Blue Lock Review: The Anti-Anime

Directed by Tatsuaki Watanabe

Produced by 8bit

Streaming on Crunchyroll

I have already written a glowing essay where I praise just about everything in Blue Lock and then some, and you can read that here. It’s one of my favorite manga of all time, I’ve made no secret of it. If the anime managed to not implode on itself, then I’d give it at least a 7/10.

While I will not rein in my bias, I’ll do my best to not repeat everything I said there. That would not be terribly entertaining to read if you’ve already read that post, and even if you haven’t, that post is more geared towards the manga. Anime’s a whole different game, and I mean to appraise the adaptation, not the original.

So, if you’re thinking about watching or reading Blue Lock, do yourself a favor; take everything you know about sports anime, and toss it in the trash. Friendship ended with the power of teamwork, now egoism is my best friend.

Blue Lock as a story made its mark on the sports genre by keeping what worked and subverting audience expectations brilliantly. If it managed to preserve the story and deliver some decent animation sequences, this is anime of the year material. All that’s left is to see if they botched the easiest 10/10 this studio is ever going to get.

The Blue Lock program was founded by Jinpachi Ego, an outsider who reveals the reason for Japan’s failure to pick up a World Cup. Japanese culture is famously respectful and cooperative, and they simply lack the drive and egotism needed to reach out and take it. Strikers aren’t like other positions, he posits; they’re megalomaniacs who have to be willing to step on every other player in order to take the win.

Thus, Ego recruits 300 of Japan’s brightest strikers with the goal of whittling them down to a single player, the best forward in the world. Only by burning the future careers of the other 299 can one step forward, and at least at a first glance, it isn’t Isagi Yoichi.

Isagi’s a pretty good forward for a second-rate team that didn’t make it to nationals because he chose to rely on his teammate for the safe goal, rather than take the risky shot for all the glory. Never again.

He doesn’t quite know it until he has to go out of his way to crush another person’s dreams, but the only thing that matters in Blue Lock is winning, and the only people who matter in Blue Lock are those who are willing to do it at any cost.

The writing in Blue Lock is fascinating. I mean, we are drawn to flawed characters and antiheroes, but introducing the raw barbarism of Lord of the Flies into a simple soccer training camp is somehow the peanut butter and chocolate of anime.

Every competitor in Blue Lock is a borderline psychopath with delusions of grandeur, and they’re such charismatic figures that you can’t help but find at least a few you love. Take all the rich character writing from a traditional sports anime, and then infuse it with determination not just to win, but to make everyone else lose, and it makes for shockingly good television.

Blue Lock as a manga has an incredibly distinct art style. When creating a sports manga, writers generally go for one of two routes: depict the sport as it is with minimal embellishment, save for the occasional metaphor, or go all in like it’s a shonen power system. Haikyuus is a good example of the former, while something like Kuroko Basketball is emblematic of the latter.

Someone asked me which category Blue Lock fits into in my last essay, and I actually struggled for a minute on what to say, because it’s really neither. Nobody is performing superhuman feats; everything they do is able to be accomplished by anyone with the requisite skill. It’s just that the series is so heavily stylized that they feel like superheroes.

When trying to explain Isagi’s full-field awareness, the series could go for a bird’s eye view of the pitch. When Barou makes a charge for the ball, he’s overshadowed by the apparition of a lion. Blue Lock possesses a strong visual identity, and so while you can appreciate the technique required to play the game at that level, it’s as accessible to anyone who doesn’t know crap about soccer.

The anime had the tall task of adapting that particular art style into a format that does not reward you for trying to be excessively detailed. However, I’m impressed; the line art and shading is rather good for a TV anime. I don’t think 8Bit will be going into the upper echelon of anime studios, but with their solid work on shows like That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, they’ve established a reputation for consistently good work.

I was actually very worried based on many of the trailers and previews, particularly because while original manga illustrator Yuusuke Nomura is a brilliant artist and character designer, he’s not great with a color palette. Let’s just say that giving Kunigami, who already looks like Ichigo Kurosaki, orange hair was a bad idea. The animation looked a little stiff, and I held my breath.

Turns out, I didn’t have much to worry about. Blue Lock is a competent adaptation with some absolutely stellar moments of sakuga.

I think I’ve already made my case for Blue Lock several times over, but if you’re not convinced already, I’d like to address one concern. I have seen complaints that the series is too edgy. As someone who is already gearing up to make fun of Eminence in the Shadow, I can’t say that you don’t have a reason to be worried.

However, I will die on the hill saying that being edgy is not always bad. Your story is allowed to be dark or self-serious without veering off into the territory of something like Mirai Nikki. Dramas have to take themselves seriously; in some cases, that’s the only difference between a drama and an absurdist comedy.

Blue Lock is mercilessly edgy. I tweeted a page from the manga where Isagi threatens to kill someone if it’s the last thing he does. Why does he do this, you ask? Because they stole the ball from him in a game of soccer. Yeah, he’s a bit of an edgelord.

My belief is that we call stories edgy when they take themselves seriously and we don’t. A story has to push past the boundary that we allow for them to be self-serious to be called edgy, and some people jump too quickly to call an anime or movie edgy or corny. The problem with that is that all stories require you to be an active participant; you are not just reading or watching a story happen, you are experiencing it.

As a writer, I have always approached stories with the idea that the author and audience forge a contract. The author will entertain you for as long as you’re willing to be entertained, and the audience will engage with that work on its terms. If you refuse to meet the story on its level, then you are not going to be entertained no matter what you do.

So, Blue Lock is edgy, but it’s entertaining because I choose to take it as seriously as it wants to be taken. I can laugh at how absurd Isagi is out of context, but in the heat of the story, I buy into what he believes; his anger is legitimate and earned in the flow of the story. I don’t know if this sells you on Blue Lock or not, but going forward, we could all do better to engage with a story as the writer intends us to.

Blue Lock is a personal favorite, and if this anime holds up for the entirety of its run, it easily deserves its place in the greats. I mean, it’s kind of dumb that it has an 8.45 on MAL after one episode; come on, guys, at least give it a minute to breathe before rating it.

I’ll get out of the way and say that Blue Lock has earned my rating of Entertaining Fantastic, and defuse potential criticism that I didn’t give that rating to Chainsaw Man. You can’t really say I’m biased towards Blue Lock; I mean, I am, but I also read Chainsaw Man way before I read Blue Lock, so that bias is at least valid.

So, if you haven’t already, read or watch Blue Lock, though I think you should really do both. Oh, and why not check out my essay explaining my obsession with the series while you’re at it. You could like this post and follow the Otaku Exhibition on WordPress, but, y’know, only if you really liked it.

If you prefer your garbage anime takes bite-sized, why not check out my Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku, where I famously belittled Fate for not calling the dark version of Joan of Arc “Jeanne d’Ark.” Until next time, thanks for reading.

FantasticBlue Lock

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