Yes, the soccer anime is here! I never thought I’d be saying that until a week ago when I was writing up the Spring 2010 Preview and stumbled on this little gem. First off, I’d like to reiterate that I’m probably the farthest from being a sports anime fan, with the most recent series I watched remotely related to sports being Taishou Yakyuu Musume. Hardly what you can consider a sports anime as you can probably imagine, and I only really watched it for the cute female cast of characters. However, GIANT KILLING is different. Here we have a testosterone-pumping soccer team striving for improvement and oddly, I like it! The main reason for that of course is the impression I got from the manga and how the main character, Tatsumi Takeshi (Seki Tomokazu), loves playing the underdog and uses seemingly unorthodox strategies to guide his teams to victory.
This first episode served as an introduction to all that, and depicted how the management at his former Japanese club, East Tokyo United (ETU), went to England to coax him into becoming the current team’s new coach. What they found there was a man living it up and basking in the town’s love for him, after he had taken an amateur club to the final 32 in the FA Cup in only a few short years. Now that may not sound like much, but when you consider that the FA Cup is a tournament where all the professional teams compete in, it really puts things into perspective. Before being able to make the top 32, an amateur club has to have defeated at least one professional club, which is a huge upset known as “giant killing” in the soccer world. It’s literally David versus Goliath, except the stage is a soccer field and Tatsumi has the track record to make you believe he can pull it off.
Fast forward to the present. Tatsumi returns to ETU as their new coach, but the current state of the team is pretty abysmal since they can’t win. To make matter worse, management has to deal with the rabid supporters who deem Tatsumi a traitor for leaving the team when he was one of the star players years before. At that time, Tatsumi left for Europe to pursue personal interests, causing several of the other key players to leave the as well. It was all downhill for ETU from that point on, until their one ray of hope, Murakoshi Shigeyuki (Okiayu Ryoutarou) a.k.a. “Mr. ETU”, became captain and brought the team back to a decent level of competitiveness.
On Tatsumi’s first day in his new position, he shocks the entire team, management, and even the coach, when he divides the team by the players’ 30 meter sprint times, which he had them do continuously before arriving fashionably late, and declares his picks the new starters (i.e. regulars). Seeing as his group is comprised of second string bench warmers and excluded “Mr. ETU”, no one is able to take Tatsumi seriously at that point, especially when he has no idea how well any of them can handle the ball. However, to silence those complaints and doubts, Tatsumi challenges the coach to take on his group of players with the supposed stars of the team and see if he can win.
Now how’s that for “WTF” impact? I loved this opening part in the manga, and it gets even better when you realize that Tatsumi’s not just all talk. He’s not a complete miracle worker either, but there is a method to his madness which you’ll see in the next episode. While I understand such a premise won’t be appealing to a lot of people, I really enjoy the whole “underdog story” thing going on here and how it makes you second guess yourself before looking down on anyone. In reality, things don’t really ever pan out as nicely as they do here, so I like how this is an inspirational story at the same time.
With that in mind, I was really excited watching this first episode and didn’t really mind how they changed the portion of the story in England to a series of flashbacks. It did sacrifice some of the impact from Tatsumi’s days managing his British club, but it allowed the main story to get on track much quicker. I felt that was an acceptable trade-off, but I couldn’t overlook how Studio’s DEEN‘s work here is pretty lackluster and leaves much to be desired. It’s likely that NHK’s broadcast doesn’t help much, but it’s still a far cry from the work they’re putting out for Hakuouki‘s first episode. There also seems to be a heavy reliance on computer generated scenes, particular the huge stadium ones seen in the opening sequence, which I personally don’t mind but still perceive as a cost-cutting shortcut.
Overall, there’s no question that I wish this series was produced better (and by a more consistent studio), but that’s really not going to stop me from watching it. I’m here for the underdog story first, so the soccer theme and even lack of superb animation quality aren’t going to sway me away at this point.
P.S. Humorously enough, this first episode had a fair bit of English dialogue from an English voice actor, but it wasn’t very good from an acting standpoint. It’s okay though, as we won’t be seeing the British club’s general manager too much.