Stand up! Stand up! Tachiagari yo! Inazuma challengaaaaaaaa!
Hello, and welcome to- oh, who am I kidding, I friggin’ LOVE Inazuma Eleven!
Here’s a viewing project that was years in the making to say the least. I came across this series years ago, I think right after I finished watching Eyeshield 21, ANOTHER viewing project that was years in the making so about… three years ago now. I started watching Eyeshield 21 because someone recommended it to me and ever since I’ve been hooked on sports anime. What can I say, if sports were as exciting in real life as they are in anime, I’d totally play some soccer with you if you could teach me how to manifest a dragon out of thin air to envelop the ball in flames as it shot towards the goal.
Not saying that all sports anime depict powers in the same way. Eyeshield 21, while having special powers, used it to visualize for the viewer what already existed in the game and to make it more fun. In reality you don’t have people running at the speed of light or players creating brick walls but the concept is there with your runners and… linebackers and whatever they’re called. Kuroko’s Basketball on the other hand tend to downplay the powers aspect and ascribe it to people simply being natural basketball players and therefor so much better but it’s always rooted in some kind of realism. There’s no dragons or people running at the speed of light, there’s simply players who are better.
But then there’s Inazuma Eleven. Inazuma Eleven takes a far more liberal approach to soccer than the previously mentioned sports anime. Dragons and fire tornados and shots from space and manifesting giant, glowing hands are commonplace events. Hell, you might even say they’re necessary. And if this is the soccer kids are playing, imagine what FIFA would look like…
I’m sure you could say some of it is made to help us understand soccer but then the further the show progresses, the less rooted in reality it becomes and these sure fire shots, or hissatsu shoot, become more central.
But perhaps I should start with the explaining the show itself.
Endou Mamoru (Mark Evans in EU) is a soccer freak. He has been ever since he found his grandfather’s, who sadly passed away before Endou was born, old stuff in storage. He discovers that his grandfather was sort of a soccer genius and uses his old notebook to train himself to be the ultimate goalkeeper. But despite his enthusiasm, he has trouble convincing the rest of his school of soccer’s greatness and when in second year of middle school, suddenly faces the very real risk of having the club shut down. This is when Gouenji Shuuya joins the school and the club receives a challenge from Teikoku, the currently reigning regional soccer champions. Desperate to face the challenge, Endou scrounges together the smallest number of players allowed and faces off against Teikoku. It doesn’t go well. But then Gouenji, tired of seeing Teikoku bullying the weaker team and inspired by Endou’s courage, steps onto the field. And history is made.
The show, with its whopping 127 episodes around twenty minutes a pop, chronicles the team’s journey from a no-team to pro-team, culminating in their participation in the Football Frontier International tournament, basically the world championship but for kids. And it covers everything from defeating angels and demons, aliens and time traveling military forces with soccer to conspiracies about world domination… through soccer.
And note I say soccer reluctantly, it’s football and that’s that but I’m afraid any American viewers would be highly confused and scared if I didn’t say soccer. And we don’t want that.
So here’s Endou using his prolific God Hand technique. What? Never seen that in soccer?
Another note, I use Endou and Gouenji as names when it’s really their surnames but after 127 episodes of having that repeatedly drilled into my head, calling them Mamoru or Shuuya just doesn’t sit right with me. That’s Japan for you, I guess, it… it influences your mind.
So what’s an anime about soccer really about? It can’t be 127 episodes of just soccer, can it? Well, yes, in some way or another, it is. Every character in this series has their life revolve around soccer and it influences every facet of their life. Suddenly it seems like they never have to study or do tests and the further along the series gets, the less the school seem to influence anything at all. If you joined in at the later stages of the second season or anywhere in the third season, you’d be surprised to learn they’re even in school as they travel the world. And fight aliens and angels with soccer.
