that they run into Shioya for the first time. He’s eccentric in his overt and extreme love over the human body’s ability to do sports, and it initially comes off as a little perverted. (I can’t tell for sure yet if it’s not at all driven by that or might be used on occasion to be pervy.) Manabu and Luna try to distance themselves from Shioya, but once he finds out Manabu is a runner, he won’t leave them alone.
I’m immediately grabbed by two things in this story. The first is telling the opening chapter from the point of view of someone who is not the main character watching the main character work. I understand this is a common tool in writing, but I think it was used well here.
The second is the good-naturedness of Shioya. So many of his quirks and social awkwardness I’ve seen time and time again in shounen main characters, but I don’t tire of the innate desire to help people. Shioya loves helping athletes go farther than they thought they could, and their success becomes his success as well as his joy.
When Viz first announced Sporting Salt, I saw a mixture of pictures in the promotional material surrounding the main character. One was of a child (or at least looked like a child, turns out it was of a teenager), and one was of a young adult. And I can see now, of why they might decide to do this, but it doesn’t make it less confusing for someone not familiar to the series. Is the story about the young adult, or the kid? We know now that it’s the same person, but still. And using images of an older Shioya makes me wonder if there won’t be some back-and-forth in time, too. Otherwise, I’m not sure if it’s a good marketing choice, since it’s misleading.
This art style feels like the manga I loved to read in middle school, including plenty of weird faces and occasional shots of super-deformity to emphasize a point. It’s joyful and cute, but not “baby-animal” cute. More like “as cute as a shounen can get away with while still looking cool” cute. A great combination between sharp and soft. I look at the artwork, and can’t help but getting a small smile on my face.
And while the detail on the character’s faces themselves is more simplified as anime and manga tend to be, Kubota shows that they know how to draw lots of detail when they want to. There are great illustrations of skeletons and muscle structures, as well as plenty of background detail when Kubota wants to throw it in.
There’s an excellent mix of simple and complex backgrounds, and the mixing of cute art to something more “serious.”
I’m also into (what I think is) the symbolic use of art to denote the power of the techniques used. Sports anime/manga tends to dress moves/techniques like superpowers without being superpowers (unless in the story they actually are), and I love how it was illustrated in this chapter with wings. And it’s probably for this reason that I enjoy reading sports manga a lot more than watching actual sports. I’d rather see runners with wings and inner monologues as opposed to not. But that’s just me.
BOTTOM LINE: A STRONG START
It’ll take time to see how Sporting Salt is going to differentiate itself from other sports genre stories besides the “sports medicine” twist, if it manages to at all. But for now it’s following in the proud tradition of so many shounen mangas before it, and has sold me on picking up next week’s copy of Shounen Jump to read chapter 2. Shioya might be a little much for people not used to the slightly-eccentric shounen-style protagonist, but I found him endearing, in the end.