I’m Obsessed with Blue Lock

Every season, I pick up a couple of volumes of manga, in an effort to learn a bit more about the anime I’m going to review. It’s how I got into Horimiya, The Case Study of Vanitas, and more, but this time, something was different. When I took that first volume of Blue Lock off the shelf, I couldn’t predict what it would do to me.

One volume, four chapters was all it took to hook me. Everything I knew to expect from a sports manga was blown away. This story managed to subvert my expectations like a master, always twisting the plot into the most interesting direction, even when it stuck to the conventions of its genre. It’s like writer Muneyuki Kaneshro and illustrator Yusuke Nomura built a table using a hammer instead of a screwdriver, and the it’s still the finest bit of woodworking I’ve ever seen.

Within days, I caught up to the 180 chapters of the manga that were out, and I’m only writing this because the itch for the next one is too much for me to bear. If I don’t tell you how good Blue Lock is and why, I’ll lose my mind.

So before they cart me off to the asylum, let me tell you why death match about who can be the biggest narcissist has me so obsessed. First, though, we’re going to need to talk about sports anime.

[Minor spoilers for Blue Lock]

I’ve always meant to write an essay about what makes sports anime work so well. In the West, there’s plenty of good movies and shows about sports, but they don’t the same presence as they do in anime, but it’s actually obvious why. Manga is the perfect medium to tell sports stories.

What is the common denominator between sports? If you trust Oxford, they’re just a person or team participating in a competition involving physical exertion and skill. Just from that, we can narrow it down to individual or teams, demonstration of physical prowess and finesse, and a set of rules to facilitate a competition. Weird, that sounds a lot like a shonen battle manga.

Team sports allow for your story to include a large cast of characters who occupy different positions, meaning they can distinguish themselves with their particular skill set. Power systems in anime are defined by their rules: a Stand can only be defeated by another Stand, and a volleyball team can only touch the ball three times before they have to send it back over the net.

Conflict in stories are all about rules. Limitations have to be set on characters in order for there to be stakes, otherwise anyone could do anything at any time. We need that sense of predictability, whether it’s previously establishing a skill that a character has or giving them the tools that would make any new skill possible. Rules in magic systems or in sports box the writer in, forcing them to be more creative.

And then we have the micro and the macro of each game or fight. Both can be long ordeals, but there’s also a back-and-forth where we follow the isolated minutes or even seconds of the conflict. It’s not always about the last punch or buzzer beater shot, but each punch thrown or play made that constitute the main body of the conflict.

So, hopefully by now you have a better understanding of what makes sports manga work so well, but now I need to explain how Blue Lock manages to do this right, by doing it wrong.

Japanese soccer has stagnated, at least if you believe the aptly named absolute madman Jinpachi Ego. A culture of collectivism and cooperation has created a soccer scene that excels in teamwork, but lacks the drive to claim the World Cup. What the Japanese team needs, Ego says, is…well, ego.

A striker can be the greatest athlete in the world, they can understand the strategies better than anyone, but without an overwhelming need to dominate the field, they’re worthless. In other words, the greatest strikers are egoists. With a generous and somewhat frivolous grant from the Japanese national team, Ego collects 300 of Japan’s brightest strikers with the goal of whittling them down to one, in what he calls the Blue Lock program.

Our ‘hero, Yoichi Isagi, is shocked to learn that he is ranked 299th. However, with his knack for analyzing the field and ‘devouring’ the talents of other players, as well as a budding god complex, he’s going to climb to the top of Blue Lock. Isagi learns his first lesson when he’s forced to fight for his spot in Blue Lock by eliminating one of his competitors; teamwork will only get you so far, and the stretch between there and the World Cup can only be made by stepping on the necks of everyone else.

Through harrowing tournaments, grueling training sessions, and even a chance to learn from the greatest players in the world, Isagi is only beginning to understand how daunting the world stage is.

The program is all about finding and honing your weapon; what each person brings to the game. It could be a dizzying dribble, a brutal left kick, or even copying your opponents’ weapons, but Isagi’s weapon is his spatial awareness and adaptability. By studying his opponents, he can devise counters to their weapons on the fly.

The most crucial factor to Blue Lock’s brilliance is that Isagi is so much fun to watch. Normally, analysis is a really cheap ability to give your protagonist. It’s a shortcut for explaining everyone’s abilities, and then justifying him winning constantly because he’s just that smart. The way that Blue Lock avoids this is that Isagi doesn’t always win.

