I promised myself that I wasn’t going to keep obsessing on the unrealistic side of Nana’s story, so I’m going to try and avoid doing so even though the fact that a 15 year-old could slip unnoticed into the Nadeshiko and be their best player still rings false for me. I’ll just say that for me the soccer was the weakest part of this episode for a couple of reasons. One important one is that I don’t especially care for the impression most of the game action in this series (so far) leaves, which is that soccer is basically an individual sport. Really, one could almost have guessed that the match between Nadeshiko and Hamburg was a one-on-one battle between Nana and German ace Mina Meier. Well, football isn’t really like that – it’s the consummate team sport, where most attacks are the result of patient buildup or precision passing on a quick counterattack, and even the game’s superstars rarely make extended dribbling runs to score unassisted goals. It’s harder to portray the true nature of the game, as the sort of wizardry (I guess I should say witchcraft) we saw from Nana and Mina is flashier and easier to grasp – but it can be done, and I encourage anyone out there to watch (or read) Giant Killing as proof of that. I’ll be interested to see if next season’s manga adaptation Ginga e Kickoff (about a middle-school boy inspired in the sport by a women’s professional footballer) tries to display the team aspect a little more prominently.
That aside, though, there were several elements in this episode that both entertained and gave hope for the future of the series. It’s clear now that the anime (and presumably the manga) isn’t glossing over the difference in skill between Nana and Kakeru, and all the boys whose uniforms she washes. Nana is clearly of a different order of magnitude talent-wise, and that’s a fascinating thing in a shounen series. It’ll be interesting to see how Kakeru deals with this fact, and indeed how the series treats the incongruity of a world-class female player acting as a manager for a team of high-school males. This is obviously a hard thing for Kakeru to swallow, not so much because of the gender issue but because Nana’s success is a reminder not just of how much better she is than he, but how much better his brother was too. Trying on Suguru’s uniform in front of the mirror is a watershed moment for Kakeru, and his reaction reveals that he’s both realistic about the gap that exists and willing to work to close it. Kakeru’s good, but he’s not a genius – and I like that as a story element.
Hand in hand with this of course is the relationship between Kakeru and Nana, which continues to be a strength of the series for me. We’re not talking about Adachi-like levels of subtlety, but there’s some substance to their friendship – it’s obvious that they have a lot in common but that’s only the start of their bond. I think their growing closeness and the very gradual intrusion of physical attraction into the relationship is portrayed quite well here. Right now Seven sees herself as supporting Kakeru, but I can easily see their roles shifting to some extent as the story progresses. I think Kakeru is seeing that as well, and even more, I think he’s finding the idea of supporting her quite an attractive proposition.
I’m still not sure whether the obsession with Nana’s beauty is insulting or intended as social commentary – this is a very real issue for female athletes everywhere. Either way, it’s really nice to see women’s football get some serious attention in an anime (although I think Nana overstates the popularity of the game in America) and I’m relieved to see it’s going to continue to be a major focus, as the way it was largely ignored for a while had me faked out. I’m also pleased to see the issue of the culture clash between SC and FC isn’t going to be glossed over, and that the very real tensions this forced marriage would cause are going to be explored in more depth. The Enoshima team has some real structural issues – two pools of players trained in completely different philosophies of the game, and far too many players for one high school team. I don’t know if the second schism hinted at in the preview is going to happen, but at the very least those difficulties are going to be confronted in the story, and that’s a positive development as well.