Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Eyeshield 21 (manga, vol. 20) by Riichiro Inagaki (story) and Yusuke Murata (art)

This volume begins with several interviews with players from the various football teams participating in the Kanto Tournament. Then readers get to see Hiruma, Kurita, and Musashi's connection to Agon - it turns out all that all three of them had originally intended to join the Shinryuji Nagas, but went to Deimon instead after Agon prevented Kurita from taking one of the two athletic openings in the Nagas. The story jumps to the present again, as the teams prepare for the Kanto Tournament. The Nagas are convinced that there is no one among the Devil Bats who could stand a chance against them, although Hiruma seems to consider Yukimitsu, the Devil Bats' least athletic player and the only one who hasn't yet played in a game, to be the Devil Bat's secret weapon. Unfortunately, as the game progresses, it seems likely that the Nagas will win. By the end of the first half, the Deimon Devils Bats are at 0, while the Shinryuji Nagas are at 32. Even Hiruma tells the Devil Bats that they have no chance of winning.

This was kind of a depressing volume - usually, even when the Devil Bats are outclassed, they do at least a few incredible things along the way. In this volume they get thrashed, and nothing anyone does seems to be able to overcome the other team's strength. Agon has inhuman levels of endurance, so it's not a hardship for him that he does everything himself - this is not the kind of game where one player is going to learn the value of teamwork. The fact that Hiruma ends up telling the team to give up is especially depressing - Hiruma never tells his team to give up, because there's always a sliver of a chance that they can make it.

The main consolation is that Hiruma has yet to bring Yukimitsu into the game. Inagaki has emphasized that Hiruma considers him to be a secret weapon, and even other people on the Devil Bats team don't know how Hiruma intends to use him. If the team had really been at the end of their rope, Hiruma would've brought him in before now. I'm convinced that Hiruma has some sort of great and sneaky plan he's going to unleash in the next volume. The cryptic preview for the next volume seems to back me up - the words "There was one who would never give up" next to a picture of a somber Yukimitsu, with pictures of determined players from both teams (including Hiruma, with his usual devilish smile).

As depressing as this volume is, it makes me look forward to the next volume even more. Long live the Devil Bats, and all that.

As far as extras go, there's more short interviews with various characters, more Devil Bats investigations (like "What does Yuki's sister look like?"), a picture of a Devil Bats cake made by a fan, the Kanto Tournament lineup, and a few character profiles.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • The Prince of Tennis (manga) by Takeshi Konomi; The Prince of Tennis (anime TV series) - Ryoma Echizen is a tennis genius and a new student at Seigaku High School. He soon becomes a member of his school's famous tennis team and proves that he's capable of beating 2nd and 3rd year students. Those who'd like another exciting sports manga might want to try this series. In addition, Agon's determination to crush untalented players reminds me of at least one opponent in The Prince of Tennis.
  • Whistle! (manga) by Daisuke Higuchi - In this series, a hard-working boy named Sho transfers to a new school just so that he can get a better chance to play soccer. Although he isn't very good at soccer, he practices long and hard and gradually improves his skills. Others begin to notice him, and Sho becomes part of his school's team. Even though he isn't usually the best player, people notice him because his cheerful, determined presence tends to improve moral and his flashes of brilliant playing hint at future greatness. Those who'd like another series featuring exciting sports competition might like this title. In addition, I think this manga has a "you can't play on your own when you're on a team" theme at one point, which is something I had expected would come up with Agon in Eyeshield 21 (except that he apparently has super-human endurance).

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