[Posted to Comics class discussion on January 21, 2014]
The other day I did a review of the manga of Yu-Gi-Oh! Which essentially was just me pointing out how violent it was. To be honest, I didn’t go into much more detail than that, which I’m regretting a bit, so I thought I should talk about something that I CAN go into more detail on: Eyeshield 21, which is my personal favorite manga. As I notice, I’ll probably end up summarizing the first volume as I explain the plot, but it IS kind of important to understand what this series is about.
Eyeshield 21 is a manga about American Football. Alright, go ahead and laugh, but trust me, this is far from the strangest manga that Japan has ever coughed out (Seriously, go check out Fighting Foodons). The story centers around Sena Kobayakawa, a Japanese Teenager who has just gotten into Deimon High School with his childhood friend Mamori Anezaki. Within minutes of his acceptance, however, two mysteroius students from the Football club arrive to congratulate Sena, which turns into a ploy to try and recruit him to the Football Team. These two figures later turn out to be the plup and friendly Ryokan Kurita (Playing Center) and the terrifying devil of a man with amazing intellect: Yoichi Hiruma (The Quarterback).
Meanwhile, it’s revealed that Sena has been a gopher for most of his school life, forced to run errands for local bullies to avoid getting beaten up. A new group of bullies at Deimon (Kazuki Jumonji, Koji Kuroki, and Shozo Togano) follow suit, and soon Sena has to run from the bullies to protect Mamori and his newfound friend Kurita. Hiruma, meanwhile, witnesses Sean flee from the bullies and recognizes Sena’s speed and skill as a runner (Developed in those years of running for bullies) and recruits (Read: Ties up and drags him to the clubhouse) Sena as Running Back for the Deimon Devil Bats. Hiruma explains that if any of the other clubs would catch wind of Sena’s running skill, they would all try to recruit him and Sena would never get a moment of peace, so Hiruma gives Sena a tinted eyeshield to wear while playing, and the name “Eyeshield 21” to play under.
So now Sena is a football player. The problem? He hardly understands the rules, and even with him, the Devil Bats only have three players. They recruit “support” players from other sports teams at Deimon to fill in as substitutes, and as such have never won a game. On top of that, soon after Sena joins, they have a game against reigning Tokyo champions, the Ojo White Knights and their star Linebacker Seijuro Shin. The Devil Bats will need to overcome the Knights and even more teams, though, if they wish to make it to the national championship game: The Christmas Bowl.
This series was actually surprisingly long at 37 volumes, but they’re utterly action-packed. Watching the Devil Bats grow as a team from a small 3-man group, learning the history of the team, and of Kurita and Hiruma (as well as a third original team member named Musashi who left the team for unknown reasons) is just a blast. Along the journey, plenty of new characters join the team, who I’ll refrain from naming for the sake of spoilers, but they’re all just full of character, and they have such a great chemistry together that it’s impossible not to like them. On top of that, the opposing teams have plenty of interesting characters themselves, such as the main opposing team: The Ojo White Knights. The players on that team (Particularly Shin, Sakuraba, Takami, and Otowara) end up having just as much history and personality to rival the Devil Bats, and you end up rooting for them as well despite their rivalry with Deimon.
Other than the obvious conflict that comes from playing Football, there are some incredible antagonists that the Devil Bats have to face, from Agon Kongo to the monstrous Rikiya Gaou, and later on, even a cunning trickster to match Hiruma with Clifford, a quarterback from America.
One positive of this series was always its fantastic artwork. Dynamic and bright, it was always obvious what was going on. Each team has their own unique uniform, every character had their unique look, facial expressions, and on a whole it made what is one of the most chaotic and jumbled sports on the planet easy to understand by being so deliberate with the art-style. Speaking of which, don’t worry if you don’t understand the rules of Football (Sena doesn’t either, at first!), the series does a great job of explaining the rules in small chunks so you can pick up the rules as they slowly become relavent.
It’s difficult to really explain what makes this series work, but the writers give a weight to each play, each player, every scenario that draws you in and makes you invested in the game as if it were your home team playing. Watching the Devil Bats grow over the course of the series makes it feel like an enormous journey once you reach the end and look back to see where they began, and trust me, it’s worth the time investment. Eyeshield 21 is an action manga to compete with the best of them. Give it a read if you get a chance, and follow the Devil Bats all the way to the Christmas Bowl.