This sports anime changes up the usual shōnen formula by casting a bunch of self-centered players to see who can rise to the top as the ultimate striker. Is there anyone left to root for when all your characters are egoists?
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Nicky, I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is Japan got knocked out of the World Cup, so we lost a lot of synergy on what we would cover this week.
The good news is Japan got knocked out of the World Cup, so this guy still has a job.
Well, using government money to put a bunch of hormonal teenage boys in a secluded steel-built “training facility” (totally not a prison, guys!) for national pride wouldn’t really look good on the World Stage. It sure makes for some entertaining anime! This Week, we’re rallying against some life-and-death stakes with the latest soccer anime, BLUELOCK!
And yes, we will be calling it soccer because we are filthy Americans. If you want me to call it football, put on your pads and helmet, try to stop a Derrick Henry rushing touchdown, and make me.
On behalf of Nick’s and my safety, the official subs provided by Crunchyroll for the US also use the term “soccer,” so there’s no need to tackle anyone over regional differences when it’s more important to be consistent. Save your energy for the field!
Oh, I’m saying this entirely to be annoying. Screw performative patriotism, but in this one single aspect, I will wave Old Glory out the back of a pickup truck and shoot pistols into the air like Yosemite Sam before chugging a Bud Lite Lime. Because I want to.
Anyway, back to the actual show, which somehow marks the second anime this year about combining death games with ball sports. And while Blue Lock isn’t quite on Birdie Wing’s level of absurdity, it’s been a good time so far.
I’ll note that my actual athletic abilities are crap, and I don’t always have time to sit down and watch sports games, but there’s something magic about a good sports anime that makes them a returning staple. Sports narratives have been a host of great drama for decades, from feel-good victories to fortified bonds between teammates and rivals alike (look at Aim for the Ace!). However, it’s not like we’ve had a lack of them this year; even within the same sport, we’ve had both Aoashi and Shoot! Goal to the Future, not to mention several others that focus on team-based sports. With the number of competitors rising, what makes Blue Lock stand out from its peers? I’d call it sheer confidence.
Confidence is certainly a word for it. I’ll say that while I enjoy a good sports show, there’s nothing quite as torturous as sitting through a boring one, so I was just glad Blue Lock didn’t start with 20 minutes of a plucky but unremarkable high school kid trying to build up a team of misfits to go to nationals. Instead, it begins with that story getting absolutely murdered in its crib.
It’s certainly a departure. Our introduction to our protagonist, Isagi Yoichi, features his devastating defeat, one missed opportunity that signals an end to any hopes of a successful sports career. One person does not make a team but having been the only talented player and being dragged down by others feels like a dark and harsh reality compared to the more standard uplifting movement the audience is used to seeing. Even how it’s framed feels more akin to a villain origin story.
I mean, that’s basically what this is. Immediately after this, Isagi gets invited to a government-funded program that, by all accounts, was designed to create Sports Anime Villains. It’s a whole factory of Midousujis from Yowamushi Pedal down to the weirdo designs.
Which, hey, is a pretty exciting turn. Sports anime archetypes are ubiquitous enough that you could legitimately make a whole show just exploring the bonkers backstory of the kind of sports sociopaths who face down the good guys in any other anime.
There’s something intensely psychological about the whole thing, like you know something terrible is about to happen. Ego, the mastermind behind BLUELOCK, shows up and gives a speech that would make Monukuma proud. Proclaiming that the way to win is to socially engineer these kids into the premiere goal-scorers by pitting all 300 of them against each other until there is only one left. It’s incredibly edgy to the point of being almost silly, yet captivating. It’s all the same trappings of a death game, right down to the acid jazz piano.
And while the conceit of putting 300 boys into the Soccer Squid Game is goofy as hell, there is…some wisdom to this particular outlook. Like yes, any team sport needs solid teamwork to win at the highest level, but sometimes a genuinely phenomenal player willing to call their own number can be the difference maker. Look at any time Lebron dragged the Cavaliers to the playoffs in his early years.
