This is almost like Takahashi Tsutomu's version of a shonen manga, despite it being populated by and being about women. That was my first impression as I began reading this. The idea of Tsutomu doing a sports manga (which I connect with shonen automatically thanks to thematic linkage) is both disappointing and interesting.
With this manga we have a master storyteller breezing through an intriguing backdrop, ocassionally threatening to descend into cliche, but avoiding it enough to become an entertaining romp through the world of women's baseball in post-war Japan. The stakes are high, the hopes and dreams of a nation rest on the left arm of a woman, can tetsuwan girl carry the burden?
The main character of Tome is suitably a tomboy with a chip on her shoulder. Tired of the darkness of the war she seeks to burn bright like the sun and fights onwards like a shonen hero causing a revolution in her wake. I mention shonen because she resembles those extremely popular characters in that she has a will that surpasses anyone else and supporting characters look up to her and her indomitable spirit for inspiration.
All the genre traits of sports manga are here, the gradual powering up, the rivalry, the training scenes, the games, it should make you roll your eyes but this is Takahashi Tsutomu we're talking about so there's other stuff going on to make it a worthwhile read. The more the story veers away from actual games, the more interesting it gets. Most notably how the rise of Tome ignites a passion in the Japanese people who are still recovering from the aftermath of the war. She gives the masses a voice and that voice says "Please leave now America, thanks". The socio-political aspects of the tale make for good drama as Tome has to bear the consequences of fame and make hard decisions that affect the lives of other people.
There aren’t many manga set in this time period, let alone about women partaking in a 'mans' sport, not from a realist perspective anyway as opposed to the fantasy worldview of most sports anime. The historical backdrop and adult nature of the relationships is what keeps this manga fresh despite the sport shonen tendencies that pop up. The whole "I have to get stronger to defeat all-comers" thing.
Not that the shonen genre, or to be more specific: the sports genre itself, is anything to be derided automatically. There is plenty of enjoyment to be had from the genre but at the end of the day it is a genre lacking in the kind of substance you see in Tsutomu's usual seinen output, and its a genre consisting of predictable motifs and traits to be checked off, not what you'd expect the writer of Jiraishin to dip into, so Tetsuwan Girl runs the thin line between alternative niche due to its setting and scope, and mainstream generics thanks to its baseball field showdowns.
Takahashi Tsutomu's art is his own style as usual; the artist's voice is loud and clear in many of the good looking panels. Some great baseball scenes abound along with almost abstract and free flowing depictions of 1940's Japanese landscapes. The dialogue is also succinct in that Tsutomu style, to the point and economical in conveying meaning.
Tetsuwan Girl is a worthy entry into the sports genre manga because there's no over the top physics-breaking magic, lurid humour or mystical destiny bullshit cheapening the tale. This is set in the real world and before the feminist movement of the 60's so it makes the female baseball players' fight for acknowledgement and glory all the more compelling, and seeing as the sports genre is practically based on rooting for the underdog, Takahashi Tsutomu's manga probably deserves a spot somewhere up there with the best.
I say probably because not all 9 volumes are translated into English yet... ;)