Reviewby Zac Bertschy,
Sena's fateful match against the White Knights ends in a tragic loss for the Deimon Devil Bats, but he learns a few important lessons anyway. Disqualified from the season but still aiming to compete in the fall for the Christmas Bowl, the Bats start a new recruiting effort that nets them a brand-new wide reciever named Raimon who's got a few problems of his own...
Endlessly enthusiastic, playful and never dull, Eyeshield 21 turns what could have been yet another incredibly rote, by-the-numbers sports manga into one of the most entertaining and fun titles on the shelves today. It's easy to say that the most refreshing and interesting aspect of Eyeshield 21 is the fact that it's about American football, a sport that isn't really popular at all anywhere else in the world except on its native turf, but that would be doing it a disservice.
Sports manga doesn't exactly have a reputation for being highly original or engaging. Nine times out of ten the story follows some wimpy or otherwise less-than-impressive kid who discovers, thanks to some magical coach or freak accident where he catches a baseball or something, that he's a natural and then proceeds to lead the team to victory. Make no mistake, Eyeshield 21 falls into this trap just like every other sports manga on the planet, but it quickly does away with the notion – especially in this volume, when the story starts to really simmer – that somehow Sena's turn as the Deimon Devil Bats' newest star player is going to single-handedly save the team. No, what we have here instead is basically a manga-style take on The Bad News Bears; a bunch of misfits and weirdoes who like an unpopular sport succeed in spite of the fact that they're all misfits and weirdoes. This particular volume reinforces the notion that this isn't really just Sena's story, it's telling the story of an entire team.
Eyeshield 21 can be appreciated on multiple levels, and the characters themselves are perhaps the strongest element. Sena starts out as a wimp but quickly realizes his own potential and, unlike so many other shonen sports heroes, stops moping around and doubting himself and generally tries his damnest. He's also fairly competent and learns quickly, which helps to move the story along; in this volume he's shown being introspective, kind, and resourceful, something most shonen heroes can't claim by the third volume of their respective series. By far the character who's the most fun is the devilish Hiruma, who converts the team's clubhouse into a casino to raise cash and uses whatever means necessary to recruit new members for the team. He's brash, menacing and ultimately passionate, and not at all a good person; in a sense, Hiruma turns the “kindly old coach-come-mentor who helps the hero along” cliché on its ear. Introduced in this volume is Raimon, a wannabe baseball star who stumbles in his bid to make the team and winds up being drafted into the Devil Bats, who's already pretty interesting in his own right.
Lip service needs to be paid to the art, which is really unique. Extremely sharp edges and wicked angles bring Eyeshield 21 to life in a way almost unique to the page rather than the screen; it's difficult to capture the kind of frantic motion every panel exudes in animation, which is one of the reasons the manga version of this story may be better than the upcoming anime series. It's also ridiculously detailed, and the trappings of the game are rendered with almost scientific care. Sure, the panels are really busy sometimes and the progression from one scene to the next can be occasionally confusing, but it's a small price to pay to enjoy such unique and textured art.
If you can't stand the game of football, though, Eyeshield 21 may not be for you. Although the game scenes are thrilling, those unfamiliar with the sport may be a little lost given all the complex jargon they throw around. The author is assuming that the reader is somewhat familiar with the terminology, which makes it rather surprising that this manga was a hit in Japan, given how unpopular the sport is there; nevertheless, people who simply find football to be inexcusably dull might not appreciate this title.
An unexpected joy, Eyeshield 21 defies convention and manages to make a shonen sports title about American football – which to anyone except otaku with admittedly weird taste would sound like a really ridiculously bad idea – into something most everyone would be able to enjoy. It's light as a feather and doesn't really do much of anything that could be considered new or original, but in today's manga landscape, it's nice to see something imbued with so much raw passion and fun.
Story : A
Art : A
+ More fun than it has any right to be.
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