Even without knowledge of real-world sports, the framing is all on the nose. The art and the dialogue are both intense. I read a bit of the manga because I liked the art style, the focus on these dynamic angles, and the heavy shading that emphasize a dark tone. Still, it was only later that I learned that the artist, Yūsuke Nomura, was an assistant on Attack on Titan. It makes way too much sense! I’m also impressed with how well the anime captured the art style. I expect sports show to have fewer resources to pull off so much detail, especially with how twisted some facial expressions are.
Yeah, there’s a looooooot of mugging. At times almost Kakegurui levels of weird ass faces, and it nails the over-the-top tone of it all. While its characters are taking it all dead serious, it feels like we, the audience, are meant to find at least a little humor in the absurdity of Soccer Death Camp. Especially in the first “test,” where they don’t even play soccer; they kick the ball as hard as they can at each other!
The upfront cynicism could be a turn-off for many fans since it goes against many of the values other sports anime establish. Still, the point of being upfront leaves room for the audience to scrutinize what Ego’s argument means. Ichiro’s first defeat is about obliterating an idealistic caricature of a sports protagonist, but in return, he finds the confidence he lacked before. Anyone defeated in BLUELOCK has to leave the facility and is blacklisted from Japan’s national team, so the death in the death game is “of your sports career.”
And pretty much immediately after the elimination game in the premiere, the story shifts gears into exploring something a little more in-depth than “be the best and score all the goals.” Since the remaining players are put into teams together, they’re essentially instructed to figure out their strategies for winning: no pre-set positions, no playbooks, just them reconstructing an all-star team from scratch to figure out what it takes to win.
And that’s interesting because it means interrogating the accepted wisdom of the current meta of soccer. Instead of iterating on what’s known to work, they have to find something new that works without any shoulders to stand on.
Yeah, while said arrogantly, as the show falls into a more standard regime of tournaments and builds up the other characters, Ego does portray a lot of knowledge about soccer for both the players and the audience, prompting them to think more critically about the sport that they would’ve under normal circumstances. Even a tool you learn from your villain can be helpful if it means forging a path for yourself. Yoichi is perceptive, but he’s otherwise underequipped. His whole group is seeded at the bottom of BLUELOCK as told by the numbered rankings on their clothing, meaning any other group they face is above them and maybe even more sinister than them.
And it turns out “building soccer from zero” is hard when you have a bunch of high school chucklefucks vying for scoring duty. So Team Z promptly gets their asses kicked like they’re Brazil facing Germany in 2014.
Shoutout to any Brazilian readers about to start yelling in the comments. I’m sure you’ll have a lot of support there. Probably a 7 to 1 ratio, I’ll bet.
Fighting this kind of competition by himself is intimidating. Yoichi isn’t alone; while lower than the opposition, some of the other members of Team Z are also worthy of being villains. One of the first people we meet is Bachira, who claims he has a little soccer monster that lives inside him and tells him to score goals. He says all notable players have one, and it is represented by a particularly cool effect used throughout the series.
Bachira is the first of the many, many weird little freaks that make up this cast, and it’s fitting that he imprints on Isagi after they double-team a guy to make it through the elimination round. He spends the rest of the show trying to get his fellow monster to take his passes and put his meat in his mouth.
There’s a reason I giggle every time characters shorten BLUELOCK to BL. Like anytime they say their ranking is “BL Ranking.”
Blue Lock refuses to be subtle about anything, even its homoeroticism.
Though personally, my favorite of Team Z’s freak show is Soccer Bakugo. I loved it when he said, “It’s Raichi Time,” and Raichi’d all over the place.
Funny enough, a lot of the relationship-building and bonding comes from the comedy skits after the credits, cheekily called “Additional Time.” They’re arguably not canon, but they delve into a lot of the goofy antics you’d expect from a bunch of kids at sleepaway camp, and it does a lot to make them feel like actual friends.
