These are pretty decent times to be a sports anime fan. Yowapeda finally has a new season coming in the fall, and this week Haikyuu S5 and Mix S2 were both confirmed (and there’s that Blue Lock thing coming up too). True, I pine for a third season of Major 2nd, which would be great anyway but with Watanabe Ayumu directing is stupid great, but that’s not happening until Mitsuda-sensei gets healthy and can crank out chapters for a year at least. But on the whole, not bad – especially with a show like Ao Ashi anchoring the side.
I wouldn’t say this series starts slowly – I liked it from the first chapter. But, like most sports shounen of magnitude, it takes time to reveal the extent of its repertoire. We’re really seeing now just how great Ao Ashi is, and if it gets a long-running anime adaptation (which it damn well should, based on manga sales) it has a chance to really climb the ranks (both in terms of quality and popularity). How high? Well, that’s subjective – but pretty damn high. It nails the soccer element, it has great characters and a S tier protagonist, and Production I.G. behind it. The sky’s the limit – or the production committee is, depending on how you look at it.
Yoshitsune is a great example of a minor character really making an impression. I just loved that eyeroll when Ashi was giving him that puppy dog admiration, but his advice is good advice. There’s much truth in what he says about “one player among eleven”, because even though Ashito is correct in saying that applies to everybody, it’s less true with strikers (and keepers) than anybody else. Ashito – and Kuribayashi, who Yoshitsune says Ashito reminds him of – are more part of the unit than he is. That’s what Yoshitsune envies a little (I also love that he’s secure enough to admit it) – along with Ashi-kun’s vision, perhaps.
Togashi is certainly correct that the B-team is better served not relying on Yoshitsune to carry them, because he’s just passing through. And it’s not as if the opposition will allow that to happen if they know it’s coming. Things start off badly, with Esperion surrendering the equalizer when Ishiki pulls up lame with his first-half injury and Togashi and Takeshima fail to communicate in trying to cover. It’s a role reversal for Ashito to be bitching out his teammates over their defensive responsibilities. but that’s his niche as a footballer, clearly. And the injury (and goal) turns out to be a blessing in disguise, because it prompts Date-san to change the system.
Depending on how you define the placement of the wide forwards, this is either a 3-5-2 or a 3-4-3. But that first “3” is the key here, because it means three at the back – three central defenders. This means rather than a proper fullback, Ashito (and Keiji too) is now a wing-back. It’s a subtle difference, but a wing-back is a definitively more offense-minded position that a true fullback in a back four. They come and go in soccer fashion – Cruyff with his total football loved them, and you get the sense Fukuda (who will have been in Spain when Pep Guardiola was using wing-backs at Barca) aspires to total football. And it seems a certainty that this is the role he envisioned for Ashito when he moved him off the front line.
Wing-back is a far more natural position for Ashito, even if he’s never played it and clearly never been instructed on it. His instincts fit here, and he quickly forms a 3-man rondo with Yoshitsune and Eisaku. The rush finally hits him – he can see more from here, and impact the game for everybody else. He almost sets up a goal for Eisaku, and when the rebound comes to him he immediately assesses his options in Kuribayashi-style. He wants to shoot – his heart tells him to – and Tachibana eliminates one channel by standing offside. But Ashi chooses to pass to Togashi, who towers over the defenders and heads it home for what will prove to be the winning goal.
Tachibana’s confidence is utterly shot – he begs out of the Musashino match, which is the worst thing a player can do – but Ashi is just taking baby steps forward. He’s exhausted after his goal – the role he’s in requires a tremendous amount of running – and is frustrated both with that and his decision to pass rather than shoot. But Fukuda, whose attendance is clearly a direct consequence of Ashito getting the start – actually has some positive feedback for him after the match (and shares Date’s praise, too). He dangles the prospect of a promotion in front of Ashito, with the caveat that as it stands, the B-team has no chance against Musashino.
Let’s not forget Hana, because Ashi certainly doesn’t. She buys into Anri’s statement that she knows nothing about soccer, but whether that’s true or not, she knows a hell of a lot about people. It’s going to be interesting to see if either girl (or both) go along with Ashito to scout Tokyo Musashino, whose match Kaneko-san is off to go cover. Scouting an opponent who’s clearly better than you isn’t necessarily a good thing – especially for someone like Tachibana, though Ashito has good intentions. But it should certainly give the boys an idea of just how much they have to raise their game.