I feel sorry for anyone who’s either too cynical or too prejudiced against any anime about kids to enjoy this show, because they’re missing out an something really enjoyable. As much as I love darker and edgier material, there’s still something to be said for an animated series that captures the energy and straightforward exuberance of childhood, and sports is often a fine vehicle to do so. GeK is the proof that a show can be intelligently written and complex while still expressing an optimistic view on the human condition, and it’s apparently quite successful in Japan. It’s easily the best sports anime airing now and while none of them tend to get much attention in the English-speaking fan community, this one deserves a lot more.
This episode was very much in that classic mold, taking a step back from the nuanced problems surrounding the Furuya Triplets and their sportsmanship – or lack thereof – and heavy issues of self-confidence surrounding Shou. One of the many thing I love about GeK is the way it slyly contrasts the way kids perceive their problems with the way adults do – difficulties are generally much more straightforward for the young characters, but they aren’t dismissed as trivial – the things kids worry about are every bit as important to them as the stuff adults like Masaru-san-chan worry about is to them. And this time the focus turns to “3U”, – Uematsu, Uchimura and Ukishima.
3U have been an important part of this series right from the beginning – Murayama Predators certainly wouldn’t exist without them, as they were the first to say yes to Shou’s recruiting pitch. But they’ve been background players for most of the story, and it was nice to see them get a little more development. I was a little bit faked-out by the last preview, which had me thinking they might be leaving the team – but while that’s a problem, it’s not an immediate one. They’re all honor students dealing with cram school and exams, yet they’re also old friends who were brought together by soccer and see the clock running out on their time to play the game together. That’s a pretty universal problem anyone who’s been a kid faced with separation from pals can surely empathize with, and it’s why their last days as “3U” are so important to them.
This episode did exactly what background eps for supporting characters should do – filled in the blanks and made each of them a lot more understandable and three-dimensional. It’s obvious that soccer means a lot to them because it was what brought them together as rugrats, practicing in the narrow space between apartment buildings where the adults wouldn’t bother them. Uematsu emerges as the spiritual leader of the trio, the driving force to get them to seize the day and be ready to have a blaze of glory before their soccer days are done. Ukishima is a ninja-buff, and little Uchimura a dreamer who loves Super Sentai. It’s he who comes up with the idea of a “special move” for 3U – something they can rely on when the tougher competition in the city tournament steps up to man-mark the triplets and take them out of the game as an offensive force.
Naturally it’s the captain, Shou, who comes up with the move when 3U draw a blank – their own version of the Furuyas’ “Big Tri”, based on the skills they’ve used kicking the ball off the apartment walls in the alley, and everyone (even Zach) enthusiastically declares their readiness to conquer the galaxy. They decide to call it “Reverse Three”, though Ryuuji seems to think the less-flattering “Little Tri” (the first thing I thought of, to be honest) is more appropriate after seeing it in 3 v 3 mini-game. Of course all of the kids were supposed to be resting for 3 days on coaches orders, but Ouzou was the only one who did (and just what the heck was he reading?) but kids will be kids. 3U still aren’t up to the task of beating the Furuyas, of course – it wouldn’t be realistic otherwise – but Masaru-san is right there to provide them praise and encouragement for their foresight about the difficulties the Furuyas would be facing, and the hard work they’ve put in.
What of a special move for Shou, I wonder – now that everyone else has one? Ever the facilitator, (he can’t help his natural instincts to serve, even turning back into a waiter at the celebratory bask Reika’s Mom throws – his restaurateur genes are too strong) he’s a tireless terrier when it comes to helping his teammates but still yearns to shine with his own skills. That’s obviously what the series is building up to, and I suspect it’s going to make us wait until nearly the end to see Shou triumph in all his glory – but we Ginga e Kickoff fans are used to waiting. As the series has been on a planned hiatus for a month the subs are actually caught up for the first time – there’s a special episode on the 25th focused on how Shou became interested in soccer, with the regular schedule starting up next week. Hopefully we’ll be seeing subbed releases on a regular schedule once that happens, because this is a series that deserves as much exposure as it can possibly get.