And it’s surprisingly endearing too. Like how the rest of the team all call Chigiri “sister” because he’s got that whole long-haired ikemen thing going. You’d think that would be some alpha male dick-waving, calling him “girly” as an insult, but it’s just a nickname they give him to make him feel like part of the group.
I’ll get to Chigiri in a bit. It also shouldn’t be a surprise we get some build with other characters as they’re pretty prominent in the opening and ending themes, which you should’ve caught because skipping this incredibly catchy Unison Square Garden song would be a CRIME worthy of soccer jail.
Nothing’s ever going to top “Sugar Song & Bitter Step,” but it’s a bop. I love the totally out-of-character ending that would make you think this was a regular ass soccer show.
It’s like if Danganronpa had an opening title sequence exactly like Full House, it’s great.
I love the choice for this super chilled-out ED after some intense episodes! It’s part of the show’s underlying sincerity. Maybe that’s because it makes me feel like I’m watching Backflip!! again.
It is pretty funny to go to a relaxing R&B jam immediately after somebody makes supervillain faces.
Even better when it’s some wild stuff. It takes the anime approach of treating some characters like they have superpowers, including Yoichi’s bizarre sixth sense to “smell” opportunities. Each team is rougher than the last, with Team Y’s strategist, Team X’s King, and whatever the hell is going on with these guys’ eyebrows.
Ironically some characters on the opposing teams get more focus and development than Team Z’s back roster. I couldn’t tell you much about our boys’ goalie or the one with poofy hair, but I DO know what Team Y’s mastermind looks like when his dreams die!
Did we mention Isagi might be the baddie here?
Look, there’s a reason I nicknamed him “Soccer Eren” at some points, and that’s one of them. As far as character writing is concerned, showing off your rivals and making sure they leave an impression for the short time they have is a good strength, even if much of the supporting cast is on the back burner. Besides, not having everyone spill everything up front leads to surprises. Chigiri’s slow-building arc was one of them, making him the most complex member of Team Z.
Chigiri’s easily got the best arc of the show so far. Of course, it starts with the most classic of sports conflicts: the dramatic past injury.
Also, props for using an authentic (and all too common) injury. ACL tears are nasty and can wipe out years of activity for athletes, if not whole careers.
It turns out Chigiri didn’t enter BLUELOCK to win but rather as a way of decisively putting his sports dreams to death once and for all. While modern medicine managed to spare him, the fear of reinjury crushed most of his ambition. It’s framed as someone looking for a way to commit assisted suicide, even if it only applies to his sports career. It’s overdramatic, but the feeling is there. What’s more, Yoichi takes a kind approach towards it, so it’s satisfying when he turns around. So despite sometimes being a villain on the field, it proves that he can still inspire his companions.
Well, kind to a point. He gives all the support and friendliness you’d expect from a shonen protagonist riiiiiiight until the game’s on the line. Then he stops caring about Chigiri and knocks him out of the way to get at the ball, desperate for a goal.
And I love that it’s that disrespect, coupled with seeing Isagi fighting for victory no matter what, that finally pushes Chigiri to run again. Sometimes hope and dreams aren’t enough, and what you need to get over the hump is pure, petty spite.
It’s tough, but so is seeing someone so clearly depressed and wanting nothing more than to bring themselves down, even when Chigiri knows he’d be dragging all the others on the team with him. It’s worse compared to just flat quitting on your own. It’s because Yoichi recognized how on the fence he was about it that this works into pushing each other to victory.
Well, “victory” in that they get a draw. Thanks to this bitch made motherfucker.
Okay, let me explain. So while Chigiri’s plan for soccer self-destruction could’ve eventually led to entire team sabotage, we also had to deal with this guy doing ACTUAL sabotage! It’s, again, part of why not quite knowing everyone on the team yet feels structured since it proves part of the show’s premise that not everyone’s teammate has to be trustworthy.
There’s this fun little caveat to this initial tournament. While everyone on the top two teams will make it through, the top scorers on the losing teams will also get through. So Kuon decided to make like West Germany v Austria in ’82 and collude for his advancement at the cost of any dignity or respect he had as an athlete.
