Despite how mainstream MMA has become, it struggles to crossover into pop culture. Excluding documentaries and reality shows, MMA makes its appearance in a handful of movies and a single good TV show. So when hidden gems like All-Rounder Meguru come along, I feel obligated it to share it. But if MMA struggles to consistently penetrate pop culture, WMMA struggles to even nick the surface.
So imagine my surprise when a recent nerd expedition unearthed Teppu.
Little gold, no glory
The gym which Teppu joins is full of women holding down jobs while seeing how far they can go in MMA. While they are all comrades in arms, there’s a gray undertone when they speak about their career prospects. The only “glorified” WMMA fighter is a prodigy; a daughter of an undefeated Brazilian champion who doesn’t attend the protagonist’s gym. And even she can barely even attract people to an MMA club at her school!
But the women are never the objects of pity. Despite the harsh reality of WMMA, they are all proud fighters. Their objective is never validation, but to best themselves and their competition. If it seems like I’m being vague, its because so much Teppu revolves around its “protagonist.”
Naturally talented, pretty and intelligent yet arrogant and condescending, Natsuo Ishida is a piece of work. Because she excelled so far past her peers with no effort, Natsuo quickly found herself alienated. She acts like she’s better because she is better. She quits school clubs because there’s little challenge and humbles anyone who tries to knock her down a peg.
But in a twist, Natsuo is not the villain of Teppu; she’s the protagonist. And the “antagonist” is a kind, humble girl who works incredibly hard. Her worst offense is fighting Natsuo on even footing without having natural talent. This makes Teppu less about “grind from the bottom” and more “What if Jon Jones was a high school girl.”
And it’s awesome.
As we delve into her backstory, it becomes clear that Natsuo is damaged. That behind a facade of perfection is an inferiority complex and an abusive situation with her brother. She hates her rival because fighting her on even footing means that she was wrong about her life. Heavy stuff for a teenage girl to handle. And so while we don’t cheer for Natsuo to win, we do cheer for her to grow. Teppu is the story of a mean person with the world in the palm of her hand trying to heal her wounds
Ending too soon
The biggest tragedy with Teppu is that the author, Moare Oota, cut it short due to serious health issues. Oota clearly intended for a longer series, giving Natsuo a true redemption arc and addressing some of her demons. Instead, Teppu ends after Natsuo and her rival’s second fight.
I do respect the decision, considering the circumstances. Instead of condensing an entire story’s worth of growth into a few paltry chapters, he decided to take what little growth Natsuo had achieved and leave on a hopeful note.
For those of you who love WMMA but can’t find enough related material, give Teppu a read. It’s not the MMA manual that All-Rounder Meguru is, but a far more fascinating character study. Again, assuming you’re willing to read right to left…