Disclaimer: I’ve seen through episode 37 of Ginga e Kickoff raw, though 35 just came out in subtitled form this week. I’m quite conflicted about what to do from here, because the series has just finished airing, but I can’t quite bring myself to watch the last two eps in raw form. I really want to be able to understand exactly what I’m seeing in detail, and savor those final moments. Yet I also loathe the idea of waiting an extra month or more while the finale is out there, begging to be watched.
For now we at least have episode 35, which chronicles the start of the Galaxia Cup. Momayama has been placed into a group with Spain, Portugal and Morocco, a sort of pint-sized Grupo de Muerte it seems to me, and the tournament seems to be structured much like the World Cup – two clubs from each group advancing from the group stage to the knockout rounds. The big difference is that all three pool play matches happen in one day (ah, to be 12 years old). The kids from Momayama seem remarkably calm about the whole process, and Ryuji takes quite a leading role at this point – even asking Hanashima to let them make their own strategic decisions for the group matches. He’s always been a laid-back coach in terms of letting the kids play rather than smothering them with direction – which I heartily approve of – but this is a pretty bold move at this stage of the game.
Of course, the kids are keeping a secret from their coach – the “Galactic World Cup” they envision themselves starring in after the Galaxia Cup is won. That’s one of three major storylines playing out, including the tournament itself, and the third also involves secrets – we also have Tagi and the girls, along with Kyouko, on their clandestine mission to try and find Aoto’s father. He’s apparently a player in the second or third-division in Spain, but he proves surprisingly difficult to track down – indeed, about the only thing we learn in this thread is that Reika-chan speaks decent English and Kyouko is a terrible driver. It might seem odd to see all these nationalities using English to communicate, an anime conceit – but I can tell you from my experience living in Japan and going to school with Europeans from several countries – the go-to language when people need to communicate is English.
Despite the fairly major developments going on, for me the best elements of the episode are the slice-of-life moments – especially watching Shou and Hanashima try and deal with the spotlight. These two actually have a lot in common in that neither one of them is especially good when all eyes are on them, and the scene where they try to navigate a reception for captains and coaches – with almost no English between the two of them – is both charming and hilarious. The camera crew filming the Preds for Japanese TV is clearly getting on Masaru-san-chan’s nerves – he’s grouchy from jet lag anyway – and he’s also not especially pleased to see the extra attention Reika and Erika are getting as the only two girls in the tourney. He’s declared his intention to let the kids provide their own direction and so far he’s sticking to it, but it’s clear he’s beginning to worry a little that their heads are being turned by the celebrity of the moment.
The other interesting moment in that scene comes as Shou steps back from his nervousness at the banquet and sees the room as if it were a soccer pitch – one crowded with tables and people, but not without available space to pass the ball. It’s sort of a combination of his experience with blind soccer and as a waiter in his Mom’s yakiniku-ya, and further evidence that he’s continuing to develop his natural instincts as a field general. Ryuji seems to be usurping some of Shou’s role in terms of preparation, but when it comes to the games themselves he’s still the one standing at the back, seeing everything develop. With the competition steeping up so steeply in quality, there’s not much room for error – as proves in the group stage, where the Predators barely advance from their group by winning their final match with Morocco after losing to Spain and tying Portugal (no word on whether Portugal’s star player refused to take a PK). The big tests are yet to come – indeed, this episode was really a stage-setter for the dramatic events to come. I just hope we get to see them play out sooner rather than later, or I’m going to have a hell of a decision on my hands.