It would be silly to question the judgment of TYO and the creative team behind GeK now, because they pretty much haven’t put a foot wrong in 34 episodes thus far. It seems as if 5 episodes isn’t enough time to do justice to the Galaxia Cup in Barcelona, never mind the “Ginga World Cup” the kids are talking about – but these guys will figure it out, just as they’ve figured everything else out beautifully so far. It would be nice to think the possibility of more anime down the road exists, but even though the series has been a bigger success in Japan than most would have predicted, I know that’s a long shot. I’m just going to savor every minute and trust the series to deliver the ending that will do justice to everything that’s built up to it.
This was certainly a breather episode, but a darn good one – and probably one that was absolutely essential. I just don’t think it would have been wise to go straight from the epic intensity of “Momayama vs. Amarillo” directly into the final competition of the series – the characters and the audience needed a week to savor the moment, and prepare for what’s to come. That means our first in-context focus on Shou’s father, a chance to bask in the admiration of friends (including a “Return of the Jedi” moment), an exciting opportunity to square off against J-Leaguers and a much-deserved look back at some of the moments that led us to this point. This ep was an abject lesson to every studio that burdens the audience with a dull recap episode on how to recall the emotional highlights of a show in context with what’s happening in the show right now. Recap eps have given memories a bad name in anime, but they have their place and GeK demonstrated that this week.
There are very few elements of the series that have left me unsatisfied, but the storyline involving Shou’s Dad is one. Apart from a special episode that was dedicated almost entirely to the topic, I can’t recall even a specific mention – although I’m sure I could have forgotten a brief one. That’s why it was so nice to see the episode open with Shou talking with his father, sharing his medal with him and thanking him for everything he’d done to instill his love of football in his son. Shou is a relentlessly upbeat and forward-thinking boy (perhaps enough to be called exceptionally so, though not unrealistically) and this scene is very much in character – not at all maudlin or somber, but joyful, if reserved. I’m thinking we may see more of this thread as the Barcelona storyline develops – perhaps even in a sort of parallel with Gon-kun’s search for his own missing father (whose face is seen at last).
Naturally, it’s Tagi who’s taking the lead in trying to reunite father and son in Spain – though I’m not quite sure it’s such a good idea, considering as how the father apparently abandoned the son without so much an an email or letter. Gonzales-san is a club player in Spain, it seems, and Tagi enlists the help of Erika and Reika (only those two, interestingly enough) to find him. Again here, I’m expecting this to be approached in a positive and uplifting way – Gon-kun seems not at all depressed about the prospect or meeting (or failing to meet) his father again, and I don’t think he’s going into this scenario with unrealistic expectations.
As for the Predators’ matchup against the Chiba Thunderbolts, the Director is as good as his word – better in fact, as the Preds get to do more than just get their promised chance to observe practice. There’s a little on-field training, followed by a mini-game against the J-Leaguers themselves – thanks to their coach (who speaks broken Japanese with a ridiculous accent whose intended origin I couldn’t tell you) and his soft spot for cute girls. I was reminded just a bit of Major S1 and the game against the shopping district team, except these were real professionals – and as expected from a series that cares as much about realism as this one, there’s no miraculous win for the 6th-graders. Even with the big boys observing some rules to limit their size advantage (some of which they seemed to forgot momentarily as they saw the kids were pretty good) they quickly run up a 5-0 lead in the 5-minute game (poor Tagi never stands a chance) before the kids – thanks to their “Change” tactic – manage to sneak in a late goal off Aoto’s right boot. I love the fact that the kids weren’t at all bummed out about this result – they saw it for what it was, a chance to scrimmage against adults who hopelessly outgunned them but didn’t embarrass them.
If there’s a downside to the Thunderbolts trip, it’s that Ryouko has invited a documentary crew along, and they plan to film the Predators entire Spain journey. Hanashima-san doesn’t seem too thrilled, and it’s easy to see why – Ryouko is obviously in love with the camera, but the last thing he needs is for the kids to be distracted by the prospect of fame when they’re facing their toughest challenge ever. Tagi-kun even warns Gon that he’s going to have to learn how to deal with the media better than with “I score goals, that’s all.” Based on Shou’s performance at the school assembly though, he should be fine – as usual he’s stumbles a bit on the way (literally) but rises to the occasion and surprises even Erika with his eloquence. Shou always comes through when the chips are down, on the pitch and off, and seems to have no ego to derail him – though he has his shares of self-doubts. If he’s the be the face of the Predators as they take to the world stage, they’re in pretty good shape.