It’s nice to see Ginga getting some traction among the fan community, in Japan anyway. There was the Sankakau poll that had it at #19 in the “Series You’re Wasting Your Life by Not Watching” poll. Doujins are starting to pop up. I’m even seeing a dribble of post traffic on places like Animesuki. I’m not holding my breath for one of the big stream sites picking the show up or anything, but it seems as if quality is winning out to some extent – really good shows will always find an audience, even if it’s a small and devoted one that doesn’t buy Blu-rays.
Episode 12 was pretty much all Reika-chan all the time. To be perfectly honest it wasn’t one of Ginga’s strongest efforts – there really wasn’t much drama (come on, did you really have any doubt about how it was going to end?) and the emotional exposition was fairly heavy-handed. Still – it was honest, as this series always is, and this was definitely an episode that had to happen. We needed to see Reika’s family issues and have them resolved definitively, and now that they have the series can move on to more interesting ground. And it’s certainly easy enough to root for Reika-chan the muddy ojou-sama.
We’ve definitely seen the sheltered ojou-sama who wants to play with the poor kids trope done before, but Ginga is handling it with some style and originality. I like the fact that she’s heavy, but that the series treats that subject in a dignified way – it’s an obvious factor in her athletic ability, but it’s neither played for humor or treated frivolously (see: Area no Kishi). The drama here may have been predictable, but at least it wasn’t overplayed – I like the notion that the resolution comes from Mama coming to watch Reika-chan in action on the field (though I still think she gave in a bit too easily for pure realism’s sake).
The highlights of the episode for me were definitely Reika’s flying header (reminiscent of Nishida-kun’s “Immelman Turn” capture in Chihayafuru) and the visit to Erika’s family. Natch, she has a Ronaldo poster (have a nice flight back to Lisbon, Pretty Boy – “take the 5th PK” my ass) but I’ll forgive her for that because her banter with her Dad was priceless. What I’m really looking to see more of now is Shou in action on the pitch – he is the MC after all. He’s proved his worth as a leader both on and off the field, but even in the 3-on-3 mini game we’ve seen very little of him on the ball, showing us how he’s improved his actual soccer skills.
Happily, episode 13 marks a return to form and was one of the series’ best. I was totally wrapped up in this one from start to finish – pretty much shouting my outrage at the screen by the end of it. There’s a certain something that’s hard to define that separates the really good sports shounen from the pretenders, and it often manifests itself in these game episodes where you’re so swept up in the action that it feels as if you’re watching a real sporting event, except that you’re friends with the players. And Ginga e Kickoff definitely has that something with some to spare.
I absolutely love the way this whole issue with the referee has been portrayed, because it brings a kind of subtlety that you just don’t often see in sports anime. It’s a difficult question, what constitutes appropriate on-field behavior for 12 year-olds. If they follow the rules of the sport, should that be enough? We’ve already seen indications that the Demon Triplets are more than capable of unpleasant behavior both on and off the pitch, and it’s obvious that their father has some serious concerns – and that the boys themselves are aware of how their father feels.
All that gets thrown out the window, though, when integrity comes into the equation. It’s absolutely 100% inexcusable for an official to allow his personal feelings to influence the way he calls the game, no matter the sport, whether we’re talking about elementary-schoolers or professionals. And we got an egregious example of that here – a guy who simply doesn’t like the Demon Triplets and decides to do everything he can to punish their team. Hell, he even proudly tells them up front that he’s going to screw them over – and then proceeds to do so every chance he gets. He turns a blind eye to fouls – even dangerous ones like elbows to the head – by the Predators’ opponent, Kobayashi. And there are plenty to ignore, as they’re a physically strong team only too willing to bend the rules to bully their opponent. He also calls fouls and issues yellows to the Triplets every chance he gets, even when their play is clean. Frankly, it was a disgusting display.
Fortunately two things happen here that save the day – the Trips show they’re smarter than we might have thought, and Hanashima-san again shows what a great coach he is. He offers the Furuyas simple advice – don’t let the crooked ref get into your heads, and play your own game. After showing the maturity to lie low and avoid trouble in the scoreless first half, they’re clearly bursting to let their talent show. And who can blame them when they reach into their bag of tricks – wetting down their hair again to become indistinguishable and taking it to Kobayashi. Even the refs best attempt to red-card Kouta – giving him a second yellow for a play in which two opponents simply ran into each other – it turns out he has the wrong boy. I suspect the 3-0 victory the Predators earn here will be their sweetest yet, consider they had a very influential 12th opponent on the pitch.
I’m also pleased that Hansahima didn’t simply let this go – he hit the ref right between the eyes with “I wonder of that officiating was gentlemanly” and pledging to lodge an official complain with the soccer association. That showed me a lot – that Masaru was unwilling to see his kids face an injustice without fighting it himself. This “beautiful game” stuff is definitely not over – it’s clear when the Furuyas’Dad gives “Masaru-chan-san” the videos from their three matches that he doesn’t think it is, and Hanashima himself had an interesting moment earlier when he saw himself in Kouta-kun. It’s a tough question – are elementary-schoolers too good for the competition really obliged to dumb down their game in the name of sportsmanship? And what is the coach’s responsibility when their superior talents and extreme confidence lead to ugliness?
Once again my single disappointment is not seeing Shou-kun more involved in the play. I’m hoping that comes with time – for now he’s effectively a playing coach, but on some level he must burn to get more involved in the game with his own power. Also of note is the re-introduction to the narrative of little Takuma Aoto-Gonzalez, Kouta’s arch-rival and future opponent in this tournament. Here we see him practicing with the boy who will eventually become the Predators’ keeper, Sugiyama Tagi (Ikeda Kyousuke). Takuma-kun’s father is Spanish, but he idolizes the Argentinian Maradona – showing unerring control in mimicking his technique of repeatedly knocking the ball off the crossbar – and Tagi is currently playing basketball. But OPs and EDs can’t be denied, so these two lads will surely be Predators soon – presumably taking the place of the borrowed fifth-graders.