Fence Vol. 3 brings the fencing tryouts to a close with a mature and solemn hit of reality. The series, created by C.S. Pacat (writer), Johanna The Mad (illustrator), Joana Lafuente (colorist), and Jim Campbell (letterer), features an abundance of fencers fighting for the opportunity to represent their school at nationals. Competition is the main focus of any sport; whether between rivals or teammates, it serves as a motivator for players to improve themselves and meet their goals. However, what volume 3 gets across brutally honest is the reality of how hard work does not always pay off.
The Plot Of Fence Vol. 3
Fence Vol. 3 continues where volume 2 left off by completing the fencing-team tryouts. The first round of the volume features Nicholas versus his senior named Kally. Both Nicholas and Kally are scholarship students; Kally is on an academic scholarship while Nicholas is on a fencing scholarship. Each fencer risks losing a spot on the nationals’ team as the more losses they accumulate the lower their chances of making the team.
Kally and Nicholas each have motivations driving them to defeat one another. Kally wishes to move forward with his fellow teammates to fence with them again before graduation, while Nicholas wants to prove his worth to his father, Jesse (his half-brother), and Seiji. Both fencers trained vigorously for the opportunity to join the team at nationals but only one of them will succeed.
Along with the pressures of overcoming defeat, Nicholas also has to avoid raising the suspicions of Seiji. He begins to see similarities in Nicholas’ techniques to those of Jesse Coste who Seiji considers his rival. Therefore, when he sees Nicholas fencing similarly to Jesse, he can only see Jesse in Nicholas. This fact infuriates Nicholas as he considers Seiji his rival and feels as if he is losing him to Jesse as he has everything else in his life.
Will Nicholas succeed in landing a spot on the nationals’ team and finally make Seiji see him as a rival? Or is he doomed to fail and leave the academy for good?
The Art Of Fence Vol. 3
The art illustrated in Fence Vol. 3 by Johanna The Mad is the best work featured in the series so far. While in the past, the lack of background design served as a detriment to the comic, here it works in Fence’s favor. As there are many emotional moments throughout the issues, the main focus should be on the characters themselves. Therefore, a lack of background distractions enhance these scenes.
In addition to character-focused art design, as redundant as it sounds, the facial designs in Fence Vol. 3 emote incredibly well. The characters’ expressions do not leave any confusion as to how they are feeling. Their body language emits senses of desperation, frustration, anxiety, etc. all because they fear to lose their spot on the nationals’ team. Essentially, the artwork alone provides readers with a conversation.
Along with the character designs, the fencing scenes improve as well. Since the stakes rise in Fence Vol. 3, the artwork adds more energy and movement to the duels. Johanna The Mad places additional emphasis on each hit a character lands as that hit may cost or win them the match. The clashes between épées represent how much strength and technique each fencer carries, and the matches create suspense with their engrossing action.
Finally, Joana Lafuente’s color design continues hitting the mark in using colors to portray a character’s emotional state. Similarly to her work in volume 2, Lafuente uses dark colors like gray, indigo, and black to emphasize their internal struggles, doing this helps enhance the scenes. She also has a talent for transitioning between scenarios using colors. For example, when a scene goes from angsty (dark blue) to happy (orange), Lafuente brightens her colors gradually page-by-page in order to make the transition smoother.
The Different Motivations In Fence Vol. 3
Each fencer carries with them their own reason for winning a spot on their school’s fencing team. However, realistically, not all of them will gain a position. There is always a winner and a loser in every match – no exceptions. Nevertheless, it does not make it any easier seeing specific characters lose their chance after hearing what drives them.
For example, Nicholas’ main goal is to prove himself to his absentee father, half-brother, and Seiji. All his life, Nicholas felt pushed to the side as his father’s illegitimate child. Jesse, as the legitimate son, received all their father’s attention. Fencing is the only thing that binds them together; therefore, Nicholas wishes to earn a spot on the nationals’ team to gain his father’s approval. The addition of Seiji’s acknowledgment is a way for Nicholas to feel validated by another talented fencer.
