By Masahiro Totsuka and Aguri Igarashi. Released in Japan by Square Enix, serialized in the magazine Young Gangan. Released in North America by Yen Press.
I had been very excited about the introduction of Tamaki's new rival that was promised in Volume 6, and sure enough we do meet her here. Unfortunately, that's really all that happens, as the rest of the book is taken up by lots of introspection, very little kendo, and far, far too much Kojiro.
It starts off pretty well, though. The girls (and Dan-kun) go on a shopping trip, with Tama boggling at everything around her as we get reminded that, new friends or no, she's still mostly a shut-in when it comes to socialization. Unfortunately, at one point a sign comes loose from above, and is about to hit Dan-kun! Along with some hot ramen! And a thief running through the mall! Never let it be said that Bamboo Blade isn't afraid to lampshade its ludicrous situations. Before any of our heroes can do anything, though, all three dangers are erased by the wooden bokken of a passing mystery girl.
The girl is very reminiscent of Tama - deliberately so. They both have 'placid' as their default expression, they're both kendo masters, and most important,y they both are huge sentai otaku. But of course, Ura is meant to be a dark mirror to Tama, like many shonen/seinen rivals are. She's abandoned her kendo (to her father's distress), and is a fan of a different variation of the series than Tama is. (The explanation of the Battle Hero sentai series (all 20 of them), and how Blade Braver and Black Duran (Ura's obsession) place in it is one of the best jokes of the volume, mocking sentai's need for constant reinvention and merchandising.) Sadly, all we see of her plotline is a bit of her father whining about her decision to abandon kendo, and of Kirino finding out who she is.
The rest of the book rests on the shoulders of Kojiro, who is still trying to regain the fighting spirit he feels he lost after high school. He has a long talk with Ishibashi, his sempai, who challenges him to another duel with a 2nd set of girls he's coaching. But for the most part, we get almost 70 pages of Kojiro, which is all fine and dandy, but if I'm reading a series about kendo girls I want to focus on the girls and the kendo. I appreciate the coach's dilemma, but we just don't really care as much.
There are two good side-stories in here, one focusing on Miya-Miya, who is having to deal with her old kohai and feeling angry and frustrated. Kojiro's suggestion that she work out her rage via kendo is cliched, but it does manage to show us an important point - slowly, almost unconsciously, Miya-Miya *is* improving. It no longer seems beyond the bounds of reason that she could win against someone at her basic skill level. The other, shorter chapter deals with Tamaki's mother, who I believe we finally see in full-face here after several volumes of being hidden. She looks like Tamaki with long hair, but her gung-ho personality certainly didn't carry over into her daughter. Still very sweet.
I ended up writing more than I thought I would about the things I enjoyed (I didn't even mention Tamaki's facial expression on page 96, which is worth the price of the book by itself), but I still felt that this volume was moving far too slowly and awkwardly in its attempt to transition to its next set of battles. Here's hoping Vol. 8 will bring us more of the girls, and far more kendo.