Ginga e Kickoff – 27

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You can consider this an unpaid commercial for the best series almost none of you are watching.

I’m going to ask the LiA readers to bear with me for a bit, because I’ve been thinking for a while of using the bully pulpit of RC for a little preaching about Ginga e Kickoff.  So, this post is going to be as much about the series itself as it is about this episode – and yet another excellent one it was – in an attempt to give new viewers some understanding of just why this is such an excellent show.  I’m under no illusions that this will ever become as popular among Western anime fans as it is Japanese, but I know that at least a few viewers have found GeK because of my posts at LiA.  I won’t speak for everyone but I’ve had quite a few tell me just how glad they are they did, and so far I haven’t had any complaints.

With very few exceptions – most of them exceptions because they’ve scored hugely with fujoshi, like Oofuri, Prince of Tennis and Kuroko no Basuke (Ginga has had some success with this market as well) – sports anime tend to fly under the radar even in Japan, and certainly the West.  The manga are often extremely popular, but the anime don’t get a lot of attention.  And if you add the element of being a series about kids younger than high-school age, and you’ve pretty much used up all your strikes with most fans.  Despite the lesson of shows like Dennou Coil and Noein, shows about preteens are a poison pill for many Western viewers irrespective of their individual merits.  Since Ginga is squarely outside the target zone both in terms of genre and cast, it’s never going to have much of an impact outside Japan.

But here’s the thing – and to me, it’s the only thing that really matters – this show is good.  Not just good, but damn good, and it deserves a lot more attention than it’s getting.  It’s broken through the barricades and become something of a surprise hit in Japan, topping fan polls and spawning a fairly large crop of doujins.  Of course Japan is generally less resistant to sports anime and shows about kids, and it doesn’t hurt that as a nation they’re crazy about soccer.  But the main reason GeK has done well in Japan is because it’s a show of very high quality across the board, a show that entertains and doesn’t pander, and it stands out from the crowd for that reason alone.

So why should someone who hasn’t been watching start watching Ginga now, 27 episodes into what’s at least a three-cour (hopefully more) run?  For me, the gold standard of sports anime about kids is the first season of Major – which is also the best sports anime of the last decade in my view, and certainly the best season in that series (I really don’t consider Cross Game a sports series, for the record).  And Ginga e Kickoff is the best since then.  It combines brisk pacing, excellent animation and art, a very strong cast and superb writing.  It gets the sports part right – the Hippocratic Oath of sports anime just as “be funny” is that for comedy – but it gets the people part right, too.  The kids in this show are flawed but lovable, totally believable creations whose development over the course of 27 episodes has been natural and a delight to watch.  I said a couple of weeks ago that when one of the kids (especially the everyman main character, Tireless Terrier Outa Shou) achieves a real breakthrough in their personal growth, it feels as if I’m watching my own kid celebrate that achievement. 

That, I think, is key.  If you’re going to make a show about kids that’s more than just good entertainment for kids but one that really has something to offer teens and adults, you need to do two things.  First, you need to make those viewers feel a sense of affection for the kids.  Second, you have to have an adult perspective in the series to balance that of the kids, and you have to have humor and drama that appeals to adults on a different level than it does to kids.  Ginga succeeds in spectacular fashion on both scores.  The kids are a cross-section of personalities and talent levels, none of them perfect but all of them fundamentally good kids, precocious without being obnoxiously so.  And in addition to the snappy wit we get to see adult problems presented alongside kid problems, and watch the adults – primarily the coach, Masaru Haneshima – deal with things the kids can’t really understand.  And as for the sports, the on-field action is exciting and realistic, appealing to anyone in the audience irrespective of their demographic. 

So that, in very brief terms, is why you should marathon all 27 eps of GeK and catch up to the current ep.  The fansubs are finally almost caught up and fairly timely, and there’s no time like the present.  Either way if you aren’t already a viewer feel free to skip the next bit where I talk about the episode, which continues in the vein of the last one – the building of the new Momayama Predators in preparation for the Golden Future Cup, an 8-on-8 tournament that offers the Japanese champion a chance to compete in the world final in Spain.  Aoto finding his place on the team is still very much a focus, but the main thread this week involves Erika-chan – and not so much for her Tiger Beat crush on the blonde, blue-eyed Mini-Messi Aoto.

