“The Second Selection”
One of my greater regrets in Fall 2022 was not being able to pick up the rest of Blue Lock to write about. It’s been such a fun, goofy series that begs to question what futbol/soccer would be like if everyone was a selfish monster. It’s a wild and wacky exploration of the kind of world we’d live in if bro science dictated how scouts selected professional soccer players, and the kinds of odd competitions they’d put players through to meet such ridiculous standards.
This Winter, the second batch of episodes will be underway soon, so while I wait to see if I want to cover this for the remainder of the cour, I’ll be doing an obnoxiously-thorough compilation of all the thoughts I have regarding the first cour.
I’m so happy about the come-up that writer Kaneshiro Muneyuki and illustrator Nomura Yusuke have made with this series. My partner and I were super into Nomura’s previous series Dolly Kill Kill and were sad that it ended so soon. Cue my excitement when I found out that their next story wound up being Blue Lock, a highly revered soccer manga about an egotistical scout’s cutthroat search to find the ultimate soccer player to represent Japan.
Back when Japan won their first big match in the World Cup against Germany, the internet exploded in excitement over the team potentially being able to fulfill Ego’s dream of a Team Japan victory. The perfect storm of it airing during the World Cup gave it quite a ton of exposure, but also provided some great counterprogramming for those who aren’t interested in humoring FIFA’s nonsense.
But the beauty of Blue Lock is how its approach to soccer is the polar opposite of why people watch, love, and appreciate the sport. Comradery, teamwork, and chanting loving tributes to your team to the tune of KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Give it Up” are thrown completely out the window. Instead, power and strength as a soccer player come from being the most selfish bastard on your team and cooperating with them only if it makes you look good.
Ego, the scout of the Blue Lock program, lives up to his name by urging his players to be their baddest selves and tap into the darkest parts of their minds to move ahead and destroy the careers of their friends and peers. Instead of “teamwork makes the dream work,” Ego drops whatever motivational soccer player quotes he found on Goodreads or BrainyQuote to turn the competitors against each other as they begin to internalize exactly what they must do to push ahead.
Whether it’s deliberately eliminating one of the most talented players present or backstabbing your own teammates for a shot at being the only one to make it to the next round, the players of Blue Lock reject their own connection with humanity if it means tapping into the beasts inside of them.
What I admire the most about Blue Lock is how it’s unashamedly high off of its own supply. The cruelty is so over-the-top and theatrical as Isagi starts embracing the egotistical desire to destroy his opponents beyond repair. I cackled when Isagi Yoichi got a huge thrill out of watching Ikki Niko sob over having his career come to an end only to be like, “Well, gee, am I a jerk for liking this?” Ikki came back near the end to do his whole victory lap over getting a second chance at getting vengeance on Isagi, but it was hilarious to see him toughen up after Isagi internalized his whole “the weak must fear the strong” powertrip on Ikki the first time around.
The original artist’s experience with action-packed horror like Dolly Kill Kill brings out the most in these characters’ expressions too as it makes all of the players look feral and bloodthirsty. I’ve always got a soft spot for a show where all the characters have crazy eyes, so something like Blue Lock makes for quality entertainment when everyone involved treats soccer like it’s a life-or-death situation.
I think what sells it is that it feels like a world where soccer is a much different game than what we know and understand about it in the real world. Most of these players could really get far in national Japanese teams, far enough even to get on Team Japan. But because they have the pie-in-the-sky dream of winning an official spot on the team, every player that loses acts as if they have no future left to look forward to when they get home.
IT’S ABOUT DRIVE, IT’S ABOUT POWER, WE STAY HUNGRY, WE DEVOUR
The theatrical cruelty of Blue Lock also presents a unique perspective on soccer as a sport where everyone is obsessed with star power. Because Ego’s metrics are more focused on finding a cult of personality out of the contestants, it pushes actual kingmakers in soccer to adopt the same ridiculous logic you’d expect from a fantasy football league or a sports podcast. It’s so ridiculous that it winds up being funny when you have press conferences where players and spectators lick their chops at the prospect of finding the most selfish player to win a World Cup for Japan’s sake.
In a sense, it’s similar to the mentality people have with sports in real life where, instead of understanding that the players have to rely on each other to win, fans act as if star players are the only players who matter, and winning a game means relying on the most competent dickhead on your team.
The 1996-1997 Chicago Bulls were comprised of highly talented athletes who elevated one another, but because Joe Schmo believes Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman were the only players worth their salt, they’re going to assume those three are the only reason they won the Finals. The bread & butter of fantasy football is compiling stats to see which star players will allow a team to get far in the NFL season. Heck, each Super Bowl match-up is often summed up as a fight between their star players.
It also satirizes the level of idol worship that happens when those like Ego discount the efforts other players take to elevate their star players. If Messi says I should be a douche to win, then why would I reject that advice? That’s Messi! Getting his blessing to be selfish SHOULD give me the strength to gain a selfish victory.
