Shonen sports series holds a dear place in the hearts of those that follow them. The most popular and beloved series has a heavy emphasis on warming themes of camaraderie, sportsmanship and friendship. Drama ensues with members of the main characters of the team and the rivalries they form with opponent clubs and members. In this format, the role of protagonist and antagonist does not have to be emphasized, as we come to learn everyone’s motivations to pursue the sport and try to compete to be the best. At its core, the relationships of these characters come to a beautiful amalgamation of teamwork, trust and passion.
However, on October 8th, 2022, a whole new anime television series adaptation broke the mold of traditional shonen anime in an electrifying fashion: “Blue Lock.” The premise of this new soccer anime is to create the greatest Japanese striker for the Japan national football team. In doing so, a controversial program is created by young coach Jinpachi Ego called “Blue Lock” which invites 300 high school soccer strikers to compete against each other. Ego sets challenges and tests for these players, eliminating those at the bottom in his goal to find only one out of all the players to become the star striker of Japan. What are the stakes? Those who are not eliminated are ineligible to ever become a member of the Japan national football team.
In the first episode, our protagonist, Isagi Yoichi, was moments away from winning his team a chance to compete in the national high school football championship. All he had to do was score one more goal to win. As he breaks through the defense of the opposing team and finds an opportunity to score, Isagi instead chooses to make the split-second decision to pass to his teammate, who, subsequently, was unable to score.
Isagi is frustrated and bitter in his defeat and wonders if he could have changed the outcome by choosing to score himself, which would mean choosing an egotistical and selfish decision over believing in his teammates. As he returns home, he is met with an invitation from the Japan Football Union to join the Blue Lock program. After listening to Jinpachi Ego’s speech about how he found Japanese football to be mediocre in its values of teamwork and his aspiration to make the greatest, egotistical striker, Isagi decides to join the program. With the determination to crush the other 299 contestants, Isagi learns what it means to be the best in his journey to survive and conquer a survival of the fittest battle royale style.
“Blue Locks” execution of this concept is not only narratively impressive but is also a spectacle in its aesthetic. The environment that the players compete in is a futuristic hub, sporting hologram and visual simulation technology, in contrast to other sports animes grounded in reality and usually set at high schools and clubs. Participants are to wear matching jerseys in the form of a primarily black bodysuit with blue lines accenting the uniform.
While anime fans of “Blue Lock” may find thrill in its ruthless approach to storytelling in the sports genre, that is not to say that there are no friendships and comrades that are found in the Blue Lock program. Soccer is after all played with ten other players and the participants, who all play the same position, are forced to team up together in the latter half of the first season. However, with its fast-paced structure, teammates can become rivals quickly, resulting in a fluid protagonist and antagonist structure. Friends, teammates and enemies often flip and change positions and are also heightened by the high stakes and possibilities of becoming eliminated.
However, anime fans may also find its animation lacking as there is regular use of stills and their disappointment can be found in a few pivotal moments of the series. Yet, episode 11 serves as a peak example of how one character’s intense character development can be animated beautifully, as Isagi adapts against incredibly strong opponents and creates his incredible soccer technique.
Verdict: “Blue Lock” changes how devoted anime fans enjoy and monumentally perceive team sports series. Despite its few problems, it is worth the watch and its value within the anime community is undoubtedly treasured.