Blitz is an interesting manga. It is very much in the vein of a typical sports manga, particularly school-based sports manga. You’ve got a young competitor entering a brand-new world where he must learn the rules of the game and face ever tougher challengers as he grows in skill. The stakes start small – an off-the-cuff match against a fellow club member is Tom’s main opposition in this volume – but will inevitably grow over time. And you’ve got a cast of supporting characters with various opinions and levels of investment in the sport at hand. It’s nothing terribly out of the ordinary, but it has just enough unique twists to make it worth considering.
The first and most obvious draw is that it is a manga focused on chess. Game-focused manga are pretty popular, whether based on existing games (such as Hikaru no Go) or presenting a new game to the audience (such as Yu-Gi-Oh!). Here we have an existing and popular game in chess, but one less popular in Japan (relatively speaking). The manga explicitly aims to increase interest in chess in Japan, and there are even multiple times when characters in the manga say aloud that they want to increase participation in the game. It’s transparent in its intent, but that is also par for the course for a sports- or game-based manga. Its unique subject matter makes it stand out, which is rare not only for manga but for comics in general.
It also has a few fun twists going for it. Tom is an interesting protagonist because he has zero interest in chess until he realizes a cute girl—Harmony—plays it. This is not exactly a noble or inspirational driving motivation in the grand scheme of things. At the same time, I was once a young man prone to making foolish (and at times life-altering) decisions based purely on a girl I liked, so I won’t be casting the first stone at Tom. Despite the early rush, I do like that there appears to be a genuine emotional connection between Tom and Harmony, particularly regarding all the angst in the treasured knight piece. It is not earth-shattering drama, but these sorts of things can be your entire world when you’re just a young person in school.
Sadly, Blitz could benefit from making a stronger statement on what type of sports manga it wants to be. In my experience, there are two broad categories of sports manga: grounded and realistic or hyper-exaggerated to the point where the original game is almost entirely forgotten. Many manga also exist in both of these modalities at various times, but you can usually figure out which type you are reading by asking a few questions as you read.
Is this manga teaching me the literal rules of the game?
Do the rules of the game consistently impact the narrative?
Are the outcomes of the matches reproducible by actual players in real life?
For example, a manga like Furudate’s Haikyuu!! Would give us a “yes” to the above questions. Despite the artistic license taken when depicting the emotional impact of specific moments, Haikyuu!! largely represents standard volleyball as it is played (to the point where Furudate has sometimes apologized for accidentally allowing something against the rules to happen in the story). On the other hand, there are also works like Murata’s Eyeshield 21, a football manga where, ya know, that one kid straight up has guns.
Blitz is leaning into the more realistic vein where the actual rules of chess are followed, but it doesn’t go far enough in that direction for my liking. For one thing, the game of chess is only discussed in passing. The pieces are named and ranked, and their unique movement properties are mentioned, but that’s it. This strikes me as a strange decision, especially when a stated goal of the manga in and out of the text is to promote chess. Chess is a game with a long history and a great deal of literature written about it. I expect some passing mention of concepts such as openings and gambits here, both to impress upon readers the importance of established knowledge and to differentiate playstyles within the story.
In fact, I’d say even the most basic ideas of chess are not present in Blitz. There’s no mention of the importance of thinking ahead a few turns, no discussion of concepts such as trading, the inherent advantage that the white/first player has, and no mention of basic concepts like how positioning comes into play. Heck, in discussing what the pieces do, the text did not mention that pieces come in different numbers, such as eight pawns and two knights. While getting into the weeds on every single nuance of this storied game would be too far by half, many of these omissions seem egregious to me.
Blitz‘s lack of chess basics is compounded by its relatively light fantastical elements. Every now and then, there is a bit of whimsy; for example, when Tom is playing online, one opponent is described as having a “cold” playstyle, and later when he and the opponent meet each other in real life without knowing the other’s online identity they can sense something familiar about one another. There are also times when the pieces are personified and drawn in more over-the-top fantasy styles, with real knights and scowling kings. These moments are fun and bring some excitement to the otherwise standard proceedings, but sadly, they are few and far between. The middling art style does not help, which is serviceable but does little to impress.
So the first volume of Blitz ends up being a middle-of-the-road opener whose novelty is underutilized and never feels fully explored. The excitement begins and ends with, “It’s a chess manga?!” While it fulfills its primary objectives, it mostly feels like a mediocre sports manga. Hopefully, future volumes will explore the unique world of chess in more detail or embrace the larger-than-life space manga can inhabit.