BALL IS LIFE
I appreciate that there is still some comradery in spite of their kill-or-be-killed mentality. Once the main teams start to settle in, we get a closer dynamic between the players as they begin to collaborate and understand each other’s mindsets. It makes for some good drama when they’re turned against each other, but it also gives us valuable insight into what kind of hunger drives these players to want to go all out.
It helps that all of the players have a unique take on what it means to play soccer and what it’d take to win Blue Lock. Many of the characters on Team Z are endearing in their own ways, and it can be difficult to see most of them are horrible people out for themselves when they build a close connection with Isagi. Even the worst player on the team, the filthy traitor Wataru Kuon, manages to be an interesting guy because he has enough built-up resentment for being on a team where everyone was content with less that he decided to embrace the worst of what Blue Lock as a competition has to offer
I’m a sucker for Bachira Meguru, the chipper wildcat who channels an inner “monster” to tap into his own primal instincts to gain the upper hand. The dude was cackling, jumping around, completely high off of his own supply, and willing to drop his clinginess towards Isagi if he HAS to ask if he was really that quickly daunted by the most exciting game of soccer yet. He’s a very simple guy because he’s chaos incarnate, but I love the little gremlin and would genuinely say I’m following Blue Lock because it’s the one show that has Bachira.
The other Team Z people are a ton of fun as well. Hyoma Chigiri has a short temper about feeling like he has to give up his dream early, but it was funny to see how pissed he got when Isagi screamed at him to get his crap together, forcing him get his mojo back to dunk on the twins who wouldn’t stop yapping in his ear. I think Rensuke Kunigami is just neat because he’s been nothing but cool to Isagi and looks like Kurosaki Ichigo. People despise Jingo Raichi for being shouty, but I’m a fan because voice actor Yoshitsugu Matsuoka plays him exactly like Inosuke, so now I’m just imagining Inosuke screaming about wanting to kill traitors on his soccer team.
I’m hoping Bachira wins the most, but this would be the greatest sports anime of all time if Igarashi Gurimu wound up winning Blue Lock and stumbling his way onto the world stage as Team Japan’s star player at the World Cup. Igarashi spends so much time slumming it on Team Z and squeezing by based on pure luck that it’d be hilarious to see if he winds up going far just by the virtue of being low-key enough to catch the other players off-guard.
The other teams had quite a few great players too that I grew attached to over time. I loved Reo Mikage’s origin story and how his connection to the beastly Seishiro Nagi is because soccer expertise was the one thing he couldn’t buy as a rich boy, so he was pretty much like “I may not be able to buy talent, but I can buy a close friend with talent!” Even with Nagi’s aloof indifference and Mikage’s money, the last two episodes showed that they have an endearing connection that goes beyond a superficial friendship, especially Mikage who internalizes his bond with Nagi to such an extent that he is emotionally invested in seeing Nagi grow with him.
All of this is to say that, for an anime about treating soccer like a “kill or be killed” sport, Blue Lock is surprisingly humanistic in how it approaches its characters. It’s easy to grow attached to the players you get to know, whether they’re on Team Z or an enemy team. It makes it so that it becomes all the more difficult when the story tells you to not get attached to anyone.
There’s this magnetic kind of chemistry where the characters can get easily attached to you, and yet also repel off of each other. There can only be one player that makes it to the World Cup, but even the main premise aims to discourage you from being entirely closed off from the other players. Not just because the other players are an equal threat, but because their backgrounds are genuinely interesting, and there’s at least a handful of players who it’d be heartbreaking to see get the boot.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM COUR 2
With the end of the first cour, Blue Lock shook things up big time with the Second Selection. As the game switches over to a Red Rover format, it forces players to have to choose between their closest confidants and the strongest guys they’ve encountered. Nagi betraying Mikage because he wanted to be in a trio with Isagi & Bachira is a testament to how the game manages to ruin friendships and kill dreams no matter what skill level you’re at.
They’ve also been pushing Rin Itoshi as one of the scariest players to emerge from the competition. He’s billed as the big, scary, overpowered player in this next stretch, but he’s completely honed in on seeing everyone as stepping stones towards surpassing his older brother Sae.
While this next stretch is going to cover quite a bit of the manga, the Rivalry Battle arc is looking to be an intense and cruel arc that causes many ripples in the interpersonal relationships created in Blue Lock. Longtime teammates are split up, new allies will be gained, and more tears of anger and sorrow will be shed. Will consequences ever be the same? Find out when Blue Lock’s second cour begins this Saturday.
To add to this, there are currently two other shows that are airing on Saturdays that I plan to cover, so it’s not exactly set in stone if I’ll pick up where the anime left off right away. But just know that it’s high enough on my radar that I’d be interested in picking it up in case some of the other shows don’t pan out as well.