Ginga e Kickoff is over – episode 39 aired last week (as far as I know with no surprise announcements of a second season). But the hard decision I was wrestling with has been made – as much as I want to, I won’t watch the final two episodes raw. I’m going to put my fate in the hands of the fansubbers and hope we see the last three eps released fairly soon, but either way, I’ll wait. Simply put, I love this show too much – and I’m too emotionally attached to everyone in it – to savor those last two eps with anything less than full understanding of what’s happening.
As a point of fact I find myself getting quite emotional even now, watching the 36th episode for the second time and first in English – I can’t imagine what those last two will be like. The level of authenticity in GeK in terms of character is startlingly good, and even more impressive than the level of authenticity when it comes to soccer. Watching these kids as they take every step really does evoke the same emotions in me as a viewer that it does in Hanashima as a coach – and the added bonus of having Hanashima as a relatable character (and another wonderful performance by Rikiya-san) makes for a powerful combination. Hanashima is an amazing character, and he’s effectively emerged as the co-lead of the series along with Shou – in practice offering two views on the progress of the team. I can’t think of another youth sports anime that’s so effectively given us the perspectives of both the kids and their mentor.
One thing we saw in this episode (as well as the last) is that these kids are still kids. That means they – especially Ryuji – are capable of arrogance and poor judgment. It puts Hanashima-san’s resolute commitment to letting the kids make their own decisions to the test, and their choice to disdain tactics in the group stage nearly costs them a berth in the knockout rounds. It also, to be blunt, represents a disrespectful act towards their opponents in that round. It’s clear that there are many things that are bothering Hanashima, this not least of them – he also sees the distraction Tagi’s secret plan is causing, and the way Erika’s head is being turned by the bright lights on the TV cameras. Yet he holds his tongue, mostly – never going farther than a couple of stern questions about whether the kids are taking this seriously enough. It could be argued that Hanashima is taking a good thing too far by not taking a more active role in guiding the Predators through the most important tournament of their lives – I’d argue it myself – but I won’t deny his commitment to what he thinks is right, or his faith in the kids.
In spite of their hiccups, the Preds do advance, and their quarterfinal opponent is England – whose troubles on the international stage apparently extend to the preteen level. Just as Shou describes it, England’s style invariably falls back to disdaining the midfield and relying on the long ball – a style that just as invariably fails them in international tournaments. The result here is predictable – Momayama dominates possession and scores a fairly easy win, breaking out their core package of Build and Big Tri but leaving Uzemaki in reserve. Against the Netherlands they have no such luxury – it’s a big, strong team capable of attacking either in the air or on the ground, and one that understands tactics as well. There’s nothing to be held in reserve against this bunch, who storm out to a 1-0 lead quickly, and even Uzemaki sputters a bit at first. That’s when Shou offers his insight once again, and the new tactic is unveiled – the reverse spiral that leads to the eventual winning goal that sende the Predators into the finals.
Truth be told, I think the Galaxia Cup has been too fast-paced – I would have liked to have seen more time dedicated to these matches, and as a result the on-field component has felt a little anti-climactic after the dramatic hurricane of the Amarillo game. But the fact is that the series has something in mind for after this tournament is over, and that’s what it’s building towards – the real climax. That doesn’t mean there isn’t real drama here, as the team prepares for its final match, where it will finally get the chance to take the field at Camp Nou (hello, OP) against (fittingly) a team from Barcelona. I love as much as anything the scene the night before this match, as both the kids and Coach Hanashima clearly start to consider just how much they mean to each other (and so does Momayama-san, for that matter).
The drama of the final scenes of the episode is self-explanatory – the quiet words of encouragement from Hanashima, the slapping of hands, the noise of the crowd. But what I’m left with are the quieter moments, and two especially stand out. One is Aoto-kun’s reaction when he’s finally told of Tagi’s scheme to find his father – “I’m not looking for him. He’ll find me.” I thought that was a wonderful statement of pride from that fiercely proud little guy. And most of all, the conversation between Hanashima and Momayama-san at the party the night before the finals, where a giddy Momayama is reflecting on how many of his stars will make the pros – and he reckons six (the Triplets, Aoto, Tagi and Erika with Nadeshiko Japan). Hanashima-kun wistfully looks at the kids having fun and says, “I think only one will make it.” Momayama misunderstands him to mean Aoto, and Hanashima doesn’t explain why he’s wrong – and I don’t know if the series will ever spell it out – but it’s quite clear who he’s talking about. He just says “You can’t tell unless you have the talent” and leaves it at that, and it’s really all he needs to say – for all the impressive talent his kids have displayed, Hanashima’s sharp eye (Misaki’s as well) has seen who among that group truly possesses something special, and it’s not the one the casual observer would expect. It’s just another example of the way Ginga e Kickoff is so much more than anyone would expect, just like the unsung hero at the heart of the cast.