I’ve loved how GeK has dealt with the problems of Tagi in the last few eps – a kid who lost faith in his ability because his body grew too fast to keep up with itself, something many boys face at his age.  Now Erika is facing a very different problem, and one that almost all girls her age who are into team sports deal with – all of a sudden she’s not taller and faster and stronger than most of the boys anymore.  The cast of GeK are sixth-graders, which means this is the last year Erika can compete officially in co-ed soccer.  To make things worse, she’s seeing the two players who were easily a few steps below her – Shou and Reika – take massive strides on their own. 

The reality, of course, is that if you’re a hard-worker it’s easiest to improve when you have the most to improve at.  Add to that Shou is a late bloomer, and he’s at the age where a boy is naturally going to grow into a stronger athlete – benefiting from the same thing that derailed Tagi, who was already tall and strong for his age – and Reika was able to give herself a huge jump-start by losing a lot of weight.  I think there’s a lot of insecurity and jealousy for Erika here.  To be blunt I think she liked the fact that she could look down on Shou and Reika dismissively – though she would only verbally demean Shou, never Reika.  Now though, Shou is a better dribbler and passer than she is thanks to the blind soccer experiment, and if Reika-chan isn’t exactly Carlos Puyol she’s certainly no longer a laughingstock on the pitch.  And some of those boys Erika used to be able to outrun can now keep up with her – or worse.  It’s a tough situation for her, no doubt, and the fact that she’s simultaneously dealing with her first real crush doesn’t help.

But Ginga always give you the positive with the pain, and things are looking up in other respects.  Tagi really steps into his own as a character here (young seiyuu Ikeda Kousuke is doing a terrific job) proving he’s both insightful and patient, offering Erika good advice (take a cue from the diminutive Aoto, who dominates with skill and change-of-pace) but not forcing it on her.  And Aoto is slowly letting his defenses down around the others (up to now, only Tagi has been allowed to be his friend) – picking up the nickname “Gon” (perhaps Nen is the reason he’s such a soccer genius despite his size) from Ouzou and subtly being integrated into the teams camaraderie as the training camp at the Saionji villa continues. He even gets a surprise birthday party thanks to Tagi, though Erika’s cake (250 degrees Celsius, girl – seriously?) proves a bit of a debacle.

All in all, what this ep – the last, seemingly, before the soccer kicks in hard again – accomplished was a perfect balance between Erika’s slightly self-pitying angst (she’s 12 – she’s allowed) and the spot-on carefree vibe of the boys (and Coach Haneshima) having fun and being slightly goofy, which is what 12 year-old boys (and overgrown ones that coach them) do best.  As with many great shows the quality extends deep into the cast list, as even characters like Kyoko are given full, nuanced personalities that make them stand out as individuals.  The Triplets continue to become more and more caught up in the spirit of the team as they exhibit their individual quirks (an octopus as a birthday present?), and fittingly it’s the ever-overachieving Shou-kun who thinks up the perfect last-minute gift for Aoto – a “ticket” promising that the team will get him to Spain, where he hopes to see his father – and makes sure to include Erika (who actually thanks him, which may be a first) and the rest of the team though the entire idea was his. 

Getting the balance right is very difficult to do, and making it look as easy as Ginga e Kickoff does is even harder.  It’s one of the best shows of 2012, and that would be true whether one person or a million were watching it.  I hope the series gets a few more fans as a result of this post but in the end, we watch anime for ourselves – and I’m very happy to have this outstanding series as a part of the anime landscape.

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28 comments

  1. S

    I actually didn't start watching Ginga until you blogged it somewhere around episode 12-13. And I'm so glad I picked it up after seeing it. So thanks Enzo.

    Ginga will definitely go under my top ten shows of this year (though it is awkwardly ending in the middle of January I'll still put it under for 2012). I really wish it would go on for longer.

  2. A

    The best series no one is watching (or at least blogging) is Kingdom.

