Many of the threads that we’ve been following for 22 episodes are starting to come together now as we reach the climax of Giant Killing. But with four eps to go, the center of the story at the moment is Natsuki – introduced into the story late though he was, Natsu has emerged as the center of the biggest moments in the series.
Turns out Tatsumi, before telling Natsu he lacked the determination to be a forward, asked him a deceptively difficult question – is that ball that the defenders and midfielders worked so hard to get to you your ball, or the team’s ball? As Tatsumi says, any player can score a goal – the striker just happens to be the player closest to the enemy net. That ball wouldn’t be on Natsu’s foot if Gino hadn’t made the perfect pass, right? Natsuki comes up with the perfectly logical answer – it’s the team’s ball.
But, as I suspected, that was not the answer Tatsumi wanted to hear. Strikers have to be single-minded and selfish – no matter how it got there, once that ball is on your foot it’s your ball. Problem is, Natsuki has lost his confidence and now he’s plagued by self-doubt, the worst thing for a forward. After squandering some good chances with indecisiveness it appears Tatsumi is close to giving up on him, believing he’s made an error in judgment in thinking Natsu an egotistical scoring machine. Sakai begins warming up on the sidelines at last.
On other fronts, though, things are looking better. Gino’s passes are starting to click. The defenders are starting to get to the loose balls and limit Osaka to a single attack. Kubota is starting to tire, which was obviously Tatsumi’s strategy all along (and the PV thoughtlessly spoils the impact this has next week). Even Dulfer is looking a little worried at seeing the flow of the game shifting a little. He’s truly a great coach, recognizing the threat before it’s even become a real threat, understanding the need to keep pushing forward.
But Tatsumi’s secret weapon is making his presence felt. Unlike Kubota, ETU’s own 20 year-old wunderkind isn’t getting tired. Though he lacks Kubota’s skills Tsubaki’s engine never seems to run down – as Osaka slows down he seems to get even faster, spoiling a chance for Kubo and creating one for ETU. And of all people, it’s midfielder Akasaki who appears about to be the beneficiary of Tsubaki’s efforts.
This was a no-nonsense, on-field episode – time continues to glacially pass at slower than real-time. Bar the aforementioned (and well-crafted) flashback scene to Tatsumi’s pre-game talk with Natsu and one cutaway each for the Kids, Skulls, Edomae and owner’s box the entire ep was played out on the pitch. And while the score remained 2-0 at the end of the ep (though not for long, methinks) the direction did a great job of portraying a surprising but feasible gradual shift in the flow of play. ETU is generating chances now – the key being slowing down Kubota and elimination of Osaka’s dreaded “rebound” opportunities. With Tsubaki’s seemingly endless energy and Kubota’s lack of stamina, all of a sudden two or even three ETU goals don’t seem so unrealistic as they did at halftime.
Only three eps left to finish this – about 25 minutes of game time plus a presumed epilogue – so there’s seemingly no chance of the story continuing past the Osaka game. What a shame that is, but it looks as if for those of us who want to follow the rest of the story, we have to fall back on the manga.