Starting right about now, the much anticipated match between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos will kick off during Super Bowl 50. It is a clash of titans where brains and brawn are put on the line for ultimate glory. There is a lot to look forward to today – game day tailgating, stocking up and gorging yourselves with classic football eats and booze, and enthusiastically expressing your team solidarity. But let’s be real here – the real reason you’re excited today is because Pokemon has a Super Bowl commercial to air today!
When you think about it, football fans are a lot like otaku. Hundreds of thousands of passionate, die-hard fans fly out from all over the country and the world to attend a single event. They dress up in the colors, likenesses, and banners of their favorite heroes. Fans are united by a singular love and passion – whether it is football or anime, manga, comics, or the next Hollywood superhero blockbuster. Naturally, there are also extremely intense rivalries and fandoms in the community. Who is better – the New York Giants or the Philadelphia Eagles? Light or L? the Baltimore Ravens or the Pittsburgh Steelers? Naruto or Sasuke? the Kansas City Chiefs of the Oakland Raiders? Dio Brando or the Joestars??
I’m going to be honest with you all here. I’m not a big football fan. I couldn’t tell you why certain teams are rivals. I really don’t know who is the considered the greatest football player of all time. I kid you not – my “favorite” team happens to be the Baltimore Ravens only because that is where my alma mater is and the fact that their jerseys are purple. That’s it.
This happens to be the case for me and most sports. This is nothing personal to any sports fans out there who are reading this – it just doesn’t click with me. I don’t have the language or right synapses wired into my head to allow for sports to trigger that rush of endorphins and adrenaline so many of you may experience. However, it is a completely different story when sports collides with my personal interests and fandoms.
For example, I have zero interest in soccer. I found my mind wandering off to so many places when watching the 2014 World Cup Finals between Germany and Argentina with my roommate. During E3 2015, I was getting restless during press coverage at the EA Press Conference’s interview with Pele because I just didn’t care at all. However, one of my all time favorite martial arts movies ever is Stephen Chow’s Shaolin Soccer. It is a hilarious, tongue-in-cheek, and charming tale that mixes everything I love about old school martial arts cinema and shonen anime tropes & conventions with association football.
If Shaolin Soccer can make me feel, or at least, empathize and understand where the passion for association of association football comes from – then why not try it for American football? Thank goodness for sports anime because I have the perfect one to recommend for all you diehard American football and/or sports anime fans out there – Eyeshield 21.
Eyeshield 21 is a story about a young, introverted, and timid high-schooler, Sena Kobayawaka, who joins the high school’s American football team (the Deimon Devil Bats) as team manager. But fate has other plans for him, as he is actually the team’s secret weapon. After years of being a gopher and relying on flight-or-fight instincts to escape bullying, Sena has developed uncanny & superhuman speed and the ability to see vector paths & trajectories making him the ultimate running back. With teammates, the demon-eyed Yoichi Himura and the lovable giant Ryokan Kurita, Sena helps the team together to create a rag-tag football team in time to compete and win the coveted Christmas Bowl not only as team manager… but as the legendary, mysterious, faster-than-lightning running back ace known as “Eyeshield 21.”
Admittedly, I am super late on discovering this anime and manga series. I had only found about it recently recently during a book club about One Punch Man hosted by the fantastic comic book shop, Fantom Comics, in Dupont Circle, Washington, DC. What do One Punch Man and Eyeshield 21 have in common? Well, they are illustrated by the same artist!! That’s right – Yusuka Murata-san’s fantastic art styles graces the pages of a whopping 37 volumes of the critically acclaimed manga written by Riichiro Inagaki, which ran in Weekly Shonen Jump from July 23, 2002 – June 15, 2009.
Following the production of an OVA in 2003, TV Tokyo began production of a full-fledged anime series at the end of 2004. The series aired in Japan from April 6, 2005 and March 19, 2008 on TV Tokyo. Surprisingly, to me – at least, Toonami and Viz Media, along with support from the NFL, teamed up to stream the episodes in the United States on Toonami Jetstream. However, the series was never completed due to Jetstream becoming defunct. Personally, I’m not quite sure why this never made it into the full Toonami line-up but I think it is a commendable effort on their part to network with NFL to promote and inspire interest in sports. Here is an excerpt from the ANN article on how the NFL participated:
We are pleased to announce that the Eyeshield 21 US Project has teamed up with NFLRush.com. NFLRush.com, produced by the NFL—America’s most popular sports league—is an interactive website designed for kids to have their own NFL home on the Internet. Offering young fans a unique experience with content, games, contests, daily features on NFL players, and football basics, the site also includes a special section for parents with information about NFL participatory youth programs and initiatives.
Could you imagine if Viz Media, Funimation, Sentai Filmworks, or Aniplex could network with professional sports leagues to sponsor distribution and streaming of sports anime content and to similarly educate children in specific sports, provide useful heath and training resources, provide dossiers on both a national and international level on the best players around? And for that matter – why not stream sports anime on ESPN? You know it is going to happen. We live in an age where e-sports (e.g. Heroes of the Storm, DOTA, multiplayer shooters) being streamed on ESPN platforms is a reality and is gaining momentum – despite all the hate and backlash it gets from people who don’t quite get it. And let me reiterate – Pokemon has a bloody commercial to air tonight!!! This is slippery slope that I thoroughly welcome – mwhahahaha.
Case in point.
But I am getting ahead of myself. The bottom line is that all three seasons (a whopping 145 episodes) is available for your binge-watching pleasure on Crunchyroll!