  3. Kingdom is good – not easy to blog, but good. But Ginga is better IMHO.

  4. l

    "You can consider this an unpaid commercial for the best series almost none of you are watching…."

    For now. No way I'm gonna follow an series like this weekly. Will wait to torrent it.

    I was ignoring this before though, not because it was kid looking, but because it's an soccer anime. As an soccer fan, I hate seeing them do crazy stuff with it. I prefer watching an anime of a sport I know nothing of.

  5. I love soccer too, and I think you might like what they do with it here. It comes about as close as any show to really getting the sport right.

  6. A

    According to the credits, the soccer stuff in it are supervised by J-League. ^^

  7. B

    Apparently children in Japan are never actually taught to read. You could clearly see that the correct temperature was written on the recipe she was following. Erika gets a bit of a pass for being only 12 still but I've never understood this "horrible cook" trope in anime, basic baking (doing it by recipe) is literally the easiest form of cooking there is, all you have to do is follow directions. Put in the amount of each ingredient that the recipe tells you. Cook at the temperature the recipe tells you. Use the techniques the recipe tells you. It literally could not be simpler as long as one can actually read.

    Baking without a recipe is obviously a lot harder as it requires serious understanding of the scientific principles involved so it's a whole different story, a lot of people are bad at that kind of baking.

  8. g

    I'm not watching this currently, but have every intention to do so once I have the time. Currently going through a few series in my anime backlog, and coupled with the huge number of good-but-not-great series this season, it doesn't leave me much leeway to add another series on my currently-watching programme.

    Ever since the excellent Giant Killing, I've been hungry for more football/soccer anime to sink my teeth into. Tried to watch a few episodes of Inazuma Eleven, but just found myself facepalming every few minutes (or seconds during the matches) with everyone using special techniques when defending, goalkeeping, and scoring goals. Glad to see Ginga e Kickoff isn't an anime in that mould.

  9. g

    And speaking of Giant Killing and football/soccer, now that you're in Tokyo and a fan of the game, have you thought of watching a live J-league match, Enzo? I think it would make a good focus for one of your Tokyo Diary posts if you ever do manage to catch a game.

  10. Yes, I definitely plan to catch a game as soon as I can. I suppose it makes sense that I root for FC Tokyo now.

  11. G

    I agree with most of your post, but if there's one thing GeK doesn't have it's excellent animation and art. It however makes excellent use of what little budget it has.

  12. I strongly disagree – I think it's significantly better than most long-running series, especially all-ages ones.

  13. e

    It's solid, just not flashy. Animation is on budget and there are often stills, coloring is kept to basic – no filters, little shading – but I'd argue the chara design is cute and balanced and the color palette is a good safe choice. From a fine arts pro's pov it's also very pleasant in the anatomy and proportions department. And sometimes less is more.

  14. S

    You did good Enzo! 1379 views is a third of what Tonari got as of today on RandomC, so some people were hungry for something new and maybe just some of them had an eye-opener. Maybe not. I mean, for me, your word is good enough for me to put it on top of my "to-watch" list, as long as I don't have to read the reviews of an anime you have read the manga on, lol.

  15. Curiosity is a factor anywhere, and I'm sure a lot of those clicks were people surprised to see the first post on a series in its 27th episode. But if I can pick off one or two as new viewers, mission accomplished.

  16. e

    Bravo! Bravo! I can feel the Ginga love. This was loving but spot-on series advertising.
    About the current episode…
    'picking up the nickname “Gon” (perhaps Nen is the reason he’s such a soccer genius despite his size)' LOL, read my mind or something?
    Also.. gotta love the dramatic Ryuji's screenshot at the buffet table. He loses at the game of life, as cheekily noted by his octopus-loving triplet X,D. Remember dear kid, buffet table eating is an art. An art of war actually. Beware of hungry kids and old ladies especially *thus spoketh a commoner girl*.
    You've already covered – and nailed – Erika's state of mind and character stumble plus Tagi's shining moments of wisdom, so that means… I can bring the silly shippy comments! Because there was a healthy wealth of ship teasing here for one inclined to wear shipping goggles. Erika x Shou (realize the future man inside the current child my little lady! the boy next door's concentrated awesomeness whose dribbling and quick thinking is just but a hint of glorious things to come! ), Tagi x Erika, Erika x Aoto – hey, she got some precious advice and some private fireworks viewing out of it. Fortune favors the brave…. – .
    Last but not least: Kyouko. In that bikini. I have a thing for pretty ladies in lilac carrying both an impressive rack, good brains and strength of character without being fools, crazies or a walking pandering piece of meat (finally a good champion in anime for us busty chicks :,) . It's been so long since Balsa. Thank you Ginga for this additional bit of grace. It evens out the 'girls are bad cooks' trope.

