The One Comic You Need to Read Before Street Fighter 6 Comes Out
Let them fight!
I have never been very good at fighting games. This doesn’t stop me from buying every new title in the genre that catches my eye with cool characters and flashy gameplay. I have always felt I don’t have the temperament to learn, so eventually I drop off. That is until my other pastime, reading manga, brought me back to the genre in the most unexpected way.
Young Ladies Don’t Play Fighting Games is a story focused on the competitive fighting game scene that stands out because of its ability to teach the reader about the complexities of competitive play. It tells a nuanced story about the relationship between the genre and female players.
Young Ladies Don’t Play Fighting Games follows Aya, a student who discovers that the untouchable popular girl Shirayui has a dark secret — she plays the fighting game Iron Senpai 4 (Which bears a heavy resemblance to the Street Fighter games). That is something that could merit expulsion at their preppy all-girls school. But Aya also has a secret, she used to be a fighting game aficionado. The two join forces to help each other get better.
It’s a neat story that effectively uses the sports story trope of two competitors who are also each other's most reliable friends and allies in bettering themselves. But the topic of fighting games necessitates the story to educate the reader on the complexities of the competitive scene.
Both Aya and Shirayui already have a level of expertise, which means that they have long monologues discussing high-level tactics with vocabulary from the fighting game community. Cross-up, juggling, and dash-canceling all come up. These are intimidating concepts, but they provide moments to teach the reader. Confusing words get short explanations in the margin of a page, and the illustrations show detailed examples of how tactics play out.
The panel-to-panel action emulates a slow-motion viewing of an actual fighting game match. Where an expert has to make split-second reactions, the reader can see movements as they would happen frame by frame. It’s a teaching tool. This also extends to the purpose of two characters that enter the plot after the manga’s first volume, both of whom are novices. Through Aya and Shirayui teaching them, it also gives the audience a crash course.
Once the reader is on the same page (pun intended) as the cast, Young Ladies Don’t Play Fighting Games launches into its deeper thematic ambitions. This is a story about the isolating feeling of being a woman in the competitive gaming scene. While the fighting game community has made major strides in inclusion, it has long had a reputation for being a boy's club. Aya and Shirayui are alienated from the community they want to be a part of, which is all the harder when they are also being alienated from their peers at high school who punish the pursuit of video games as unladylike.
Volumes three and four focus on the main cast attending an in-person competition. When both Aya and Shirayui progress far enough in the brackets they are soon met with ridicule from the crowd. Onlookers are dismissive of their talent while also leering at their femininity. Yet again the story focuses on how Aya and Shirayui need to support each other through the lens of wanting to be the top competitors. They can finally decide who is the best fighter between them if they can manage to reach the top of the competition. So, they cheer each other on.
After finishing the volumes that are currently available to read, Young Ladies Don’t Play Fighting Games left me itching to try my hand at the genre one more time. But the funny thing was, I had learned something. While Iron Senpai 4 isn’t a real game the majority of what the manga teaches the reader are universal tips for fighting gameplay. It’s about tactics and the ability to read your enemy. So I hopped into some matches of Guilty Gear Strive.
I lost, of course.
I still need more real-world experience. But I’m learning in a new way. No matter how many times I tried to learn before, no matter how many Evo matches or tutorials I watched it wasn’t clicking. But Young Ladies Don’t Play Fighting Games made me want to play like Aya and Shirayui.
Now I am looking forward to Street Fighter 6. Perhaps it will be the fighting game I manage to master.