I took some time to watch the first few episodes today – and wow, I was ALL IN right from the beginning scene. The episode starts in media res with an epic shot of this football hero donning a stylish visored helmet wrapped in swirling dust as an airplane soars overhead. A lens flare and a high-pitched hum fills the screen as light dances across the mysterious player’s helmet. It is undeniably epic.
(And it isn’t unintentional either – in an interview with Otaku USA, Riichiro Inagaki mentioned that since American football was not that popular in Japan and out of concern that his publication would be cut from Shonen Jump, he had made considerations to “…change it into a Kamen Rider-style masked hero story. The title “Eyeshield 21″ would’ve referred to that mask.” Thankfully, while Inagaki was able to create a more straight-forward football story, the Kamen Rider & tokusatsu is definitely still imprinted into the DNA of the show much to its benefit. Clearly Sena comes from a family lineage of super sentai – how else would be able to see green vector lines in his field of vision?)
Then we meet this impish team captain with pointy eyes and a gaping, wild, toothy grin that would make Joker blush declare victory with 9 seconds left on the clock and 40 years to clear to the goal. None other than this hero of legend steps out of the dust – Eyeshield 21, the “Lightning Running Back.” The final play is put into motion and Eyeshield 21 singlehandedly runs down the field executing uncanny feats of agility, dexterity, and speed against the entire opposing team to snatch the winning goal against all odds. I felt so much elation, suspense, and joy. This was only within the first 3 minutes! TOUCHDOWN, WE HAVE A NEW FAN!!!
Despite having over hundred episodes to watch, it is apparent why this anime and manga series has been so popular. For Japanese audiences, the anime acts an entertaining and easy-to-understand guide into the world of football. It breaks up the mystique and aura of complexity as characters explain the rules, roles, and plays (often to hilarious or absurd lengths). In addition, the anime includes an amusing spot entitled “Football Clinic” placed within the episode where the commercial breaks would be that provides FAQ and trivia about the sport. For an American football newbie like myself, I greatly appreciated and respected this addition. The cream of the crop is clearly the sports anime action scenes where at times it moves beyond the realm of belief – although, it never fails to entertain and I consider this a strength of the series. The slice of life, school-based plot narratives offers an genuinely inspiring humanist message to its viewers. The story is an coming-of-age story where a young man learns to grow up, find his own path, to gain self-confidence and positive self-esteem through the help of friendship & camaraderie that is found in sports.
Also, let the record show, that Youichi Himura is hands down my favorite character. Although, could someone explain to me how or why he’s able to bring rocket launchers and assault rifles to practice AND get away with it?? Yaha!!!
As far as first impressions go, Eyeshield 21 gets 5 out of 5 bananas from me. Regardless of whether you are a football fan, or an anime fan, there isn’t a second to lose. Get to Crunchyroll ASAP and watch this amazing anime. You won’t regret it.
While Eyeshield 21 happens to be the most popular American football anime / manga, there are other selections to explore as well. Here are other American football related works to check out:
UFO Warrior Dai Apolon – “The story is about 16 years old boy Takeshi who recently formed an American football team at the BlueSky orphanage. One day the game is interuppted by a light in the sky. Takeshi discovers he is the son of the king of the planet Apolon, spirited away to Earth by his father’s retainer Rabi to avoid death at the hands of General Dazaan. He turns out to have special energy abilities which can control UFO saucers from under the ocean floor, which in turn can become robots that are synchronized to their movements.” (Source: Wikipedia).
Honoki ni Purple – “There’s a legend about a certain library at the Doumeikan University, and whoever meets there for the first time will fall in love. One fateful day, Shino waits for her date there, but she doesn’t meet him. Instead she meets a football player who took refuge there, trying to avoid his angry teammates. Then the two surprisingly find out that their parents are getting married, and so they start to live together…” (Source: Storm in Heaven).
Fiancée Shitai –“Yukimi is a high school junior and cheerleader already scheduled for her first marriage interview. She’s seen a disappointing picture of her nerdy potential groom – and he has such a weird name – so Yukimi has every intention of rejecting him, but she’s still curious to go and see what a marriage interview is like. Later that day, Yukimi meets her ideal man at a football match and inadvertantly begins cheering only for him — despite the fact that he’s the opposing team’s quarterback! He gives her a bold and seductive response. Ah, if only Yukimi’s marriage interview could be with a guy like this… But why won’t the sexy quarterback tell Yukimi his name…?” (Source: myanimelist.net).
Ashita e Kick Off – “When Isoshita Junior High school upstart, Tetsuya Hikage, picks a fight with neighboring Hakuyou High School, he bites off more than he can chew when the Hakuyou American Football team join the fray. Losing his first ever fight, he vows to exact revenge on the rich kids of Hakuyou High by creating Isoshita’s first ever American Football team and beating them. Within 24 hours, Hikage recruits an entire team as they resolve to spend their entire summer vacation training. However, when they realize they don’t have a ball, or even understand the rules, it dawns on them that it’s gonna be a long summer…” (Source: myanimelist.net).
Kimi wa Kirakira (You’re Sparkling!) – “Shinobu is a photographer-to-be who seems to have trouble adapting to school. Her male friend, glasses guy, who is the captain of the archery team, is worried about her. Then, she meets a football guy in an interesting way. Watching the guy play, she becomes enthusiastic about taking his picture.” (Source: myanimelist.net).
Have you seen or read Eyeshield 21? What are your thoughts?! Feel free to comment below, send a tweet, or comment on Facebook! Enjoy, Super Bowl 50 everyone!
Chris Samson is just a humble bounty hunter, ma’am. You can find him on Twitter at @KyoNinjaForHire or @FanimeshonDesu.