Whatever miracle diet “King” Araki was on, he needs to patent it, because he’ll never have to work a day in his life. Seriously? Two weeks and what, 50 pounds? This kid should be in bed hooked up to an IV, not playing soccer.
Let’s set aside that gaping logic hole in the interest of suspension of disbelief, and look at the episode itself. One of the hallmarks of any sports anime is that it has to be able to to do a “game episode” well – in football circles, Giant Killing is one recent show that comes to mind that did a very fine job with this. This was really the first one of any significance and I’d say Area no Kishi generally did a good job. I judge these sorts of eps by three main criteria: accuracy/realism, choreography/animation, and pacing/entertainment value. Now obviously AnK isn’t a massively budgeted series but in general I thought the animation was fine, though I would have liked a few more wide or overhead camera shots and not so much following the ball. In terms of realism, well, again – this is an anime and not a documentary, but I didn’t see anything superhuman and the terminology and strategy was acceptably close to what I consider realistic. Both teams ran what looked to be a pretty standard 4-5-2 formation and the main things I expected to see – the huge size advantage for the SC leading to a big advantage in the air and fatigue for the FC – were indeed major foci of the game.
That leaves the big one, entertainment – and again, I give the series a passing grade here if not an outright ringing endorsement. For me the best elements generally involved Kota, who switched sides at halftime after growing bored of the methodical and joyless style of the SC. I didn’t find the antics of the broadcasting club hilarious, more intermittently funny (humor is not a strength of the series overall to this point) but I did laugh at Kota’s note to his former teammates, and when he busted out in Engrish to tell Seven “I love you, OK?” More importantly Kota’s speed and energy gave the FC a boost and allowed their clever coach, Iwaki Teppei (seiyuu giant Miki Shinichiro) to shift the strong and athletic Hino to the center of the pitch and open up space for Kakeru to attack (and eventually score, hopefully losing the “Mr. No Goal” tag for good).
One element of the game I liked was Teppei’s analysis generally. A common feature of the first half (which ended with the SC ahead 2-0) was Kakeru coming back to defend. Admirable for a forward, but not a good sign for the team – not only do strikers who consistently race back to defend in their own penalty area wear themselves out, but as Teppei told Kakeru, a good forward can’t be too prominent all the time. Equally important is to lie in wait and lose yourself on the field, making it harder for the opponent to mark you constantly – only emerging when an opportunity presents itself to attack. Good strikers master this balance of all-field play and energy conservation in stealth mode, and it was the same advice Suguru had given his brother years earlier. Indeed, Teppei looks like a formidable thinker. It seems like he was the real brains behind the Araki move, because I can only assume he hid the fact that Araki was dieting and planning to play all along, waiting to spring him on the SC as a second-half-surprise. The overwhelming advantage still seems to stand with the SC, who lead 3-1 as the episode ends – they’re still bigger, stronger and more disciplined, and with stars like Ryouma Oda (Namikawa Daisuke, another legend) on their side, they aren’t lacking in genuine football skill.
Finally, lest you accuse me of making too many Adachi comparisons, I just want to point out that we were treated to some interesting news this week. The two stars of the anime adaptation of Touch (which remains one of the highest-rated TV series in Japanese history) will be making an appearance in Area no Kishi. Mitsuya Yuji (Tatsuya) will be playing the coach of the “Nadeshiko”, the Japan Women’s national team, and Hidaka Noriko (Minami) will be playing the captain. This implies that we’re going to see some of Nana as a player, or at least I hope so – there’s no reason whatsoever why she should be limited to being a manager when girls football in so popular in Japan.