Check Please! by Ngozi Ukazu
For the people who still aren't sure if this is a comic about hockey or a restaurant, it rather surprisingly about hockey actually. I don’t come across many comics (web or print) about sports; I find far more manga about them and given that I run in both webcomic and manga circles I do feel like the sports anime wave hasn’t quite touched webcomics yet (although, with the number of webcomikers I see gushing over them I wonder if we’ll have a sizable crop of them in three or five years). I mention anime because this comic in some ways reminds me of shows like Haikyuu!! in terms of tone, the un-threatening, bouncy nature of the cast, and that like recent sports anime shows, it has a very sizable female fanbase. Trust me folks, I ended up on badge-checking duty at a door right outside of Ukazu's table at SPX and during my four hour shift there was a nigh constant, 85-90% female line of fans waiting to chat with her. This story has the exact same draw as those other shows, there are scenes where the team practices and competes but these events don't aggressively dominate the story in a "battle tournament" style arc the way that less-mainstream sports anime titles do. The characters may be a little older but there is still a huge focus on character growth and relationships, just like sports-with-slice-of-life shows like Taisho Baseball Girls and Free!, with this combination I'm rather surprised that I haven't seen any of my anime-watching, webcomic-reading friends talking about this yet.
I do sometimes feel a bit cheated that there isn’t more hockey in the story however, it really feels like we spend more time with the characters in their house than on the ice. Yet again, I’m coming to this story with a background in sports anime and manga, I’m fine with tournament arcs myself but this choice may be the best to reach a wider audience. But on the flip side, tournaments etc are a really easy way to keep the audience clued into how time is passing, "oh we finished a season, time for exams, summer, and oh hey it’s the next school year already". I haven’t been following this comic very long but without some of those clear indicators, plus Ukazu will sometimes post art from IRL time but that’s still in the future for the comic, it’s easy to get a bit confused reading. It also means I'm having a hard time remembering who some of the side characters are but that could be more easily solved with a cast page.
I can see the "intro" to the comic turning some readers off however, the comic starts as if main character Bittle is vlogging his way through college and his hockey career. I do think that Ukazu has handled this well however, the story doesn't pretend that Bittle is magically carrying a camera around with him during every tense encounter with Jack the team captain or god forbid actually during a hockey game, the framing device pops up just often enough that it doesn't feel like an abandoned idea and in that way it's used well. I do have mixed thoughts on the dialogue however, it's incredibly casual and slang filled so I'm always wondering "has this gone into the realms of parody or is this what it's actually like and I just wouldn't know since this isn't my sub-culture?" It is all meant with good fun so I am likely just over worried about this but I'll actually touch more on that idea in my book review this week, I've been thinking about how we talk a lot recently so it's no surprise I'm thinking about it more in relation to what I'm reading.
For those who want to pick up Check Please! online now you have two options, reading through the chronological tag on tumblr (which has extra moments with asks, short comics etc) or if you want only the main comics you can check out the episodes page here. It truly is a fun comic and I hope it's a sign of further story diversity in webcomics to come!