Early on, we realize that Isagi isn’t going to win every match. The author usually avoids putting him in a position where he can’t afford to lose as a result. Instead, everyone at Blue Lock has gotten this far because they always act like they can’t afford to lose, so each match still has stakes. Often, Blue Lock will use the context of the match to increase tension, either as ideological battles, clashes between former teammates, or what winning and losing would mean to Isagi at this moment, rather than overall.

The other way that Isagi’s abilities are used is to create a basic formula for each match. On paper, it’s straightforward. At the start of a game, Isagi encounters a new problem, and the opponents take the lead. Around the halfway point, he’s acquired enough information to form a counter-strategy. By the end of the match, he executes that strategy.

It’s not always exactly that, and the matches begin to grow longer and more complex, but you’ll often see that formula repeated in those bigger games. This format works because there’s so many ways that they can tweak it, often with two or three variables per character on the field. And speaking of those characters…

I just spent a lot of time hyping up the main character, but I’ve got plenty of favorites. Top of that list is Meguru Bachira, who began his soccer career isolated from his peers who didn’t take it as seriously as he did. Since then, he’s learned to practice with the ‘monster’ that he sees in himself and Isagi. To Bachira, the monster is the strongest, fastest soccer player, and his play style is about as crazy as you’d expect from someone who trains against their imaginary friend.

Probably second on my list is Seishiro Nagi. He’s probably the closest thing to a prodigy that Blue Lock has, because honestly I don’t think he knows anything more about soccer than you can’t use your hands. With insane reflexes and maneuverability, he’s a savant at trapping the ball.

Actually, he wouldn’t be playing soccer at all if not for his best friend Reo. Nagi doesn’t really care about soccer, but once Reo discovered his talent, he kind of got dragged into it. Ever since that one block Tsukishima pulled off against Ushiwaka in Haikyuu, I’ve had a weakness for characters breaking out of their apathy to find passion for their game.

Other than Isagi, Blue Lock spends a majority of its time on the program’s most talented player, Rin Itoshi. He’s the younger brother of Sae Itoshi, the brilliant prodigy who jumped ship from Japan, giving up on their shared dream to become the best strikers in the world, and alienating Rin.

He’s an excellent foil for Isagi; he’s a natural striker, but until coming across our hero, he lacked the necessary ego to achieve his goals. The two have developed this strange parasitic-symbiotic relationship where they continually devour each other’s growth and push each other forward. I’m not sure if they hate each other, want to kiss each other, or both, but that’s classic sports manga rivalries for you.

And there’s so many more characters I’d like to talk about. At least two dozen of them get enough development to be worth analyzing, so if you’re looking for a new anime character to simp for, you are spoiled for choice.

Read Blue Lock. Do it, right now. If you have even the slightest interest in a crazy story about which narcissist can kick a ball better, then you owe it to yourself to fall in love with it. Don’t wait for the anime to come out, just read it. You’ll thank me later.

I’m nearing 2,000 words on this essay, and I feel like I haven’t even begun to tell you everything I love about Blue Lock. Really, I could only do that with a 300,000-word book where I tell you about every character and rake over each match in excruciating detail. I don’t have the time for that behemoth, so I’ll settle for repeatedly telling you here that you should read it.

I’m getting to the point where I don’t know if I want to review the anime when it comes out. They’d have to seriously butcher the adaptation for me to not call it Anime of the Year. There is a risk of that happening, because you can tell just from what I shared here how good this art is, but they could animate it on a Nintendo DS and I’d be on board. Either way, read the manga.

Once you’ve done that, you can tell me I was right down in the comments, or over on Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku, where I talked about Blue Lock when I was reading it. Until next time, thanks for reading.

5 responses to “I’m Obsessed with Blue Lock”

  1. Wow, I’ve seen some passionate blog posts here and there about Blue Lock but yours is one of the most articulate and filled with love I’ve seen yet! Sports! manga use to be a big piece of what manga I read but I kinda got in a rut of too many sports series leaning into ‘super saiyan’ levels of trick shots (i.e. Prince of Tennis, Kuroko’s Basketball, etc) verses more realistic series. Would you say Blue Lock leans more into realism or super saiyan style of plays? The action shots you have here look amazing, but without the whole chapter I can’t tell. >..<


      • I was hoping you’d say that! Stylized plays are the best sort to see in manga. Thank you so much for that! I should get around to giving Blue Lock a shot!


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