If there’s anything that’s surprised me a bit in the first five episodes of Days (and what I’ve read of the manga), it’s how earnest it is. Yasuda-sensei’s Over Drive is a considerably snarkier (and weirder) series, I think it’s fair to say, but this is a series that plays it pretty straight. There are a few subtly edgier moments slyly inserted (and that will continue) but on the whole I think what you see what you see with Days is what you get.
I wonder if part of the reason for that is Yasuda’s first sports love being soccer (he’s written two manga about it) – it’s certainly clear in watching Days that his love for the game is genuine, and it’s infectious. And one of the best things about it is that a five foot-nuthin, hundred-pound chibi like Tsukishi-kun can do well at the sport. So far we haven’t seen so much of his skill on display, only his engine and his lungs – but that’s obviously going to change. And anyone who doubts that little guys can have big skills need only reference N’Golo Kante (and oh, how Leicester City will miss him this season).
With only two cours to work with MAPPA has compressed some of the material in the early manga chapters, and we’re already at the first team selection – for the inter-high. That’s going to be the last tournament for striker Kasahara (“Kassano”), who’s moving away to care for his ailing Grandma. Tsukishi helps him with shooting practice every night, but Kazama opines that Kasso-sempai is too “play-it-safe” to be an effective striker. It’s no sure thing that Kassano is going to be chosen for the 17-man squad – and I think we can all see where this is going.
It’s probably fair to ask – why would the coach select someone like Tsukishi, even as a reserve, when there are clearly more skilled and experienced options available? There’s a concession to dramatic necessity here, no doubt, but believe it or not there is a legitimate thought process too. For a sub sometimes you’re just looking for a player who can provide one thing – dominance in the air on crosses, set piece skills, whatever it is. And energy is one of the most valuable commodities any player can bring off the bench, especially as substitutes in soccer (teams are limited to three per game) usually come when most of the players on the field are on tired legs and sport screaming lungs. There’s also the value of showing the team that the guy who works the hardest in practice gets rewarded – and with high-schoolers that’s not a trivial consideration.
Of course, Kassano is the other guy who works the hardest in practice, but there’s never any question he’s going to be Tsukishi-kun’s biggest supporter once the die is cast. Tsukishi does do a bit of a Lag Seeing impression here, but when the time comes he’s actually called into service – when Seikishi, “running in mud” due to nerves in their first game, needs an energy boost. And Tsukishi provides exactly that, though not much else (including the coach’s instructions, which he’s forgotten) – in fact he gives away a PK on a handball in the box, though the keeper saves him and Seikishi manages to scrape out a 1-0 win. On the train afterwards Tsukishi is thoroughly scolded by Ubukata (who really ought to do her own job before she starts lecturing people about theirs), but seems to make a new friend. That’s Indou Kaoru (Seki Tomokazu), captain of Seikishi’s rival Sakuragi, and he’s moved by the video of the match showing Tsukishi’s friends cheering him on. I’ve yet to see a series that wasn’t made better by adding Seki-san to the cast, so hopefully he has a major role in episodes to come…