It turns out that even in a tournament of sports villains, there’s a way to write somebody to be the bad guy, and it just involves him being a spineless loser.
It’s great, and there’s nothing against the rules about that, but what’s better is because of Chigiri’s newfound self, they manage to survive even fighting 12 vs. 10. Then he has to wallow and suck it up after all. Then in the next match, he tries to do the same thing, but Team V doesn’t even want to hear it. While he’s following the same mentality, it only ends up with everyone thinking he double-sucks when none of it is based on actual skill.
His plan made him the top scorer of Team Z, with three goals practically handed to him.
It speaks to what Blue Lock is ultimately about. It is cynical and ruthless in its pursuit of victory, but only insofar as it means bettering yourself as a player and becoming as strong as possible. Kuon’s gaming the system to skate by rather than trying to improve himself, and even Ego thinks he sucks shit.
You have to stoop really low for this guy to have moral superiority.
That kind of blowback is part of why I believe the thesis of BLUELOCK to be more leaning toward the benefit of solid individualism rather than the pure, raw “fuck everyone” mentality it gives off. There’s a difference. Many people see arrogance as a bad thing. When taken to the extreme, it can stunt those from thinking like true individuals, relying heavily on others to do work for them, avoiding critical thinking and self-assessment, and leaving room for self-doubt.
Granted, there are probably better ways of achieving those things than setting up a Soccer Battle Royale full of haughty teenagers, but at least that gives the kids room to bond the way only jocks can.
This casual competition between matches with Team X’s King, Shoei Baro, is an excellent example of what I mentioned. Ego mentioned that truly skilled players don’t rely on flukes and can even repeat their success. Yoichi learns that someone like Baro, who has confidence and a keen awareness of his capabilities, has an easier time finding the prime conditions to score than a player who lacks a strong sense of self.
As a bonus, Yoichi gets to be a little fanboyish over Baro.
And he gets some vital guidance that’s necessary against Team V, who has not one, not two, but THREE weirdos. That’s how you know they mean business.
Team V is funny because it’s like looking at a funhouse mirror version of some Haikyuu!! characters when part of the backstory is about a lazy prodigy being adopted by a rich extrovert.
I’ll admit, of all the sports rivals I’ve seen, lazy prodigy and his billionaire sugar daddy is a new one. But they somehow make it work, so who are we to judge? Get that bag, Nagi.
As it turns out, the only thing worse than trying to beat someone who’s doing everything they can to defeat you is getting your balls kicked by someone who isn’t trying very hard.
Nagi’s stunting on people entirely so he can go home afterward; it’s great. But bad luck for Team V that they’re playing a squad with more freaks per capita than any other, and they manage to wake up Bachira’s wild side.
I love that this final (for this arc) match turns into each team turning their superpowers on in succession to see who can pull off the most bullshit transformation, and of course, Isagi wins that one:
Chigiri gets some time to shine after the last match, but even he feels like Team V is giving him a run for his money. It’s such an all-out freak-off for who can be the biggest running weirdo on the field.
It’s a blast and overall encapsulates what makes this show as fun as it is. It’s not all that deep or complex, but it has a unique perspective on sports and utilizes that idea for some wild matches. At its best, it hits that same blood-pumping tension of Haikyu!! or YowaPedal’s big turning points.
Agreed and like those series, BLUELOCK has an excellent presentation. Since soccer is one of the most fast-paced and dynamic team sports, making such a spectacle-filled show is certainly no easy feat. It takes a lot of skill to do some of the stuff it does and drag the audience into its ridiculous moments. It’s almost like the anime team took the phrase “A good offense is the best defense” to heart. Even if you don’t take much of it seriously, it’s hard not to stare at just those big ole crazy eyes. And if anything, I’d call that game!
And with this World Cup wrapping up soon, it’s time to look toward the future. Blue Lock has a whole second cour, doubtlessly features more deranged jocks, and Japan has another four years to perfect its child sports soldier program. Best of luck to both!