Hockey is one of the world’s most aggressive and high octane sports, famous for its hairy, moustached men getting into fights on the ice. And yet, every sketch and every speech bubble of Check, Please! makes this bloodthirsty culture seem like the most adorable and precious thing ever. This is partly down to Ukazu’s cute drawing style, but it is mostly because of the warmth and sensitivity of her characters. Contrary to some of the hateful, spitting locker room stereotypes of old sports movies, these players are incredibly loving and supportive of each other. They don’t tease Bittle for his indulgence in his ‘traditionally effeminate’ baking obsession. And when Bittle comes out as a gay man, there is nothing but an unquestioning acceptance amongst the team. Life carries on as normal and there’s no drama surrounding it. This, of course, is a lovely and rare thing to see in a piece of media. But what’s also beautiful is the series’ depiction of the hyper-hetero jock. The straight characters are allowed to follow all the ‘college bro’ tropes; they play-fight; they get blackout drunk at kegsters and draw on each other’s face; they make fun of each other relentlessly; but it’s abundantly clear that they love each other and have each other’s backs. And not in a ‘deep down’ sense, but through an unashamedly surface level aura of mutual support. Check, Please! offers us hyper-masculinity, but shows that this doesn’t inherently entail toxicity; it can bring real, actual brotherhood.
While the series’ subject matter is, as you can gather, incredibly niche, Ukazu manages to pack so much heart and richness into every frame. In each episode and across the whole collection, her passion for hockey and all it’s strange traditions and etiquettes yells off the page and pulls you into a whole new world. She takes something that should be alienating and makes it as inclusive as possible. Finishing the four volume anthology, we feel inspired to put ourselves out there and maybe take up a new hobby or interest ourselves, be it hockey, baking or something else entirely (personally, I will be backing the Calgary Flames all the way to the Stanley Cup). But whichever direction we take after reading this, and whichever road these Samwell students travel after graduating, Check, Please! teaches us that the best thing we can be is ourselves.