Thursday, April 22, 2010

Spring 2010 - GIANT KILLING

If there is any criticism to Captain Tsubasa, the über-successful soccer series in Japan that's been running since 1981, it's that the series has lost part of its plausibility. Granted, the series has been aimed more at the youth looking to become soccer players, but the main character's teams rarely lose, and the scores are often too inflated or lopsided to believe. More importantly, the focus appears to be more on success and less on the parts of the team that lead to success.

There seems to be something missing in Captain Tsubasa--the sense of overwhelming defeat. After all, Tsubasa moves to a town already known for its soccer prowess and barely loses a game on the teams he plays for, but what about those sections in Japan and the world where the shine of a victory has to overcome the devastation of a losing streak? For every Brazil or Spain, there is a Papua New Guinea. (Fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Detroit Lions, and Golden State Warriors probably know what I mean.)

For all of those fans who hope that the arrival of one key element could help slay Goliath, Giant Killing is speaking to you. The story comes from the collaboration of writer Masaya Tsunamoto, who has already penned the stories for soccer manga U-31 and Goal Den Age, with artist Tomo Tsuji. The anime series is being directed by Kou Yuu (Loveless, Zero no Tsukaima), while Studio Deen is providing the animation.

The story covers the disappointing season for the East Tokyo United soccer team. With morale low on a losing team, fans becoming more apathetic towards the squad, and the threat of demotion looming, the team turns to one of its success stories in Takeshi Tatsumi, an athlete who abandoned ETU just to join an amateur club in England as its manager. While Tatsumi has managed to turn the ragtag team into a "giant-killing" squad that challenges for a prestigious cup in only its third year, ETU is more desperate for success, managing to draw Tatsumi back to Japan as their coach.

The team and its fans aren't so sure Tatsumi, a loafing sort who seems unwise in his methods, can get the job done. The public-relations head already is fed up with his demands, and the fans are bitter about Tatsumi's allegiance to England over Japan. The players themselves aren't so sure about his talents, as the star athlete--"Mr. ETU"--is being benched in favor of the team's fastest players!

Considering that soccer has predominantly been reserved in anime for the younger crowd (Inazuma Eleven, Whistle!), the approach that the creators have taken with Giant Killing is somewhat refreshing. The movement of the players on the pitch is more realistic, and even though some animation is replaced with photography at times, more attention is being placed on the storyline and less with flashy movement. Tatsumi himself is probably no real unique prototype of a character, perhaps a lot more GTO in his cobbled-together ways, and there appears to be no real Shaolin Soccer energy that powered Captain Tsubasa and Inazuma Eleven's animation. Still, there have been some good choices made in voice-casting, including the use of an actual foreigner for the voice of a European footie fan.

However, the main concept of the story--that a team without superior talent can still beat the best on any given weekend--could really help fuel Japan's hopes for the World Cup (although it's likely Tsubasa will still be associated with the national team). The game in Giant Killing itself may not have energy from its players yet, but the roar of the fans and the European flare in the soundtrack just might make this show more of a hit with actual J-League fans. Considering this is the first anime geared towards the hooligan crowd, let's hope Giant Killing pulls off the upset.

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