Back when I first started reading this series, the main reasons it appealed to me were its general craziness (machine gun-toting Hiruma, weird training regimens, over-the-top player abilities) and the ease with which I could understand what was going on. I'm not a fan of sports in general, and I find football in particular to be very confusing. Inagaki made the basics of the sport fairly easy to grasp, and my general enjoyment of the series and its characters helped me overlook anything I didn't quite get.
Maybe it's because it's been so long since I last read the earlier volumes, but my understanding of football seemed to be particularly bad while I was reading volumes 21 to 24. When it came time to crack open volume 25, I realized I didn't really have much of an idea what was going on in the game and only vaguely cared about what the Deimon Devil Bats would do to beat the other teams.
One reason I might continue with this series in the future, though, is the possibility that Hiruma might be more humanized in future volumes. I flipped through some of the later volumes that I never got around to reading, and in one of them Hiruma was talking to Mamori - always interesting, because Hiruma seems more willing to reveal his weaknesses around Mamori, or at least he's not as good at hiding his weaknesses from her as he is from his teammates. While I enjoy Hiruma when he's being devilish, I'm intrigued by the idea of a Hiruma with layers. Plus, the romance lover in me can't help but wonder if Inagaki is setting things up for romance-inspired team tension. I can imagine Mamori falling for the more human side of Hiruma that only she gets to see, inspiring Sena to be jealous of Hiruma. Sena would then have to overcome that feeling so that it wouldn't start to affect his performance during games. Okay, so I read a lot of shojo manga, but it could happen, right?
As with my Otomen post, there are potential spoilers in the volume summaries below. If you don't like spoilers, you might want to skip to the read-alikes/watch-alikes list.
- Eyeshield 21 (manga, vol. 21) - Deimon is still playing against the Shinryuji Nagas and has to do risky, desperate things to survive the game, like over-relying on Sena's legs. Even so, it still doesn't look too good for them by the end of the volume. Yukimitsu wasn't the huge secret weapon I was expecting, just better than other people expected him to be. He's not athletically-inclined, so he instead used his excellent study skills to learn about the players he'd be facing.
- Eyeshield 21 (manga, vol. 22) - More Deimon Devil Bats vs. Shinryuji Nagas. Deimon has to get at least 21 points, so they try to advance and then stop the clock after every play. In this particular volume, some of the most decisive moments are courtesy of Morita, Deimon's best catcher, because Sena's legs are just about useless. While reading this volume, I worried a lot about whether Sena might be permanently damaging his legs, and, although this concern came up, I don't think the other players (or Deimon's coach) worried nearly enough about it.
- Eyeshield 21 (manga, vol. 23) - Deimon finally manages to beat Shinryuji. Then, for a brief period, it's the Hakushu Dinosaurs vs. Taiyo Sphinx. Hakushu's Gao has a reputation for putting quarterbacks in the hospital. Taiyo's linemen manage to protect their quarterback, but only at great cost - all of Taiyo's linemen end up hospitalized. Taiyo forfeits the game. After that, another brief game: Seibu Wild Gunmen vs. Misaki Wolves. Seibu wins. Shin of the Ojo White Knights has Seibu's Riku teach him the secret to his Rodeo Drive, turning Shin into an even fiercer opponent. Meanwhile, Deimon's players begin what training they are capable of doing, considering that they all have horrible muscle pain after the game against Shinryuji. They're playing against Ojo next.
- Eyeshield 21 (manga, vol. 24) - Deimon studies Ojo for a bit, and then the game between Ojo and Deimon begins. Things don't look good for Deimon as Ojo's Sakuraba and Shin switch to playing both offense and defense. My only other note about this volume was that it confused me. I had a hard time grasping what, exactly, it would mean for Sakuraba and Shin to play both offense and defense, but apparently it's a risky move on Ojo's part and, at the same time, a reason for Deimon to worry.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- Hikaru no Go (manga) by Yumi Hotta (story) and Takeshi Obata (art); Hikaru no Go (anime TV series) - This series is about a board game, not a sport, but the overall feel is similar to sports manga. This is another one where, the further the main character (Hikaru) got into the world of his "sport," the less I understood about individual matches, but in Hikaru no Go's case that didn't seem to matter to me. I've seen all of the anime and loved it (I hate what I've heard of the English dub, though), and one of these days I'll read all of the manga. I've written about volume 12 of the manga.
- Whistle! (manga) by Daisuke Higuchi - Less crazy than Eyeshield 21, but this may still appeal to those who'd like another sports-oriented series. In this case, the sport is soccer. I've written about volume 19 of the manga.
- Yakitate!! Japan (manga) by Takashi Hashiguchi - Like Eyeshield 21, this series has some really outlandish characters and moments. In this case, the focus is competitive bread baking. Hashiguchi usually makes the breads the characters create seem at least somewhat possible. Those who'd like another crazy, competition-filled series might want to try this. I've written about volumes 11 and 12 of the manga.
- Big Windup! (anime TV series) - Like Whistle!, this series grounds its players more in reality than Eyeshield 21 - if you want an outlandish cast, you need to look elsewhere. However, if you'd just like another sports manga starring an underdog team you can root for, you might want to try this. The sport, in this case, is baseball. I've written several posts about this anime.
- The Prince of Tennis (manga) by Takeshi Konomi; The Prince of Tennis (anime TV series) - A sports series that is outlandish in a slightly different way than Eyeshield 21. These tennis players are intense, and, similar to Deimon's players, I don't think you ever see anyone in class - like Eyeshield 21, the focus is on the sport and how the players interact with each other via that sport. I've written about volumes 25 to 27 of the manga.