Muro'e High School is home to possibly the weakest kendo club in history. Starving teacher Kojiro seems to coast through life, until his old sparring partner and senpai challenges him to a Kendo match between their respective pupils. With the fire back in his belly, Kojiro is going all out to win (mainly because he'll win all you can eat sushi, but still...) The question is, can that even happen when his club has fallen apart?
So begins Bamboo Blade, a light-hearted high-school drama based in the world of competitive kendo. The series sets a leisurely pace for proceedings, taking time to introduce the expanding Muro'e kendo team and affording each member plenty of room for some decent characterisation.
It's very well thought out too - the only really committed member of the team is the Captain, Kirino, whose enthusiastic optimism for all things explains why she's seemingly immune to Kojiro's lack of interest in his own club. Her irrepressible personality is the main reason the club expands in the first place, and she's a charming introduction to the world of kendo.
The real "star" of the manga is Tama, a quiet first year student with a love of anime, which is largely responsible for her passionate sense of justice and honour. She also happens to live at a kendo dojo and has skills that would embarrass world class kendo experts. Viewing the sport as more of a chore than a hobby, it takes some convincing to get her to join the club.
These first three volumes revolve around the match arranged by Kojiro against his mentor, and as such it's a great mechanic to get the cast together in a fun and logical fashion. I won't go through all the characters in detail, but they're a psychiatrist's nightmare; a schizophrenic psycho, an obsessive compulsive neurotic and a guy who looks like an acorn are all drafted, and somehow the chemistry between them feels genuine and affectionate.
Bamboo Blade is a pretty long series, spanning over 100 chapters, so be prepared to invest heavily into the manga to get the most from it. Whether or not the series will capture your imagination depends largely on whether a realistic high-school drama based around kendo is going to be your cup of tea. There are no romantic entanglements at this stage, and unless there's a serious gear-shift on the way, no overblown drama either... but that's actually kinda refreshing.
Okay, this isn't a manga that will move mountains, but it's an enjoyable read. The more frugal of you may find that buying the DVD series from Manga Entertainment is a better investment, as from what I've seen the deviations are very minor (for example, the sadistic Miya-Miya doesn't smoke in the anime, which changes her introduction to another cast roster a little).
That said, sometimes you just can't beat a good read, and that's undoubtedly what Bamboo Blade is.