April 11, 2023
By Shelley Pallis.
To escape the stress of city life, high school, and her overbearing mother, Mizuki runs away from home to spend spring break with her aunt. But her future is looming and she still has no idea what she’s interested in… until she crosses paths with Akira, a high school trumpet player who introduces her to the world of marching band!
Hamachi Yamada’s opening pages are a carousel of shattered images, broken scenes, and cut-up moments, as our heroine Mizuki comes back to her Akita hometown. It’s a whirl of shattered memories, often barely making sense, as she is reacquainted with her aunt, and meets that shy boy who works at the café, and gets ready for her new school and remembers that thing that happened when the…
And in a masterstroke, Yamada suddenly hits the reader with a double page spread that has the full-force of the high school orchestra, blaring at full volume, filling the whole frame in an image so loud that it carries no sound effects or speech balloons, as if your personal speakers just maxed out.
It’s not just a band, it’s a marching band, and although Arthur Miura’s translation doesn’t throw a explanatory footnote to the cheap seats, it’s belting out one of the best-known Japanese songs of all time, “I’ll Look Up as I Walk”. Written originally by a dejected man limping home from an unsuccessful protest march, it has since become an icon of Japanese melancholy and hope, reprised in multiple other media (some may remember it from Goro Miyazaki’s Up On Poppy Hill) and even overseas, where under the stupid name “Sukiyaki”, it became the first ever Japanese song to make it to number one in the United States.
Regardless, the stage is set for a media manga in the style of Love Live or K-On, in which we get an insider’s view of a particular kind of performance. And here it’s not just about the music, it’s about the marching: “An eight-minute long, multifaceted performance,” as Mizuki excitedly realises. It’s not even about the walking, it’s about walking in formation: that’s the hard part.
Few of the plot points are going to take anyone by surprise, if they’ve heard of anything else in this sub-genre from Mask of Glass on down. There’s the sneering bully, the helpful new friend, the imposter syndrome as Mizuki tries to learn to play the trumpet and do it while marching. There’s the little training hacks to teach newcomers how to walk without looking down, but above all, the thing that excites Mizuki and manga artist Hamachi Yamada is the sheer synergy of what happens when it all comes together. It’s not just a band, it’s not just a march, it’s a marching band, and Yamada’s enthusiasm for entrainment and music is infectious.
“I first encountered marching bands when I was in high school,” she writes, “and this allowed me to have many wonderful experiences I would not have had otherwise. I began writing this manga wanting to depict the sweat and tears that hide behind the surface of the fun and exciting shows, and with a desire for more people to learn about marching bands.”
Crescent Moon Marching is released by Azuki.