Soccer has had a big year on television, and the release date for Ted Lasso season three hasn’t even been announced yet. There’s the FX series Welcome to Wrexham which documents Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney as they buy a Welsh football club which is perhaps the most likable Reynolds has been in years ( yes it’s not a “role” but considering so many of his roles pull from a cultivated persona, the opinion stands.) Then there was the under-the-radar anime series Ao Ashi from the studio Production I.G, the home of all-timer sports anime Haikyu! The latest, an extreme take on the sports anime, Blue Lock.
Mixing the energy and character lineup of a typical sports anime along with the severity of stakes of shows such as Squid Game and Tomodachi Game, Blue Lock takes the tension of the former without all the bloodshed and explicit nihilism — though there’s plenty of cunning and brutal competitiveness that certainly begs the question of just how positive those attributes can really be.
What it’s all about
Based on the manga written by Muneyuki Kaneshiro and illustrated by Yusuke Nomura, the series takes place following a disastrous defeat at the 2018 World Cup. The Japan Football Union becomes emboldened with a need to win, sacrificing the careers of 300 of the nation’s best and brightest youth players to do so, including second-year forward, Yoichi Isagi (Kazuki Ura in his first major featured role.) Luring them all in with the promise of new starts and potential fame in the sport they love, the players must compete against one another to prove themselves worthy of the Ace Striker title, forced to wield their skills along with their egos in place of teamwork in order to win it all.
Planning to continue or calling it quits
As of seven episodes in, Blue Lock isa week-to-week watch. While it made a strong binge for the introductory episodes, that in part is due to how formulaic the genre can be, even with the shifts in narrative that Blue Lock has taken. Now that the series is further established the world and leaned into the all-or-nothing stakes the players are up against — while the consequence isn’t death it sure feels life ending to them to be eliminated — it makes for a strong addition to the weekly Saturday lineup of releases.
Directed by Tetsuaki Watanabe and with character designs by Kenji Tanabe and Kento Toya, the series’ strongest element is in its visuals, and, in the case of most sports anime, the visuals of the game being played itself. There’s a level of stagnation in non-action moments and the characters while not in movement can read flat, especially from side angles that beg for greater contrast of style, but in motion, Blue Lock comes alive through kinetic filmmaking and animation that keys in on the physicality of the characters. It’s even, shockingly, able to create imposing threats out of what should just be competition in opposing teams. Episode six in particular strikes that balance of imbuing the story with the tension our lead Isagi and the rest of Team Z feel through facing down Team W, the Wanima brothers as the main antagonists are given exaggerated features to come across as more menacing.
Another standout sequence involves the standout character, Bachira (voiced wonderfully by Tasuku Kaito) in the second episode of the series as he explains to Isagi what he calls his “monster.” Mainly describing a focused drive to win, the so-called monster manifests in a CG-like creation, tangible and dramatic. It’s so strikingly distinct that it’s a shame the series hasn’t yet been able to include additional sequences like it. There will likely be plenty of chances, especially as the characters continue to hone in on what their gift is on the field and how to weaponize it, and their egos as a means of brutal success.
Blue Lock is fun and engaging but certainly not the entry point for viewers who haven’t yet explored sports anime, it’s an enjoyable addition to a weekly lineup, if not the star player.
Blue Lock airs Saturday on Crunchyroll. Watch the series trailer below.
Featured Image Courtesy of 8bit and Crunchyroll