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Blue Lock is one of the hottest properties in manga and anime, as of this writing. Their recent anime adaptation, whose first season has just ended, has become an instant hit and a lot of people are captivated by the journey of the main character Yoichi Isagi and his merry band of egoists in the Blue Lock project.
Now, this being a sports manga/anime, it usually becomes a bit more niche amongst the fans. After all, not everybody that enjoys this medium is a sports fan and this can become a bit of an issue. However, I can safely say that Blue Lock has enough great qualities to endear to people that are not into football, including, surprisingly enough, a critique of Japanese culture.
Having said, as someone that is both a professional writer and has degrees as a football coach, I can offer a somewhat wider perspective on this series’ first season, its characters, and the themes it is trying to explore. I would like to preface this by saying that I’m only focusing on the first season since I haven’t been able to get my hands on Muneyuki Kaneshiro’s manga.
Be that as it may, let our boots and football read, and let’s head to the Blue Lock pitch!
Set in Japan in modern times, we start the story with our protagonist, Yoichi Isagi, and how he loses a key match for his high school team because he decided to pass the ball to a teammate (who missed the chance to score) instead of trying to score himself. Isagi is very frustrated but ends up getting a call from a mysterious football project.
This turns out to be the Blue Lock project, created by a former Japanese footballer called Ego Jinpachi. According to his research, the reason Japan never performs in the World Cup is because of a lack of egoism between players and the lack of a truly world-class striker, which is why this project is meant for all the best high school level strikers in the country and end up with one, who is going to be taken to the Under-20s of the Japan national team.
There is a caveat, though: the ones that fail in this project are not going to be eligible for any Japanese team for the rest of their careers. And so, Isagi and many other players are thrown into the deep end and need to play to survive and live another day in the Blue Lock project.
The idea behind the Blue Lock project, in terms of this being a sports anime, is quite interesting. There is a sense of dread because their entire careers are at risk, which can motivate them to do things they wouldn’t normally do, and they are also prompted to be more selfish than what they usually are. In that regard, there is an element of survival of the fittest that makes the story all the more enthralling.
This is also very telling when you consider that we are not only getting to know Isagi, but also a lot of other players, becoming very engaging characters, thus making their defeats all the more crushing. And there are a lot of defeats in Blue Lock: one thing that I have come to respect about manga author Muneyuki Kaneshiro is that he doesn’t shy away from the pain of defeat in football–Isagi doesn’t win simply because he is the protagonist and he has to work hard to get every little victory.
Teammates come and go, allies become rivals, rivals become allies, and there is a nice balance between discarding characters and developing the ones that were ordeals at first for our protagonists to beat. Characters such as Shouei Barou and Seishiro Nagi start off as antagonists due to the circumstances of the story, but they grow and evolve throughout the season, becoming much more complete and interesting.
Kaneshiro is very smart in the way that he portrays this story because teamwork is necessary, but it can also lead to their downfall. It goes a bit against the natural principles of football (I will explain that in another section), but from a storytelling perspective, it is very good because every character has their own motivation and they are willing to sacrifice others to get what they want.
Now, this being a sports anime, things are going to be over the top. Characters give long speeches in plays that should last a couple of seconds, some shoot as if it was the Kamehameha or the Rasengan, and they are usually surrounded by an aura as if they are going to call their own Stands, JoJo style. It’s part of the medium’s charm and it makes things more interesting.
Also, in case you are not a football fan (or sports fan in general), don’t worry. Blue Lock is the kind of story that can be enjoyed by everybody because it is centered around individualism and the desire to do everything to achieve your goals, which is of course something universal that we can all relate to.
Another aspect that I would like to highlight is the pacing. This first season has 24 episodes and a lot of things happen, so you are not stuck in a game for long periods of time (at most, they last three episodes and they are usually very fun). Kaneshiro has gone on record saying that he wanted to write a story that felt like “a drug to read” and I have to say that he achieved just that because Blue Lock is highly enjoyable.
Yoichi Isagi is the protagonist of the series and I would describe him as a white canvas. He has a lot of untapped potential and he serves as a metaphor for what the author is trying to convey in Blue Lock: he has felt disappointed by the classic principles of cooperativeness and teamwork in Japanese football and he grows and develops as a more complete player through the ordeals of iPod.
There is also an interesting element in exploring Isagi’s spatial awareness as a player. I often compared that to Thomas Muller, the Bayern Munich legend, but it turns out, according to my research, that Isagi’s playing style was modeled after the legendary Italian striker Filippo Inzaghi (now the last name is a bit of a giveaway, I’ll admit).
In terms of writing, Isagi is a character that I feel progresses way too quickly. As the season goes along, he becomes a lot more capable and intelligent as a player, forming bonds with a lot of teammates, but perhaps it’s the pacing that makes him evolve way too quickly. Although to be fair, o is so straightforward in its methods that are a bit understandable.
I like Isagi. I think he is a good protagonist and his personality is balanced enough to contrast and compare to the other players in this project.
Meguru Bachira is the next one, modeled after Ronaldinho and his memorable dribbling skills, and he is one of the best characters in the first season. His inner monster, a reflection of his joy in playing football and a desire for company, is a very nice metaphor for loneliness and imaginary friends, which is something that a lot of kids struggle with during their youth and it gives him a degree of complexity.
He is one of the most skillful players in the project, but he lacks individuality and a desire to play for himself. So as the season progresses, Bachira becomes a lot more independent and learns to fence for himself while maintaining his playful and unserious personality, which works very well with Isagi and adds an element of levity to the story.
Hyoma Chigiri is an interesting case. He was one of Japan’s biggest talents, but a serious knee injury kept him from achieving his potential and his amazing pace, his greatest asset, had now been subdued because of his own fear of getting hurt again.
