My Heavenly Hockey Club v4-6
Story and art by Ai Morinaga
Translation by Athena and Alethea Nibley
Lettering and retouch by North Market Street Graphics
It's been a while, but lazy glutton Hana Suzuki and the worthless layabouts of the Grand Hockey Club are back and doing what they do best. Which does not include hockey. No, Hana and company are too busy cramming for midterms, matching wits with chickens, running haunted houses, hunting yeti, saving farms from bankruptcy, and dealing with unwanted intrusions from Lolitas, ghosts, and dojin artists. They also pick up a new "faculty advisor," Yukio Francois Saint-Martin, whose monstrous egomania winds up dragging them into some strange and dangerous situations.
Oh, and along the way they do actually manage to play about half of a hockey game against some old-school pirates.
My favorite story has to be one from early in volume 4, where Hana has to infiltrate an all-girl's school only to discover that it's like a bad shojo manga from the '70s...
The design work on that tennis player is fascinating. Her general proportions and character designs are definitely pure Morinaga, but the shape of her mouth and the detailing on her ears, nose and lips all combine to make her look like she's walked out of the '70s. The overwrought rose background helps too.
I found these volumes of My Heavenly Hockey Club to be somewhat disappointing. The stories tend revolve around wacky hijinks rather than solid character-based humor, which I find a lot less interesting. The introduction of Martin in volume 6 is particularly jarring since there are still several unexplored character combinations, and Martin's outsized personality overwhelms the junior members of the hockey club. Most of the stories are entertaining, though, and the best of them are simply hilarious.
What I really want to talk about, though, is Morinaga's design for Hana, which I've been admiring for some time.
Hana's character design is a great example of how to suggest a character possesses certain attributes without slipping into stereotypes or conflating appearance with personality. Everything about her screams "laziness" without overemphasizing the point.
The shape of her eyes suggests a degree or fatigue - the upper lids droop precipitously downward while the lower lids sag slightly at the outer corners, and they're usually half-lidded as well. The detailing on her pupils typically over-uses the "shimmer" effect, making it seem like they're trembling from exhaustion. Her eyebrows are typically level regardless of her overall attitude, which makes her seem bored. Her mouth is placed low on her face with turned-down corners, making her appear relaxed at best and slack-jawed at worst. Her neck is tiny compared to that of the male characters, which gives her head feel like it's lazily bobbling about. Her hairstyle is as simple and possible, short and straight and easy to maintain. It's a sort of hairstyle that looks more appropriate for an elementary school student, which also suggests Hana's essential immaturity. Even her mode of dress underscores her essential laziness - when she's not wearing her school uniform she usually wears pullover shirts and jeans rather than skirts or more elaborate outfits.
At the same time, these elements aren't over-emphasized to a degree where they become obvious. The effect is purely subliminal. It's a real triumph of design.