It’s about time the focus shifted to ETU’s offense, with Tsubaki showing everyone that he’s another player wearing the number seven that they should have their eyes on just as much as Kubota. Leading up to that, there was a fair bit of character development on Natsuki’s end, which left me thinking that he was going to be the one to take the spotlight. Because of that, it was a roller coaster ride of emotions when Natsuki didn’t become the egotistical forward that Tatsumi was hoping he would to take his game to the next level, and instead defaulted to the more respectable team player who considers the ball the culmination of the entire team’s effort when it gets to him.
While I realize that Tatsumi probably wanted him to discover that himself, I still question why he didn’t just tell him straight up that he has to both respect the ball and be a bit selfish with it. This is Natsuki we’re talking about after all, who’s overly earnest and wears his heart on his sleeve, meaning these roundabout forms of advice are too much for him to grasp. This is why he’s a player and not a coach, so he can be told what he needs to do and not be wasting time trying to figure it out himself. From an anime perspective, this self-discovery approach does make for some interesting slow motion thoughts and suspense on the field though. Evidently, there isn’t a whole lot of in-depth dialogue between players in the middle of a game, so this series’ way of making focusing on the thoughts running through their minds more than makes up for it. For detailed explanations of what’s actually happening, that of course is left to the coaching staff on the bench.
In terms of the aforementioned roller coaster of emotions, hearing that Tatsumi was preparing to sub Natsuki out had to be the all-time low. There’s been a fair bit of foreshadowing on how he’d be a key difference maker in this game, so the thought of it being a mistake on Tatsumi’s part rained on that parade. In execution, it just paved way to a sudden high when Tsubaki came blazing back to check Kubota and catch everyone by surprise, including Blanc. At the same time, it gave us a glimpse of exactly what Tatsumi’s bigger plan involved — Osaka underestimating their center half’s speed and stamina. The preview made that more obvious than the actual episode, but the faces of Kubota and Hiraga spelled most of that out. Osaka’s unassuming superstar foward looks completely tapped at this point and dying to be subbed out, whereas their captain looks like he’s reaching his limit as well.
Quite frankly, this momentum swing sparked by Tsubaki was made out to be a guaranteed goal once he sent a cross to Natsuki and the latter let it rip right out of the air just like he showed us when he returned. As such, I was amazed at how they kept the suspense going when the shot rung off the crossbar and Natsuki failed to score to redeem himself. Instead, Akasaki looks like he’s going to play hero first by picking up the rebound and catching Osaka’s goaltender Imai off guard with a shot of his own. I’m still can’t believe they withheld whether or not it went in, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t an absolutely epic cliffhanger. As suspected, this game is going the distance at five episodes now, making it even more likely that the series will conclude around ETU’s victory after this supposed first goal. We have three more episodes to go.