While not nearly as emotional as Nicholas’, the other characters have ranging motivations for wanting to reach nationals. A majority of the characters simply want to make it so they can be with the group of friends they made over the years. (Kally would fit into this category.) There are also fencers who have just trained hard over the years to earn a spot but have never gotten the opportunity. While every character in Fence Vol. 3 has a reason to win, the harsh reality of competition is that success is never guaranteed.
Hard Work Does Not Always Pay Off
As previously stated, in every sports match there is a winner and a loser. Contrary to popular belief, hard work does not always ensure that someone will meet with success. While training does enhance a person’s chances, it does not make victory certain. This reality is what Fence Vol. 3 drives into its readers.
Volume 3 makes clear that for many of the fencers this is their last chance to reach nationals. Backstories for certain characters display how much blood, sweat, and tears they invested to make the team. There are also fencers who carry their own burdens that make their training even harder than others. For example, Kally is in the school with an academic scholarship, meaning he has to balance maintaining his high grades with fencing practice. Harvard, as team captain, has to ensure he makes the nationals’ team or else people will question his role as captain.
However, hard work is not enough to ensure victory as there are fencers like Seiji who have an innate talent in fencing. As often as hard work overthrows talent in media portrayals, in reality, this occurrence only happens so often. There are other outside factors in life that can affect a person’s ability to advance such as not having the right connections, amount of experience, or simply someone else is more capable. It is because of this undeniable truth that Fence Vol. 3 separates itself from other team-sports series as it shows the reality of how hard work does not always equate to success.
The Development Between Seiji & Nicholas
In volume 1, a detrimental factor to the series was how cliché Seiji and Nicholas’ relationship was. A majority of sports media always portrays the opposites-attract rivals who despise one another. This cliché is so present in every sports anime that it’s become a staple of the genre. Due to how cliché it is, readers do not have to think too hard to see where the plot thread ends up. Usually, the pair either grow to silently respect each other or become friends. While Fence Vol. 3 ultimately follows this trope, it manages to add extra layers on the development making it complex.
At the beginning of tryouts, Nicholas and Seiji felt the pressure of expectations weighing down on them. Nicholas’ pressure was due to his fencing lineage, while Seiji’s was from his reputation. The two initially hated one another as Nicholas dislikes how Seiji looks down on him, and Seiji considers Nicholas a buffoon. However, as the volumes continue, readers see the similarities between each character. Both Nicholas and Seiji have high expectations in themselves and see fencing as the key to their confidence; they consider Jesse Coste to be the source of their misery, and, as shown in volume 3, both boys lack any visible familial support.
During their rematch in volume 3, Nicholas and Seiji face off against each other laying bare their insecurities. Nicholas wants Seiji to see him as a rival and not as a replacement for Jesse. While Seiji sees Nicholas as a constant reminder of his failure in defeating Jesse as they share a similar fencing style. Seiji’s obsession with Jesse and Nicholas’ need for acknowledgment goes head to head in this match. Despite neither character receiving closure for their insecurities, they did acknowledge a change in their relationship. Therefore, it will be interesting to see just where the Nicholas-Seiji dynamic goes in future volumes.
What Can We Make Of Fence Vol. 3?
In general, the Fence series shows massive improvement with each new installment. What initially began as a cliché series evolved into a deeply psychological, coming-of-age story. Fence Vol. 3 treats teenage problems with a high sense of maturity. It acknowledges how everyone has their own problems but does not compare one person’s struggles with someone else’s. The series legitimizes each character’s personal hurdles.
Despite its anime-and-cartoony aesthetic, Fence does offer readers some bittersweet lessons. It displays the reality of sports matches where there will always be a winner and a loser. Draws rarely happen during a match and not everyone can make it on a team. A person could have spent their entire life training for a spot and still not get it.
However, the series does not try to make hard work seem pointless. It encourages people to continue trying as it is better to try and fail than to wonder about what could have been. It is this touch of reality that helps set Fence apart from other sports genres similar to it. Therefore, with its amazing character designs, intense fencing matches, and mature conversations, Fence Vol. 3 is a must-read for any comic fan looking for a dose of reality mixed with cartoony fun.