There’s also a delicious naiveté and love for the subject matter at hand here, one that seems somewhat ridiculous if compared against the real world. But they’re not entirely wrong either. Wanting soccer to ultimately be fun and not just a job or a duty is something that shouldn’t just be idealistic nonsense. And that is Endou’s ultimate special power, his ability to inspire his fellow players to believe what he believes. That once a match is over, things like team and affiliations stop being important and we’re all united in a common love: soccer. It’s not just about winning or losing but a battle well fought but lost can be just as good as one won if not more so. Coming up against someone stronger and better than you shouldn’t mean you roll over and give up, it should inspire you to become even better.
This is primarily seen through the special powers they each possess. While in the beginning it’s often about discovering a new power, later it’s more about improving on what you’ve already got (it’s also a cheap and effective way to save on animation costs). But the sentiment is still there, if you come up against a new obstacle then you adapt to overcome it, you don’t give up.
Not saying it’s all about soccer or the powers they use, even if that is a big thing, but many of the characters also have some crisis or another they need to overcome, often through the power of friendship and soccer. It’s about learning to trust your friends and let them shoulder some of the weight while at the same time pulling your own weight. There is no ‘I’ in ‘team’ but that door swings both ways. If you’re there for the team then the team will be there for you.
So Inazuma Eleven is idealistic crap about overcoming adversity with friendship, right? Absolutely. But here’s another thing one must keep in mind when watching the anime: it’s for kids. So stop being such a major sourpuss adult and just accept that maybe such idealistic nonsense could be worth listening to every now and then. There’s nothing wrong about what Inazuma Eleven is trying to convey and bears repeating.
There are many flaws in Inazuma Eleven like being padded to a fault and some episodes and storylines stand on the verge of absolute pointlessness, as do some characters. And the characterization isn’t what it could be and perhaps it is a bit too idealistic in its portrayal of soccer and what can be solved through it. And some special powers are repeated a bit too often.
But once I turn off my adult brain and the criticism that comes with it, I found myself having a really good time, feeling the highs and lows together with the team. And I am a bit ashamed that I, from time to time, got perhaps a little too invested in the matches. It’s funny and charming, the characters are lovable and I did find myself shedding a tear or two as the series came to an end and they all moved on with their lives, knowing that the next time they played soccer together, it could very well be on opposite sides. But even knowing that, they knew they’d be friends forever, united in their love for soccer.
Writing that, I know it’s cheesy as hell but as it drudges up my memories of those final episodes, I can’t help but to get all misty eyed again. There’s no denying that Inazuma Eleven left its mark on me. I even bought the first game just because I loved the anime so much and even though I preferred the anime, I’ll still be buying the second game down the line and eventually the third game and… anything else they release here in Europe. Yes, I’m that much of a fan.
So is Inazuma Eleven worth a watch? In all honesty, with 127 episodes to watch, I can’t really recommend it as a leisurely watch. Skipping intros and outros and sneakpeaks at the next episode, the episodes tend to round out at roughly 20 minutes which means you’ve got more than 42 hours waiting for you. And if you’re too lazy to skip all the intros and so forth then you’ve got a few more hours waiting for you.
However, if you’re willing to turn off your adult self and perhaps share the viewing with your child then the chances of greatly enjoying yourself just went up significantly. Just don’t try to plow through it, take it in seasons if you can or just set an arbitrary limit to how much you can watch in succession. Make sure to end on cliffhangers as well for the ultimate effect.
If you get in the zone, much like I did, then I can promise you that Endou, Gouenji, Kidou, Aki and so forth will become your friends and you’ll love soccer just as much as they do.
As for whether I’ll be jumping into Inazuma Eleven GO right away or not… no. I will be taking a short break to clean up some additional shows that I never got around to finishing when I first watched them. So keep an eye on this space for future reviews of Space Adventure Cobra, Appleseed XIII and Danball Senki to mention a few.
And in case you’re curious about what I’m currently watching and what anime I’ve seen, feel free to visit my profile at Anime Planet here. And don’t forget to sign yourself up, always more fun with more people!