I’m very much of two minds about this episode of Area no Kishi. On the one hand, it’s nice to see Nana in action on the pitch at last, and she doesn’t disappoint. On the other, though, this is the episode where AnK pretty much tossed all notions of realism out the window. As a serious soccer fan I’m somewhat troubled by this. First of all, the idea that the Japanese national team – even allowing that the manga was written before they won the World Cup – would be so weak that they need a 15 year-old to save them from being embarrassed by an American club team is insulting to the Nadeshiko. Second, the notion that a 15 year-old girl is strong enough to be the best player on the pitch in such a match is a real stretch. And third – if the American midfielder is to be believed, Nana played and took the US First Division pro league by storm – when she was 13 years old???
Sorry, not buying – and if such a player did exist, there’s no way she’d be wasting away as a manager for a high school boys team, she’d be an international celebrity in football circles. There’s the dilemma, though – the series is obviously better when Nana is playing football and not just watching it, but it sort of casts Kakeru and his Enoshima High team as a joke. I do respect Nana’s wish to have Kakeru make the national team too, and her loyalty certainly can’t be questioned – but the way it plays out here is pretty hard to accept.
With that very large qualifier set aside, it was a solid episode. A training camp episode is a must for a sports shounen, and we got one here – but damn, that is one huge pool of players Iwaki has thrown together. Way, way too many for one HS team in fact, and I assume there are going to lots of roster cuts as well as fierce competition for playing time. At the camp, Araki is still fighting Nana’s efforts to help him lose weight – and Ishida Akira is still gleefully chewing the scenery. We have the requisite test of courage (again, why single out heart-surgery boy for terrorizing?) and even our first real fanservice of the series, courtesy of Nana in the baths and Araki’s healthy curiosity and lust for revenge (and other lusts as well). Give Kakeru credit for trying to save Nana’s honor – however unsuccessfully – but alas it’s the serious and responsible Oda who gets the blame and a couple of facial bruises as his payment for trying to do do the right thing.
It’s be interesting to see how the series balances the relative realism of the boys HS soccer experience with the virtual science-fiction of Nana’s far-fetched flirtation with the international stage. They’ll have to try and make Enoshima’s soccer seem relevant when compared to the level of Nana’s play, and make it at least somewhat comparable in entertainment value too. Then there’s the matter of Nana and Kakeru’s relationship, which continues to creep forward, glacially but so far inexorably in the right direction.