It’s a measure of how invested I’ve become in the characters here that when they show signs of real growth, I sometimes feel as proud of them as if they were my own kids (not that I know what that feels like, of course, but I can imagine). Soccer is life for a lot of fans, and that was the subject of the other great soccer series of the last half-decade, Giant Killing – but GeK means it in a very different way. This series is about soccer, but it’s about how soccer changes the lives of the kids (and adults) at the center of the show, not how their lives revolve around it.
It only makes sense that when Hanashima-sensei is facing a crisis of confidence over his ability to be a good mentor to the children in his charge, he would turn again to Youhei, the young man whose serious injury caused Hanashima to leave coaching. It’s clear that Youhei has long since forgiven Hanashima – indeed, I would say more likely he never blamed him at all – and considers him a friend and father figure, but Masaru-chan-san still hasn’t forgiven himself. While there are legitimate football reasons for the field trip to Chiba, it seems to me that this was a very personal trip for Masaru.
I don’t want to dump on Area no Kishi, because in spite of its flaws I liked the series a good chunk of the time, but it’s really startling to see the difference in the way the shows handle the learning of new skills and the personal development of the players. When stuff happens in GeK it’s earned through hard work and often painful failure, so when success is achieved it’s easy to see why the players (and the adults) feel so elated – and it’s hard not to share that feeling yourself. For the Triplets, the journey has been to a large extent one of learning humility. For Shou, it’s been learning to believe in himself and recognizing not only that he has very real strengths that are his alone, but that he can get better at the things he struggles with. And this blind soccer field trip is uniquely suited to helping both Shou and the Furuyas on their journey.
Of course, that also serves as another admirable example of how great a coach Hanashima is, whether he admits it or not. His decision to make the four boys try blind soccer is very revealing, and the obvious result that they’re easily defeated by Youhei early on (even when not blindfolded) is only the beginning. I would have expected Ouzou – the most analytical and observant (and patient, despite being the youngest) of the triplets – to catch onto the game first. And indeed he does, grasping that the trick is not to rely on his ears instead of his eyes, but to rely on his mind and to trust his instincts about where the others players on the pitch are going to be. No one knows his brothers’ tendencies like he does – and no one knows the patterns of all of them like Shou, who I’d also expect to figure the game out quickly. He does, after a slow start, and starts the chain of possession that leads to the boys’ first goal against their experienced opponents.
My favorite part of the episode came when Hanashima – as always two steps ahead of the curve – slyly demonstrates to Shou the others lesson he wanted to be taught by this training. Shou has learned to dribble without looking down (how much more satisfying was that than when Kakeru learned in AnK?) and his infectious joy at the realization plays as totally genuine because of the way the episode played out. We all have our mentors, those whose guidance is important on our journey – no less so Hanashima, in Coach Nagabuchi – and GeK is the story of the mentors as much as it is the students, and of the rewards both sides get out of the relationship.
The GeK special has finally been subbed, and while a lot of it is two former National players narrating clips of early episodes, it’s well-worth a watch. Next ep it looks as if Erika’s plan was indeed to try and coax Aoto onto the Predators, though we also get what appears to be some kind of intense pickup game that the coach is playing in himself. I wonder what the “amazing” thing Erika called to tell Masaru-chan-san about was – Reika, perhaps? The sight of Erika fangirling all over Aoto might prove an interesting development in the character side of the story – has Shou grown up enough to be troubled by it?