As you know I love anime and manga. I got into anime first then started reading manga. Most anime are manga adaptations. So if the manga is a long one, the anime tends to catch up with the manga storyline. So they create fillers, non canon story lines. Before returning to the original story line. I started getting tired and impatient. So started reading the original manga to find out what happens next. Hence my second great love was born.
I’d discovered other manga like Hana Yori Dango, Hikaru Go and Fullmetal Alchemist. Until I found Eyeshield 21. And today happens to be the anniversary of its release. So…
HAPPY 16TH ANNIVERSARY EYESHIELD 21!
Eyeshield 21 was written by Riichiro Inagaki and illustrated by Yusuke Murata. It was originally serialized in Shueisha‘s Weekly Shōnen Jump from July 2002 to June 2009. And the series consists of 333 chapters. It was adapted to anime but it was very PG compared to the original manga which I thought was a shame.
If you’re not familiar with Eyeshield 21, it’s a story how a cowardly high school freshman, Sena Kobayakawa. Who’d became a confident sports hero through playing football. All his life he’d been protected from bullies by his older female friend Mamori. But she can’t be around him 24/7. So to avoid getting hurt he became the bullies’ errand boy. Using his fast feet and speed to get them what they want in record time.
But his whole world changes when he gets in trouble on the first day of highschool. And is saved from the bullies by Kurita, a lineman from the almost defunct football club. They become friends and he joins the club as secretary. Later that night he runs into the three bullies again. They threaten more physical harm if he didn’t give up Kurita so they can ruin his school sports career. For the first time ever, Sena stands up for himself and his new friend.
He runs away, using the running style and speed used for years which happens to be perfect for football. They failed to catch him. But the club leader and quarterback, Hiruma, saw it all and forces him to be their club’s running back the next day. And to keep his identity secret so other clubs don’t try to steal him away he’s given an eyeshield to wear with his helmet. And the codename Eyeshield 21.
Eyeshield 21 drew me in because of its comedy but also because I’m a sucker for coming of age stories. Which this manga definitely is. Watching Sena grow into himself as a young man, star player and trusted team member is inspiring. You want him to succeed. You want him to win. You want him to live up to the moniker Eyeshield 21. And you cheer when he does. You cheer when all of the Deimon Devil Bats change and become stronger. And come together to win as a team.
What I also love about the manga are the six degrees of separation of Sena becoming Eyeshield 21. Aside from Hiruma’s bullshitting. At first Sena believes it’s a code name to keep his identity hidden from the athletic student body. Hiruma once said ‘he’ll have a tiring school life’ once the other teams find out about him.
It’s not until the Christmas Bowl, a Super Bowl like high school championship games, Sena learns the truth. That Eyeshield 21 was a real person. A real title. Once held by a player from Japan who played in a American middle school football team. Shun Kakei from the Kyoshin Poseidon’s, met and played against the real Eyeshield 21. Before he disappeared. And Sena feels inferior because of his small stature and lack of body balance and strength.
Afterwards, Sena works even harder and strives to prove that he is the real deal. To turn the lies of his football hero-ness into truth. Funny enough, Sena met another player earlier. He also was acquainted with Eyeshield 21. Patrick Spencer aka Panther from the NASA Aliens. Watching the real Eyeshield 21 play was very exciting. So much so, Panther who wasn’t playing for the Aliens, interrupted the game. During a time out, he stole the ball from ES21 and out ran him to the goal post. The incident led to his disappearance from the football scene.
In the beginning, Sena feared playing football. He feared pain and getting hurt. Especially when he met his first strong opponent in his second game. Seijuro Shin from the Ojo White Knights. Also known as the strongest, best linebacker in Japan. During the game they both recognized each other as rivals. Until finally Sena out ran Shin to score a touchdown. Although the Ojo White Knights still won the game. Afterwards, both trained harder so that they could defeat the other in the Christmas Bowl.
Sena’s running style was taught by an old friend made in his youth. It’s a running style perfect for football. Which he ended up using to run errands for bullies for years. Of course his teacher, Riku Kaitani and new running back for the Seibu Wild Gunman, was upset to learn that. Because he taught Sena how to run and to use speed to put those bullies in their place. But after discovering Sena is ES21 he’s proud of his friend and new rival. Their match in the Christmas Bowl was the ultimate student versus the teacher, I’ve ever seen.
Then during the Christmas Bowl Sena meets the real ES21. Takeru Yamato from the Teikoku Alexanders. Winners of the Christmas Bowl since its start. During the match Takeru reclaims his moniker as ES21 and it’s a showdown to see who deserved to keep the title. (Spoiler: Sena won).
Another reason I love the manga is for the humor. It’s often crass and comes from my favorite character Hiruma Yoichi. As I’m writing this anniversary blog post I still hope ES21 will get a second anime adaptation. Like Fullmetal Alchemist did. Would love to watch the adaptation cover and stay true to the entire manga. Crass humor and all. The penis jokes between Hiruma and the NASA Aliens coach was hilarious. But as the anime was PG the jokes and others weren’t included or were watered down.
When reading ES21 you cannot ignore the use of foils between characters. For example the Huh Huh brothers and delinquents Jumonji, Kuroki and Togano (left). And the founding father of the Devil Bats Hiruma, Hiruma, Kurita and Musashi (right). Both trio of friends are inseparable and would do anything for each other.
But unlike the former, the latter trio fell immediately in love with football. And played together ever since MS in hopes of winning the Christmas Bowl. But the Huh Huh brothers were dragged into football. They became linemen in a guise of searching for negatives. Naked pictures Hiruma took of them and used for blackmail to leave Sena alone. They were dragged deeper into playing football because they had something to prove. That they weren’t trash. Then took up the same dream of the Christmas Bowl.
Another character foil is seen between Hiruma and Habashira Rui. He’s the quarterback of Zokugaku High the delinquent and rival school to Deimon High. They’re both feared amongst their student body but for different reasons. Rui uses violence to whip his team in shape and have control of the school. Hiruma uses his wits and his blackmail book. Yet, unlike Rui he’s not a dictator to his teammates. Though crass he often gives them advice and some sort of words of encouragement. It broke my heart to have to witness Habashira in tears demanding Hiruma explain to him why his team gave up and lost the game. To explain why Hiruma’s team didn’t. When they’re one and the same.
Hiruma actually forms a relationship and bonds of sorts with his teammates. Allowing them to see past his ‘evilness.’ To witness his loyalty. To learn about his hopes and dreams, etc.
So much so that they go out of their way to become stronger and help make his Christmas Bowl dreams come true. Even making a bet with their former star kicker Musashi to bring him back to the team. Which would make Hiruma happy though he’d never admit it.
I don’t like watching sports but will watch a sports movie. So it’s no wonder I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve read this manga. It’s that good. It has humor, rivalry, character development and most important of all it teaches you to never give up on your dreams. If one dream doesn’t work out, find a new one.
Hell I’m in the mood to re-read it again. So far, I’ve yet to have seen another manga about football. Most sports manga/anime are about soccer, baseball and basketball. There’s a few on tennis and I even found one about golf. There’s some about the games of shogi, go, and mahjong. Nonetheless, it makes me sad because Eyeshield 21 was a huge success. Maybe that’s the reason there hasn’t been another football inspired manga. Because after Eyeshield 21, anything would pale in comparison. Still, would love to read more manga about football.
Are you a fan of Eyeshield 21? Who’s your favorite character? Favorite team? Favorite match? Favorite play? What’s your favorite sports manga?
Extra: Top 10 Sports Anime