For someone who doesn’t like sports too much, I sure do like sports manga.
Okay, that’s not really true. I don’t mind the occasional viewing of a basketball or football game. But I’m certainly not a fan by any means, and I don’t know any stats, and hardly any players. Yet for some reason, I love sports manga and anime.
I think it’s because most sports manga is about cheering for the underdog, which I do like. It’s usually some gifted, yet ignorant or neutral player who fights his way up the chain until he becomes the best player in that sport.
Eyeshield 21 follows this formula with Sena, the introverted freshman gifted with almost superhuman speed (developed from running errands for bullies), who is “scouted” (i.e. kidnapped) by Hiruma and Kurita, two founders and now only members of Deimon High School’s American football club. Hiruma and Kurita’s dream is to attend and win the Christmas Bowl, Japan’s high school football championship. To do so, they have to recruit 9 more players (or 8, now that they have literally tied up Sena), face off against other equally gifted players, and claw their way from the bottom, fighting for respect.
Oh yeah, and Sena has to be in disguise because otherwise his best friend will yank him off the team in a fit of overprotectiveness or other sports clubs will come after him, like the track team. Also, he’s never played football so has no idea what he’s doing. This allows the writer to teach the reader all about football, as being Japanese, they also probably only have barebones knowledge about football.
This manga would frequently have me in tears from laughing so much, usually from Hiruma’s demonic methods to recruit and er… motivate… his team. And sometimes crying from the emotional rollercoaster some of the players would go through in their efforts to be #1. The Devil Bats don’t always win, you see, which makes this even better. ‘Cause really, it’s no fun when the underdog team wins all the time. That’s boring! Also, then there’s no real sense of excitement.
Murata’s art is amazing with his character designs and exaggerated facial expressions. His characters are so distinct that some issues would have a Where’s Waldoesque extra where one can easily pick out dozens of mini-characters.
Other than the art, what I really liked about this manga is that not everyone’s a super-gifted, determined player. There are average players who realize they have limits and try hard anyways. There are gifted players who are lazy and arrogant. There are corrupt (and downright evil) players. There are players who could be good, but are hampered by the lackluster attitude of the rest of the team. There are feared opponents, respected opponents and even opponents who are friends. It’s just a really really good mix of everything. I love everything about this manga. It’s going down as one of my all time favorites.
All right, to be fair, there is one thing that probably could’ve been improve somewhat, but I’m not sure how. The manga felt like it should’ve ended about 5 volumes earlier than it did (it finished with volume 37). But I kind of liked the way it ended anyway since it sort of needed that final showdown (trying not to spoil stuff). And I didn’t want to leave the characters yet. And it did have a nice wrap up of “what happened later.” So I don’t really mind, too much. I forgive them!