Sunday, July 6, 2008

Eyeshield 21

Hey folks,

Like most people, I never honestly thought that sports could honestly translate into comics all to well. Sports always seemed to be the type of content that you needed to watch on a television due to all the action, announcing and atmosphere that goes along with watching sports. I think due to this, not to many manga out there are sports manga and honestly that is probably a good thing really. I say that because instead of having tons of sports manga to pick from, there are only a select few to really choose from and most are pretty good surprisingly enough. Plus this makes sure the market isn't flooded and people get tired of to many sports manga which could turn many of from the genre.

The current sports manga I am reading thought is the only American football manga out there right now that goes by the name of Eyeshield 21. The series is written by Riichiro Inagaki and drawn by the assistant and apprentice of Takeshi Obata (Death Note artist), Yusuke Murata. There series first started off in Shonen Jump in Japan back in 2002 and has since become one of SJ's more popular series spinning off a anime series and several video games.

As for the series itself, it starts off as the typical shonen, comedy series. Weak highschool student Sena Kobayakawa had spent most his life running around for others doing their chores and fetching things for them. One day though, he pissed off some bullies and was forced to run from them. While on the run, the highschool's American football quaterback, Yoichi Hiruma, sees how fast Sena can run as well as jump and now is on a mission to recruit him to become the team's running back. The big reason for this is that the football team only has 2 real members right now while Hiruma ends up having to blackmail other sports clubs to get players for each game. So seeing Sena, who is fast as hell and on no sports tream, is pretty much a wet dream come true for the QB.

So of course, Sena does end up joining the football team, called the Deimon Devilbats, and starts off as both the running back and manager for the teams. Of course since Hiruma is a strategy genius, he makes sure that Sena wears a eyeshield and gives him the number 21 while playing so that no other sports team tries to recruit him as well as use the eyeshield and 21 number as a way to scare other teams since Eyeshield 21 is a legendary player from Notre Dame in America. So of course Hiruma tells everyone that Sena is the highschool equivalent of the legendary Eyeshield 21 and that Sena is from America as well. Like I said, Hiruma is a strategy master since this causes many people to be scared of Sena and it builds him up as a legend. Of course since Sena can run the 40 yard dash in 4.2 seconds, which makes him faster then almost anyone else, many are scared of him as well.

Once you get past the intro to the series, it sort of turns into any other sports manga of course in the sense that the Devilbats start off as the underdogs, gain new and interesting team mates and have a goal of going to the national sports event called the Christmas Bowl. Even though these are all very common elements in many sports mangas, they do it really well in Eyeshield 21. There are a lot of good, cool characters in Eyeshield 21 and many actually come from the opposing teams. Unlike some other mangas where other teams are usually a bunch of bad guys or bullies, most of the other teams in Eyeshield actually have some really good back stories and characters that have real reasons for wanting to win instead of the classic "must beat the weak people" or "we want to win cause we are evil" type reasons.

The general story arcs usually go team training with some insight on a Devilbats team member, background on opposing teams and then the long actual game matche. Thankfully the matches are the majority of the series and are all very good, long and well done. So there isn't a huge amount of buildup to a match that lasts like 2 chapters. All the real matches are nice and long with some having some good twists to them.

Of course though what really drives the series are the characters. As I said before, there are a good amount of characters in Eyeshield and many of them all have great backgrounds and personalities. The characters don't feel repetitive and you almost feel yourself rooting for the opposite team from time to time since Inagaki makes sure that each major team has a interesting background. There is a lot of good character development in this series and many of the characters evolve and change as the series goes on instead of always staying the same throughout the entire series which would make the characters stale. So instead of just having the normal good guy team which all readers root for and like, you actually have a huge amount of other characters you will wish you could see more of which really shows how good of a writer Inagaki is.

Things can still be a little formulaic of course, but there are very few series now a days that don't follow some sort of manga formula anyway. The real key though is taking the formula, adding your own touches to it and producing something that makes you see past the formula and actually enjoy reading a series instead of trying to predict it. Throw in the fact that Murata's artwork is some of the cleanest and crispest I have seen in a manga series , and Eyeshield really makes for a great read.

Eyeshield 21 definitely does that I would say and I would really recommend the series to any manga fan who doesn't care if the main subject of a series is about football. Football is definitely one of the main subjects of the series though, but I think the comedy and the characters are what really drive it and make people come back for more. Right now there are about 20 books out here in the US and you can hit the link below to check out the series over at One Manga. Give it a read and enjoy!

Eyeshield 21!

-P. Knight

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