East Tokyo United (ETU) has been doing badly for several years now in the Japanese professional soccer league. In a last ditch effort to turn things around, ETU's management hires Takeshi Tatsumi, a former ETU player, as the team's new coach. Tatsumi has spent the past three years in England, coaching an amateur soccer team to the point where it was able to go toe-to-toe against professional teams.
Although Tatsumi may be the coach ETU needs, ETU and many of its current fans won't accept him without a fuss. There's a bit of bad blood, due to Tatsumi having abandoned the team back when he was a player. Also, there are worries that Tatsumi's coaching methods will completely fracture what little cohesiveness and spirit the team possesses. Throughout it all, Tatsumi remains confident that he can turn the team around.
This wasn't originally in my queue, but when Crunchyroll announced that the show was going to be removed from their catalog, I decided to at least try it. I thought it was decent, but not necessarily the best sports anime I'd ever seen.
I'm not a sports fan, and I know very little about soccer. That said, Giant Killing seemed to me to be a fairly realistic depiction of professional soccer. Tatsumi's arrival didn't immediately work miracles. In fact, if I remember correctly, it took quite a few episodes, more than I would have expected, for ETU to win its first match. Even then, I think more of ETU's matches were losses or ties than wins.
Tatsumi's methods seemed potentially disastrous, at first. On unsure footing, ETU's players worried about the security of their positions and fought amongst themselves. They doubted Tatsumi, whose relaxed, jokey, slackerish attitude didn’t exactly do much to inspire their confidence. Eventually, however, they each began to recognize their weaknesses and work on them. As Tatsumi said several times throughout the series, ETU had acquired a lot bad habits and a “losing team” mentality. He needed to completely shake things up in order to get the players to recognize and start fixing their bad habits. It was a slow and painful process, but it worked.
Throughout the series, viewers got to know a little bit about most of ETU's players' personalities and playing style, although it was rare to learn anything about their personal lives. (If the position names in this paragraph are wrong, I apologize. Again, my knowledge of soccer sucks, and I had to turn to the Internet for help.) There was Kuroda, who played defense center back and who initially had a lot of problems with Tatsumi. Sugie, who also played defense center back, was more cool-headed and thoughtful than Kuroda. Murakoshi, ETU's super-popular captain, played defensive midfield. His loyalty and dedication to the team earned him the nickname “Mr. ETU.” Tsubaki, a younger midfield player, could run fast and possessed incredible stamina, but was almost crippled by his fear of messing up. Dori, the goalie, was solid and dependable. Half-Italian Gino, the team's playmaker, was narcissistic. Sera, a forward, worried that his small size and inconsistent ability to score goals might lead to him losing his position. Natsuki, another forward, appeared later in the series, after spending the last 8 months recovering from an injury. He was loud, flashy, and had an aggressive style of play, often taking crazy shots in his desire to score a goal.
Giant Killing's focus wasn't entirely on the players and teams, however. Fans played a sizable part in the series, and there was a feeling that a team could not succeed without the support of its fans. ETU's most organized fan group, the Skulls, vowed to support ETU whether they won or not and were very vocal in their dislike of Tatsumi. A subplot showed the gradual re-energizing of ETU's older fans, who had stopped coming to games and only started up again after hearing that Tatsumi, who'd been their idol back when he was one of ETU's players, was hired as the new coach. The series also spent a bit of time on a few other characters, like Katsura Fujisawa, a freelance journalist who decided to follow ETU, gambling that Tatsumi could turn the team around, Yuri Nagata, ETU's PR manager, several coaches, and even a couple sports photographers.
Giant Killing was different from all the other sports anime I'd ever seen, in that the players were professionals in their 20s or 30s. In high school-level sports anime, even when the players are really intense and focused on their sport of choice, non-sports issues, like cramming for exams, usually intrude at some point. Also, it's not uncommon for high school sports series to cover the basics of the sport and show players learning basic skills. As helpful as that kind of thing can be to someone like me, who knows very little about sports, it was still kind of refreshing to be able to skip all of that for once.
In a way, this series felt more like a “Part 1” than a complete series, which I guess makes sense, since the manga is still ongoing. I was a little disappointed at how long it took for ETU to start improving enough to win matches, but I was interested enough in watching the players grow and evolve to be able to plow through the whole series in just a few days. Tatsumi was a fun character, although I was left wanting more - I would have liked to have learned more about what prompted him to quit playing and become a coach (he gave no sign that he missed playing) and I'd totally watch a prequel series based on his time coaching that amateur team in England. ETU's final match in the series, against the Osaka Gunners, was a nail-biter and made me wish the series could have continued. I enjoyed this overall but wasn’t really left with a feeling that I might want to re-watch it in the future. I suspect that fans of real-life soccer would enjoy the show even more than I did.
- Although ETU's players got the most attention, a few distinct personalities popped out among the other teams. The trio of Brazilian players were, for me, by far the most memorable, with their focus on enjoying the game and their incredible ability to work together on the field.
- The animation and artwork could have been better, and the series' use of CGI was very conspicuous. The CGI flags waving in the stands were very distracting, and I hated the way characters' knees were drawn.
- I loved the energy of the opening animation and song.
- Whistle! (manga) by Daisuke Higuchi - Another relatively realistic soccer series, although, if I remember correctly, the players are all high school students. An anime version exists, but I don't know of any legal streaming options for watching it, and I don't think any North American company has licensed it yet. I've written about volume 19 of the manga.
- The Knight in the Area (anime TV series) - This is another soccer anime. It's currently streaming via Crunchyroll. I haven't seen it yet, but it's in my queue.
- Hikaru no Go (manga) story by Yumi Hotta, art by Takeshi Obata ; Hikaru no Go (anime TV series) - This is one of my favorite tournament series. It focuses on Go, a board game which, like chess, can be played at a professional level. The series follows Hikaru as he progresses from knowing nothing about the game to becoming skilled enough to become a professional. Those who'd like to watch professional-level players compete in another tournament series might want to give this a try. Because of the nature of professional Go, the ages of the players range from very young (maybe as young as 10?) to adults in their 20s, 30s, and older. I've written about volume 12 of the manga.
- Big Windup! (anime TV series) - Another more realistic sports anime, although this one focuses on baseball and high school-aged players. I've written several posts about this series.