This is great stuff because this is a situation that happens a lot in professional football and you can tell that Kaneshiro did his homework. However, after an amazing moment in a match where Chigiri takes control of his own life and decides to take a risk and go for it, thus regaining his confidence and love for the game, he starts taking a back seat in the story.
Now, I’m not saying that he doesn’t do stuff afterward, but he no longer has the same impact on the plot. I’m saying this without knowing what happens in the manga later on, but I would say that he is a very good character and you can get more out of him.
Seishiro Nagi, as I mentioned earlier, started out as a rival to Isagi and then, due to the circumstances of the project, joins him as an ally. Nagi is a very interesting character because he didn’t even know about football and joined Blue Lock because he was talented and was prompted by his friend, Reo Mikage.
At first, Nagi seems to be Reo’s puppet in a way. They have a genuine friendship, but Nagi is not interested in doing anything else other than playing video games. But once he loses to Isagi, he starts to develop a competitive streak and decides to join the latter to grow and evolve. It is a very good example of someone starting to think for himself and develop his own agency.
In fact, I would argue that Nagi is one of the characters that benefitted the most from the Blue Lock project as it gave him a lot more determination and initiative. He is also quite funny in terms of his quiet personality and how it contrasts with the rest.
Barou serves as an antagonist in the first two-thirds of the season and he is pretty much the embodiment of the story. He is self-centered and egoist, constantly putting himself first and only wanting to win because of his goals. He is also very hard-working and disciplined, which is constantly shown off the pitch as a stark contrast with the rest of the guys, but he is always prioritizing himself.
I have to say that Barou is a fairly linear character, at least so far in this season. His character arc involves him becoming even more egoist and self-centered, which works in a way but left me feeling a bit lacking. However, Barou shines when interacting with Isagi and they usually work quite well together on the pitch as the latter knows how to push his buttons.
He adds a layer of danger to the story and he seems to be a lot more chaotic than the rest of the cast, which is often a very good thing to have from a storytelling perspective.
On the other hand, we have Rin Itoshi. He is the best player in the entire season and could be seen as “the final boss”. He is the younger brother of talented Japanese Sae Itoshi and they have a bit of a competitive rivalry between them. Rin sees himself as better than everybody he faces and he backs his words in every game.
Rin reminds me a bit of Toguro in Yu Yu Hakusho: he is this wall that Isagi has to overcome to become the best version of himself and at the same time learns from him. I found this fascinating, particularly during their second match, because you can see a bit of contrast and comparison, making the entire experience all the more enjoyable, much like when Yusuke faced Toguro in the Dark Tournament arc.
In terms of his character, we are not shown much about Rin since he is very stoic and quiet, plus he is serving as an antagonist for most of the season. He is very good at that, but I hope we get to see more of him as a character, understand his motivation, and so on. That is going to help a lot since he seems to be working with Isagi from now on.
From The Perspective Of A Football Coach
Before I start this section of the review, I would like to point out that I understand that this is a work of fiction and its main goal is to entertain, not to offer a realistic depiction of the game of football (soccer if you’re from the United States). But as someone who has a degree in football coaching and follows the sport, I couldn’t help but feel that I could offer something different in this discussion. Now that we got that out of the way, let’s get straight to the point:
The Blue Lock project, as a real football experiment to develop a world-class player, makes no sense.
The argument that Japan hasn’t performed well in the World Cup due to a lack of a world-class striker is a simplistic view of a wider problem. There are countries such as Poland and Norway that have world-class strikers such as Robert Lewandowski and Erling Haaland, respectively, and they haven’t performed in those international tournaments. The greatest goalscorers of the last twenty years, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, did so while playing wide.
Traditional goalscorers rely a lot on service and what the rest of the team can do for them, so if you don’t have high-quality players in other areas, there’s only so much a top-class striker can do for you. I understand Kaneshiro was drawing from his personal experiences as a football fan and I’m not criticizing that (in fact, I’m full of praise for his work), but this perspective falls flat when you understand how the game works.
The author has gone on the record being critical of the Japanese’s way of doing things in football and lacking that element of selfishness that a lot of top players have and I can understand that perspective, but boiling it down to a lack of a striker seems simplistic. Especially when you consider that the old-school striker, the one that is waiting in the box to get service and score, has been losing prominence in recent years, giving way to more cooperative forwards that can link up and press as well.
There is also the element of how so many players in this project end up playing in positions that don’t benefit them long-term. If so many of these footballers are forced to play in other roles while also playing 3 vs. 3 or things like that, they are not focusing on their development as strikers. Because, in the end, the best strikers are going to be held down by lower quality in other positions… the same thing I pointed out earlier.
Again, I know I’m trying to find logic in a work of fiction that is meant to entertain, but as a football coach, it was something that I found fascinating. Same thing as trying to neglect teamwork and often finding solutions by just being more selfish–this is a mentality that can be quite dangerous in football, especially when you consider that no top-class player can win a tournament on his own.
Daisuke Nasu, a former player of the Japan national team, has been full of praise for the manga and has gone on record saying that Kaneshiro got some things right and I would have to agree. You can tell that he loves football and that passion and enjoyment of the game are clearly shown here.
Overall, Blue Lock is a very fun and interesting story. It has a very compelling premise, there are a lot of characters, all with their own quirks and personalities, and the way the story is structured, there is room for a lot of twists and turns, making the journey very unpredictable.
For football fans that love anime, this is twice the fun as you can see how a lover of the game builds an entire world of fiction around a sport that has millions of fans all over the planet. And I personally cannot wait to see what is going to happen in the near future.