Though I’ve long professed an ardent love for sports manga, I did secretly wonder if my enthusiasm would wane when the featured sport is one in which I have zero interest, like, say, football. Would the inherent charms of sports manga be able to compensate for my real-world disinterest? Eyeshield 21 has proven to me that the answer to this question is “yes.”
Sena Kobayakawa has justed started his first year at Deimon High School, where he’s looking forward to reinventing himself after years of serving as gopher for bullies (when not fleeing from them). Picked as an easy recruitment target by the demonic Himura, captain of football team, Sena finds himself volunteering to be the team’s manager. Once Himura witnesses Sena’s speed and natural running back moves, though, he is suited up and disguised (so that other teams won’t try to steal him) and given the moniker Eyeshield 21.
Although he’s initially not too thrilled about this, the passion and skill of Himura and the completely adorable (and completely enormous) lineman, Kurita, kindles his interest in the game. His running abilities lead the Deimon Devil Bats to their first victory ever. Their next opponents, the Ojo White Knights, prove much tougher, and it’s then Sena meets his rival—Shin, a player who’s nearly as fast as he is, but much, much stronger. Although there’s really no chance for the Devil Bats to prevail, they still manage to score two touchdowns against the superior team and Sena achieves a sense of personal victory when he’s finally able to evade one of Shin’s tackles.
As volume three comes to a close, the Devil Bats have been eliminated from the spring tournament but have turned their eyes and hopes towards fall, with the eventual goal of playing in the Christmas Bowl. Things are looking up a little—they’ve finally found their fourth member, a monkey-like boy named Raimon with some mad catching skills and the presence of Sena’s childhood friend, Mamori, as team manager seems destined to attract even more recruits. Aside from Himura and Kurita, no one knows that Sena is Eyeshield 21 (since his green eyeshield is magically sufficient to obscure his identity), and he can only watch in some consternation as the mysterious player’s legend begins to grow. When he happens to encounter Shin on the street, he realizes he can admit his real identity to him, but there’s no time to bond because the two of them have to unite to take down some thieves on a motorcycle. It’s actually kind of awesome.
So yes, Eyeshield 21 manages to entertain me even though it’s about football, a sport I find excruciatingly dull. There are loads of visual aids to help explain the game, the tone is optimistic and silly, and the characters are all memorable, too. Himura’s brand of crazy is responsible for most of the gags in the series: he looks like a demon, seems to have sufficient dirt to blackmail everyone into doing his bidding, keeps a ferocious dog chained up at school, and casually totes around all manner of weaponry. There’s a lot of attention devoted to Haruto, a teen idol whose fans persist in calling him the ace of the White Knights, even though he knows he isn’t. Shin’s a cool character, and Sena is okay, too, but really, my heart belongs to Ryokan Kurita.
Kurita is very big and round, very strong, very sweet, and prone to get weepy when he’s emotional. I think a visual aid is necessary here to truly convey his cuteness.
Ultimately, Eyeshield 21 is lots of fun. I’m chuffed my library has recently acquired the full run of the series; expect to see more here in months to come!