Rookies is a delinquent baseball manga. Those who have read plenty of manga of either genre know that this is a fairly common mixture, for a good reason — the general intensity of a delinquent manga easily makes up for the fact that baseball matches are not consistently exciting at all points and instead rely on key “clutch” moments.
Amongst all manga with these genre tags, Rookies seems to be one of the most popular ones and has stood the test of time fairly well, having ranked in the top 10 most sold manga even 5 years after ending. Let’s take a more in-depth look.
This manga’s plot is nothing too creative or ground-breaking by any means, even for the time it was published in. It’s very similar to the widely popular Great Teacher Onizuka (which began serialization about one year before Rookies). That doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily bad or poorly executed, though.
The focus of the manga is on a young and passionate teacher, Kawato Koichi, and his quest to help a group of delinquents, who have been abandoned by the system, find their way in life. He does so through baseball, teaching them the joys of working as a team to achieve their dreams, and all that stuff.
Unfortunately, this leads the manga to be fairly one dimensional and it gets repetitive fast. Within the first 50 chapters you can already see a clear formula being established:
1) A new enemy or rival appears and insults someone’s dreams/hopes/goals.
2) Kawato or one of the players gives them a speech or does something and makes them realize they were wrong.
3) The enemy now is an ally or respects Kawato and the team.
Yeah, as you can see, very cliche. However, the baseball matches are very well done and never fail to create a sense of hype, which definitely brings the plot part up a few points. Furthermore, there are a couple romance sub-plots that are built up but never quite resolved.
Honestly, it’s not as bad as I made it sound. There’s a reason why mangaka (and writers in general) use formulas — they usually make for good stories. “Rookies” is definitely not a bad one, and the great characters definitely help bring up the average plot. Besides, as the manga gets into the latter stages, it seems to apply this formula less frequently and focus way more on the baseball.
The pacing of the manga is actually not that bad.
“But why did you give it a 5, then?”, you might ask. Simple — the ending is terrible. I won’t say too much because I want to spoil as little as possible, but you can tell that the manga was either axed or concluded quickly for some other reason.
Other than that, the baseball games themselves are very well paced and the mangaka definitely took great care to maintain a high level of excitement throughout the whole comic. There are no big interludes between arcs, and there are no arcs that feel, in my opinion, too dragged out or unnecessary.
As it gets closer to the end, it definitely begins to get worse. One of the last games stretches out over 3 volumes, which is fine because it’s also the best game of the series, but then the author concludes the manga within 15 chapters, squeezing in one more game against an antagonist introduced early on in the manga.
This last game was supposed to be a “Final Boss” game. Instead, there is no focus on the antagonist at all: The mangaka focuses on the players, which were already developed enough at this point. The “final battle” of a manga is not supposed to continue developing the main characters. Instead, it should showcase their growth.
Once the game ends, there is no resolution, nothing at all, for the antagonist’s storyline — not one single panel! Very disappointing.
Rookies has excellent art. The character designs are great, there is a huge cast — 11 players, the teachers, antagonists, and so on — and yet the designs are all very distinct and memorable. The backgrounds are constantly on point, the double page panels are all superb.
Really, there is nothing bad to be said about this manga’s art. The only reason why it’s not higher than an 8.5 is because I’ve read stuff with even better art, but it’s entirely an opinionated rating. I cannot really think of a single flaw.
The character expressions are very well done and always convey the correct emotions. The author is also a master at drawing in a way that feels dynamic, which is important for a sports manga — the games feel fast-paced and exciting at every point, and while this is in huge part thanks to the writing, the amazing art certainly helps.
Every single character in the main cast has a distinct and developed personality. Every. Single. One. There are at least 15. Very few manga can pull this off, but Rookies certainly does.
Most of the cast is introduced early on, and it feels a bit overwhelming — I couldn’t help but think that it would fall into the trap of having too many characters and failing to develop any single one properly, simply because of the shared screen time.
However, Masanori takes his time and manages to create a very likable cast that begins to synergize very well as the manga progresses. Every character goes through hurdles and gets developed. If you ask 10 people who their favorite Rookies character is, don’t be surprised if you get 10 different answers.
If you’re into sports manga that are heavy on character development, don’t expect Eyeshield 21 levels of amazing, but you should at least check this one out.
Rookies is not a masterpiece by any means and has its fair share of problems. That’s why it didn’t make my Top 10 Best Delinquent Manga list. However it’s definitely worth a read if you’re into delinquents or baseball, and even if you’re not, it’s a very enjoyable read with a lovable cast and exciting sports games.