Sometimes I can’t believe how much I enjoy the ugly, ugly, ugly art of 81 diver. Just look at this page for a moment.
I don’t know about you, but when I first saw that kick I started cracking up. This scene, among many others, actually gets me to burst out laughing.
The work of Shibata Yokusaru, the same man who created Airmaster, 81 diver is a manga about Sugata Kentarou, a gambling shougi player, and the woman he loves, “Ukeshi,” an excessively well-endowed maid who is also known as a legendary shougi player renowned for her defensive and reactionary play. I have never played a game of shougi in my life, so much of the terminology goes straight over my head, but the terseness of the dialogue and the sparseness of text in the word bubbles combined with the frenetic line work makes each match extremely tense and exciting, especially given how absurd the characters are.
Let me tell you about what I believe is one of the defining moments in 81 diver. Sugata is playing a hobo/shougi hermit. Money is on the line. Sugata’s stipulation is that if he wins, he gets the shougi hermit’s money (he’s a hobo but he isn’t poor). The hermit agrees, but in exchange, he demands that his prize be to get a handful of Ukeshi’s breasts. The hero, hearing this stipulation, demands that this be a serious match, but rather than forcing the hobo to change his prize, he takes the reward of touching Ukeshi’s chest as his own incentive, even foregoing the money to do so. As the two of them play an incredibly intense game of shougi full of blood, sweat, and tears, both of them cry out at the top of their lungs: “I’M GONNA GRAB EM!” “NO! I’M GONNA GRAB ‘EM!” Spoilers, I guess, but in the end neither gets to grab them. That’s the kind of manga 81 diver is.
I know there’s a J-drama based on 81 diver, but I’ve yet to take a look. I do worry that the basic veneer of attractiveness that all live action Japanese manga and anime adaptations undergo with its actors would take away from the appeal of the manga. Related to that point, I honestly think that if the art were prettier or sexier or even had a more solid grasp of anatomy that it would fundamentally change 81 diver for the worse. The premise, a shougi-playing maid with gigantic breasts, could easily become another Ikkitousen or Queen’s Blade where the content of the manga practically bends and warps to the will of the women’s curves. And certainly there are plenty of cleavage shots of Ukeshi and the like, but the artist’s style instead manages to shift emphasis away from her attractiveness despite how much time is spent on describing her as a voluptuous woman. It’s ugly and outrageous, and the result is that when I think of Ukeshi I think of her unbelievable shougi skills first. It also doesn’t hurt that she’s shown to be in most ways Sugata’s superior in their chosen game, which makes their absurd romance all the more fun to read.