「ユース初陣」 (Yuusu uijin)
“The First Youth Match”
Once more I’m struck by the parallels between the two superficially disparate series Ao Ashi and Dance Dance Danseur. Part of that no doubt is timing – I watch them both on Saturdays. But there really is a sort of link here – several in fact. Between sports and dance, between Ashito and Junpei. Call it a “seinen connection” if you want – maybe for all one downplays demographic labels, there’s something to this one that can connect shows of wildly different themes. Certainly it’s the most thematically diverse of all the major demographics in manga, which is one reason why it’s probably my favorite.
Besides both being generally good boys, Ashito and Junpei are quite alike in some ways, starting with their circumstances. Both are passionate about something and want to pursue it as a vocation – against very long odds. Both face a deficit because their peers have far more experience competing at the highest levels. And both are relatively instinct-driven – they understand their passion on a visceral level more than an intellectual one. And both are hitting a glass ceiling in terms of how far relying on that can take them.
Ashito has been at this soccer thing a lot longer than Junpei at ballet, of course. But soccer is like a performing art in that the kids destined for the highest levels are usually groomed from a very young age – either going to elite soccer schools or joining junior clubs, or working directly through the developmental channel of a professional club. Ashito has been playing out in the sticks and only caught their attention by chance (Fukuda’s local connection). What he’s been doing out there is not really football as the elite boys know it – as witness Ashito’s reaction to Kuroda’s attempts to guide him in the 7-on-7 practice match.
Before that, of course, there’s the aftermath of that conversation between Date and Kuroda (and Hana) – which Ashito did in fact overhear. I loved the very Ashito-like fact that the first thing he goes to is “can I have that lunch you were talking about?” But it’s not like he didn’t register all of it – and it’s not as if he’s not seriously pissed off about what Date said. In the moment he chooses to be positive – to focus on what Hana said about being his fan. She’s resolutely loyal, for sure – I’m assuming the player Ashito reminds her of is her brother but either way, she’s unbreakably in his camp. She didn’t even freak out over his calling her cute (though he did), which was a refreshingly un-tropey moment.
Hana is indeed a good person (as is Ashito), but that’s no help between the lines once the whistle blows. In the first place there’s a lot of pressure to try and make an impression in a short (30 minute) game – even Togashi wants to be the one to score. Ashito finds a willing and able facilitator in Motoki Yuuma (Enoki Junya). Their partnership leads to an early goal by Ashito – a lovely one-two set up by Ashito basically luring his defender to advance through a change of pace. Date is right about this being instinctive – Ashito can’t describe his thought process to Motoki after the fact – but results are results.
The problem is Ashito doesn’t keep relying on that partnership with Motoki (or anyone else). It’s ironic that Date’s overheard slander probably made Ashito even more bull-headed about showing off his new skills and doing it all himself, but at this level of competition that isn’t going to work. Selfishness is a necessary skill for good strikers, but that doesn’t mean leaving yourself on an island. It’s Kuroda-kun who really shows off his skills here as a field general, but with Togashi and Ashito he’s basically herding cats. And once the opposition’s Martin Jun Asari (Katou Wataru) starts man-marking Ashito, he basically runs into a brick wall.
There’s one other interesting element here – the junior youth promotes (who Togashi-kun has a serious vendetta against) show a much greater ability to adjust than than the tryout winners (and Togashi). As Date notes, this reflects their history in the development channel, where youngsters are taught from an early age that footballers have to be able to tactically think for themselves. But he’s also reflecting his own bias here – dismissing players as having no chance to learn makes no sense at all. Even the junior youth boys had to learn – and Ashito deserves just as much chance to prove himself just as much as they got.