Also known as: Eyeshield, ES21
Length: 37 Volumes
Allegiance: Shueisha Ltd./Viz Communications
Mangaka: Riichiro Inagaki and Yusuke Murata
Report by: Ellen Li
Summary: Sena Kobayakawa was never known for being the smartest, most popular, or strongest kid in school, but what does make him stand out from his peers is his undeniably fast running speed and agility. Unfortunately, Sena’s only been putting his talents to use as a gofer for his bullies. That is, until he gets forcibly drafted into being the running back (codenamed Eyeshield 21) for his school’s American Football team, the Deimon Devil Bats. Despite numbering in only 3 members total, they aim to not only compete in the Christmas Bowl, the national championship of Japan’s high school football league, but win it.
Field Agent Report by: Ellen Li
Let it be known that I am not a big fan of sports manga in general, so when I tell you I completely fell in love with Eyeshield21 when I read the first volume for the first time, I hope you can understand the significance of this review being written.
Before I read Eyeshield21, I didn’t know much about American Football. Beyond the basics of scoring points and various fouls here and there, I was essentially clueless. However, the manga does such an excellent job of explaining the rules and regulations, the different player positions, play strategies, and all the other ins-and-outs of the game that by the time I had finished, I knew just as much as my football fanatic friend. Those as unfamiliar with American Football like I was, will familiarize themselves with the rules of football at a very reasonable pace, and although the explanations can get a bit confusing at times, it doesn’t take more than a quick re-reading of a few pages to understand what’s going on. I do have to give a fair bit of warning to the average football fan, however, that since Eyeshield21 follows a high schooler playing high school American Football, most – if not nearly all – the games in the manga follow high school American Football rules. So for those used to watching the NFL games and are used to playing by those rules will most definitely be in for some nasty – and sometimes almost outrageous – surprises when it comes to some of the tactics employed by our dear Devil Bats and/or their opponents.
The most surprising thing about Eyeshield21- for those unfamiliar with the sports anime genre, anyway – is how, despite the focus on the American Football games themselves, the series’s greatest appeal lies in its wonderfully diverse cast. Although the story of course, follows the Deimon Devil Bats and its members, the manga does its fair share of giving many – if not all – of the other teams the Devil Bats encounter their time in the spot light. With a cast approaching – if not exceeding – a hundred characters, every reader is sure to find at least one character they will undoubtedly identify – if not fall in love – with. Each and every character – from our protagonist, Sena, to the one-off and easily forgettable background characters such as those bikers from that one chapter – is distinctly unique from one another, each with their own appearance, personality, and purpose within the Eyeshield 21 storyline . And although some characters can be ridiculously trope-y even at the best of times, it’s hard to fault the manga or its writers for it when you have so many other wonderfully developed characters to shift your attention to.
However, I do have one nitpick about Eyeshield21’s cast, and that is its significant imbalance when it comes to its male-to-female character ratio. In the entire series there are only 7 recurring female characters who have any sort of influential presence within Eyeshield21’s story (and I refuse to count the cheerleaders in the background as recurring female characters, regardless of how well they may boost the morale of the countless male characters). While it’s something to be expected, given that it’s a shonen sports manga –and one about American Football, at that – it’s rather difficult to find that to be a forgivable excuse, especially when one of those said female characters, Karin Koizumi, does an extremely wonderful job of proving just how well they can stand toe-to-toe with the male characters on the gridiron.
Unfortunately, the gender imbalance isn’t the only thing Eyeshield21 has going against it. Given that the entire plot is about how our underdog protagonists, the Devil Bats, claw their way up to the top of the national high school American Football ranks, it’s understood that they will often have to resort to using less-than-orthodox tactics in order to gain the upper hand over their more powerful and skilled opponents. However, the ridiculous ways in which the Devil Bats are able to snatch victory out of the jaws of certain defeat in certain matches against impossibly overpowered opponents are quite amusing at first, but get old rather quickly. And as mean-spirited of me to say it, the many defeats that the Devil Bats suffer throughout the course of the series are often things I looked forward to, as they balance out many of those impossible-to-believe, “did that seriously just happen” wins rather well, and certainly reinforce the idea that the Devil Bats are indeed just a band of rag-tag amateurs.
All in all, I have to say that despite its faults, Eyeshield21 really does stand out as an exceptional sports manga just from its wonderfully diverse and unique cast of characters alone, and I honestly invite people to give it a chance, even if you’re not a fan of football or shonen manga in general. This series is, to be a little cliché, an emotional roller coaster that will not leave you unsatisfied.