By Riichiro Inagaki and Yusuke Murata. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialized in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz.
First of all, I apologize, as I never reviewed Volume 33 when it came out. It's very hard to review a lot of sports manga when they're mid-game, much for the same reason it's harder to review fighting manga when the entire volume is one long battle sequence. FOOTBALL HAPPENS. That is all. Suffice to say things have not been going well, and at the start of this volume it is 41-16 Teikoku.
Of course, Deimon has been here before - in almost every single game, in fact. So now it's time for our heroes to do what they do best, and come from behind with incredible skills. It's the sort of thing you can only really pull off when your volume number is in the 30s, as this one is. We've been following Sena and company for years now, and we know all their strengths and weaknesses. We want them to succeed desperately. And so when Sena finally gets past Yamato and scores, despite the ludicrous 'Devil Fourth Dimension' name (what is it with shonen manga and calling their attacks?), we cheer with everyone else. We cheer even more when you see some mismatches working out, like Taki blocking Yamato to score a safety, or Yukimitsu following his route and scoring a touchdown. Once again, hard work and dedication are shown to be the things that lead to victory.
And victory is what we get here, as the Devil Bats win the game on a tense final 60-yard field goal attempt by Musashi. Hiruma knows there's a next-to-nothing chance of making this - but doesn't care, as he, Kurita and Musashi are the original Devil Bats, and he will have faith in his teammate. This is a very heartwarming scene, especially when we see Hiruma screaming at Musashi about how heartbroken "Kurita" was about his leaving the team a year ago, and see in the "what really happened" flashbacks that Hiruma is talking about himself. The kick itself is pure motion picture, hitting the bottom crossbar before going in.
As with all shonen series with huge casts, things aren't perfect - Karin is completely forgotten, and we're left with the feeling that once the authors conceived of "the quarterback is a woman!", they didn't have any other ideas of what to do with her. And then there's the last chapter. Honestly, I was expecting the manga to end here. We're at the Christmas Bowl. The entire focus of the manga has been about the Christmas Bowl. They have never mentioned anything else. And so suddenly seeing Yamato come by and talk about the Youth World Cup, with teams from all over the world competing, really smacks of editorial intervention, of Jump telling them to stretch things out a few more volumes. Yes, I know that we wanted to see Sena battle Panther again, but come on, he hasn't been around for over 20 volumes. I still feel it should have ended here.
Still, this is an excellent volume, showing all the most common traits of Jump manga and milking them for all they're worth. And who knows, perhaps the next 3 volumes will be filled with an even more awesome finale. We'll find out.