Ginga e Kickoff – 21-22

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Shaka, when the walls fell.

I’ve been so busy I’ve fallen way behind on just about everything, and these two episodes of Ginga e Kickoff have been sitting on my hard drive, calling out to me.  I’ve been waiting for that special moment to watch them as a reward to myself, when my schedule isn’t so backed up and I have time to savor them – but I realized that’s not coming anytime soon, so I finally caved and watched them.  And what a pair of barnburners they were, though some of the heaviest ground GeK has covered (in more ways than one).

As a template for series about sports and series about kids, it would be hard to top Ginga e Kickoff. There was advancement for just about every character in the series over these two eps, the first of which covered the second half of the match with Heavenly and the tiny terror, Aoto.  This was an interesting match in that it was really the first time the Predators had been pushed hard over the course of a full match, and the tension was amped up to an entirely different level than it had been in earlier matches.  Further complicating matters was the injury to Kota, which would prove the decisive event of these episodes, and offer his character perhaps the greatest growth of any of the Furuyas so far in the series. 

Then there’s Erika, who clearly has it bad for Aoto and in a big way.  Not only did she obsess over every play as an opportunity to get him to notice her, but she actually asked for his autograph after the match (I suppose she could have offered to swap jerseys in the grand soccer tradition, but maybe that would have been too forward for sixth-graders).  Given what we know about Aoto’s future role in the series, that will clearly be something to keep an eye on.  What strikes me about Aoto is that he doesn’t ever seem especially happy – for a little boy who’s preternaturally gifted at soccer he seems to take no joy in it.  His coach has assigned his teammates to be “pawns” and licensed Aoto to bypass defending entirely.  You get the feeling that Aoto would actually like to be part of a team (hint, hint) but for now the only one he seems close to is Tagi, and there’s a strong sense that both sides are pained because of a perceived abandonment by the latter for the former.

This lesson has clearly been learned  by Kota, who throws himself into the “just win, baby” camp with complete abandon.  Even when it comes to triplet-teaming Aoto Kota is on-board as long as it helps the team win, and the match is plugging along in a much tighter style than the first half.  Masaru-san-chan continues to urge his players forward, and Shou just misses a goal on a rebound.  But when Kouta is hurt after helping secure the tying goal with a header, everything changes – not only are the Preds down to 10 players, but the remaining triplets are ineffective without the third leg of the tripod.

Seeing one of his players hurt, of course, brings back some dark memories for Masaru – the ones that drove him out of coaching.  Kota proves he has an iron will and a huge heart by pleading to re-enter the game and pledging he’s in no pain, but Masaru knows the truth – and against his better judgment lets Kota play anyway.  I sympathize – it’s easy to see how hard it is to say no to a kid who really, really wants to help the team in its biggest game ever.  Kota even manages to score the tying goal with his wrong (right) foot, and that’s after Aoto actually starts playing defense and accidentally re-injures Kota’s ankle.  The team concept reigns supreme.  The climax of the Heavenly match comes when Reika of all people scores the winning goal in extra time, urged forward by Masaru and Shou and forgotten by the defense.  Her facial expressions during this scene alone are worth the price of admission.

If Ginga e Kickoff does a great job portraying the thrills of childhood athletic success, it’s equally good at the heartbreak (which is every bit as powerful in RL).  The writing is on the wall for Kota, his ankle swollen like a balloon, and while Masaru finally puts his foot down he blames himself for waiting too long.  With Amarillo and Kageura as the finals opponent and the rain pelting down, the Predators never really stand a chance playing a man down.  But the real sadness comes not from losing the match and a trip to the national tournament, but in the knowledge that the Predators as we know them are no more – the 3-U are leaving as promised.  Losing a treasured team of friends is even more painful for kids than losing the big game, and the scene where Shou and 3-U break down and hug their final goodbyes is one of the most realistically sad in anime for a long while.

We know – and have since the first ED, really – that the Predators will emerge in a new form like a butterfly from the chrysalis, but that doesn’t take away the sting.  Masaru-san-chan has apparently decided he’s incapable of coaching without putting kids in danger, and is handing in his resignation letter – now that sounds like a job for the Tireless Terrier.  Shou leading by force of will is his natural state, and it’s time for him to take over off the field again. 

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  1. S

    My favorite episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Also quite an apt reference and a good pun at the same time. Nice job, Enzo.

  2. e

    @SQA: ahh, thanks for pinpointing the reference. I've watched too little Star Trek to get it.

    You managed to hold on watching for so long? You have an iron will you good sir. I toast you.
    No kidding, if after Reika's goal I was pumping my fist in the air by halfway episode #22 I was bawling basically. Bawling I tell you.
    Spoilerific OP notwithstanding, it was still hard to watch the Preds disbanding and Masaru resigning. Good writing. It really makes you care for the cast.
    The more I watch it, the more I'm baffled this little gem of a series is not more popular.

  3. N

    So I'm guessing there's a time skip coming soon, after which there'll be a thin Reika..

  4. R

    My reaction to these two episodes can basically be summed up as first


    And then the second half it was just


    And that's the just the condensed version. That was a horrible, horrible mood whiplash and I kinda felt like crying with the 3U and just flipping my laptop out the window T_T

  5. e

    @Rita: ahah, I know the feeling(s).

  6. It was nice to see they gave Kota a crying moment, because the triplets have been portrayed as somewhat unrealistically older than they supposedly are. It's certainly true that they're at an age where the difference in maturity between one kid and the next can seem like a century, but they're still sixth-graders and it was good to see some age-appropriate vulnerability.

  7. R

    I don't know if it's just a cultural clash or such, but I went to an honors magnet type school for 4th-6th grade and let me tell you, there were kids in 6th grade that seemed even more mature and intelligent (and arrogant) that the triplets here XD; On the other hand though, you had kids I swear were still in kindergarten so, definitely both sides of the spectrum.

    But I definitely agree, although I have to say watching Kota of all people break down crying was the start of my practically nonstop quibbling and fighting the urge to just bawl and shout and throw a giant tantrum because NO YOU CAN'T DO THAT TO MY POOR BABIES.

    I have far too many feelings about a kids' sports anime at the moment @_@ Probably more feelings than towards any other series these last few seasons so DARN IT ENZOU. I don't know whether to blame or praise you for introducing me to this series because MY HEART. T___T

  8. B

    Some great episodes. I didn't really get as depressed as some apparently when they lost the finals, Maybe this is a small bit of genre savvy shining through but when you pretty much know what's about to happen a lot of the sting is taken out of it. Only thing that made me depressed was Kota not being able to play. Poor kid, finally learning the all important teamwork lesson and then this happens. I hope it doesn't stunt his character growth and cause him to revert back to "watch out for #1" mode.

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