  17. S

    I'm shipping Kota and Reika. 100%.

  18. e

    Well, those two are my OTP among the not yet de-facto couples as well. The utter DELIGHT at seeing them paired together as training mates~~~

  19. L

    I think I'll pass.

  20. R

    Did….you have to go out of your way to say that HERE on this blog (not RC) while a bunch of us fans were busy being happy to get one or two new members into our little group who love this show and being saddened that a lot of people were glossing over it?

  21. a

    Well, maybe he meant a square pass. 😀

  22. R

    AAAaaaahhhh, ok so I knew you were posting this on RC and knew there were probably going to be a couple of dickheads who would start up a row about it, but I don't care. I'm sticking with you until the end with this one Enzou. I absolutely adore this series, and I'd go so far as to say that it's the one that actually got me actively interested in soccer.

    I mean, I like soccer and I watched a few games and whatever before, but it was this show that forced me to go on a wiki binge to make sure I've got all the rules right and names of famous players and big teams and strategies and whatnot so. I'm just glad as long as we can get even a few more people to watch it, because it's REALLY A LOT OF FUN. Which a lot of people in their quest for the next complex, high budget, mainstream series tend to forget about.

  23. Unfortunately RC has become a haven for a few incredibly narrow-minded and stupid commenters who make the vast majority of them who are perfectly reasonable and open-minded anime fans look bad. I once considered switching to a third-party comment system here so a comment rating system was available, but I wouldn't do it now if you paid me after seeing the impact it's had there.

  24. M

    I think that you need to seriously re-examine your own actions and bias before you choose to demean others (including your readership) with petty insults. Furthermore, I found it interesting how you chose to completely ignore my legitimate question about the accuracy or, rather, the existence of your "sources". You're right about the comment rating system. The most "downvoted" comment inversely becomes the most highlighted one of the group. Not to mention, it also discourages dissenting opinions from the overly optimistic RC community. Most of their readership is just looking for someone online to validate their time-consuming hobby (you and I included), and they're not so friendly to those who may suggest otherwise.

    P.S. I was planning on congratulating you on a well-written Chuunibyou review, but this comment made me change my mind. (either way, the sentiment is still conveyed)

    P.S.S. I've also watched all 27 episodes, but I can't say that it lives up to your hype or comparisons to other sport anime.

  25. The funny thing is you expressed no disagreement with what I posted. There are a few narrow minded and stupid posters who adversely impact the experience for the vast majority, who are open minded and interested in having a civil discourse.

  26. M

    Correct. I don't see what's so funny about me agreeing with you that there are immature people on the internet. I just don't like the way you go about it (fighting fire with fire, picking internet fights). From my perspective and the time I've spent perusing your anime blog, your blog/readership seems to be your "lifeblood" or "lifeline" at this crucial moment/turning point in your life. It may slowly dry up or be severed based on your interactions. Anyway, you're still side-stepping my question about Ginga e Kickoff's "dominant popularity" in Japan.

  27. And in addition to bogus pop psychology, you're putting words in my mouth I never said. Life's a funny thing.

  28. M

    Indeed, it is.

    "If I had one phrase I want to say to everyone reading the blog right now, it’d be this: “Please stay with me!”
    Seriously – you can’t know how important this site has become to me, and I hate the thought of losing readers that I’ve come to love conversing with."
    -GE, October 7th, 2012

    It’s broken through the barricades and become something of a surprise hit in Japan, topping fan polls and spawning a fairly large crop of doujins.
    -GE, November 15th, 2012

    In other words… http://i.imgur.com/9V4zh.jpg

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