First off, good call to those of you that made it – the heavyset kid in the preview was indeed Araki Ryuichi 2.0 (Ishida Akira, seemingly busier than he’s ever been). That’s just the most obvious indication that things at Enoshima High aren’t nearly as Kakeru thought they’d be, and the weirdness starts on the very first day when he and Nana are hijacked on the way to sign up for the soccer club by Hyodou Makoto (Kakehashi Atsushi). This seems natural enough given that the older boy is in a soccer uniform. But things are not as they seem at Enoshima High, as Kakeru and Nana discover when they stumble on the tryouts for the “real” football club, and see talented but chibi freshman Kaoru Matoba (Yonaga Tsubasa) failed for having the temerity to attempt a heel pass during the tryout drill. One also suspects that he might not have hit the club’s height minimum of 170 cm.
I hate to harp on it, but again we have a situation that’s a bit reminiscent of Cross Game – a school with a class system for the sports club in question. Here we have the “SC” – the official school club – and the “FC” – the “play for fun” group that Makoto recruits Kakeru for, who practice on the beach and whose only entry exam is a half-assed “soccer quiz”. This is a pretty interesting dichotomy though, if you’re a football fan. The SC plays what might be called a “Premiere League” style – English football, built around long crosses, stolid defense and using physically bigger and stronger players to win contested balls in the air and wear down the opponent. The FC plays what might be looked at as “Beautiful Football” – high-energy, high-risk, built around possession and precision passing and creativity. If you follow Japanese football at the national level (just look at the Nadeshiko who won the World Cup) you know on which side the Japanese heart lies – and it’s easy to see where the battle lines are going to be drawn here in terms of good and evil.
Of course this is a David and Goliath story – all the more so because the SC and the FC traditionally have a match before the regional tournament to decide who represents the school. It seems to be a mere formality that the SC wins – their style is easier to play, they’re better-drilled, and physically bigger and stronger. That was certainly the case in the prior year’s match, which appears to be the last one Araki played before quitting to join the “Comedy Duo Club” and eat himself silly. There are other factors tying into Araki’s quitting too, not all of which are known to us yet – though they certainly involve Araki’s misunderstanding that Suguru despised him. No question, Suguru seems to have had issues with Araki’s decision to join the FC, and called Araki a “naked king” – but it’s obvious that Kakeru is going to smooth this over and talk Araki into rejoining the team. For a team trying to play beautiful football, a creative fantasista like Araki is priceless – though just how long it’s going to take him to work himself into shape will be an interesting question. I guess they can always do another timeskip.
Among the most interesting questions for me is what will happen with Nana. Kakeru made the same suggestion that I did – perhaps there’s a girls club at Enoshima High. But it also occurs to me that as an “unofficial” club, there’s really no reason why Nana couldn’t be allowed to play for the FC, though of course she wouldn’t be able to play in any official matches should they happen to win against the SC (and it wouldn’t be much of an anime if they never did). She’d be invaluable as a practice player – I’d compare to, say, a young girl who was a terrific pitcher who could help the boys baseball team prepare to face the main club by throwing batting practice. Just hypothetically.
On balance, I’d say this was a pretty solid setup episode – I still enjoy the main pairing, and I think the premise overall remains interesting. The weird Suguru mysticism was kept to a minimum, which is a positive. I wasn’t as impressed with the overly campy tone the humor took, especially in the first half of the episode, much of which was only mildly amusing. There’s quite a bit of tonal shifting going on within every episode so far, and that makes it a little difficult to grasp just what kind of series Area no Kishi ultimately wants to be. The answer to that question will probably determine how successful it ultimately is as an entertainment, but for now, there’s certainly enough here to keep my engaged.