The Summer 2016 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
What is this?
Tsukushi is a first-year high schooler with no special physical traits, but he does have a cute childhood friend. Jin is another first-year who gives off the air of a delinquent, but he's actually an enormously talented soccer player. On a lark, Jin invites Tsukushi to be a fill-in player for his futsal team (futsal is a five-on-five version of soccer typically played on a shorter indoor field), where he discovers that Tsukushi has no real soccer ability but possesses an inspiring level of passion and tenacious determination, even to the point of playing through his injuries. Despite his lack of skill, Tsukushi loves the game enough to try out for the school's soccer team. Might there be lessons for Jin to learn even from this unskilled newbie? DAYS is based on a manga series and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Saturdays at 3:30 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
Alright sports fans! Are you ready for some sakugaaaaaa?!
Above all else, the thing that stands out most about DAYS is its overachieving animation. Perhaps in a bid to tide over the Haikyuu!! fans until season 3 arrives, almost every shot in this first episode is articulated beautifully. Even simple back-and-forth shots of characters talking don't resort to automatic lip flaps, adding in cartoony facial expressions and tousling of hair to constantly keep your eye active. Style-wise though, DAYS is a lot sharper-edged and thinner-lined than the kinetically chunky Haikyuu!!, and its cast of futsal-playing boys are a lot more delicate and cherubic. So while it's definitely filling the same niche in terms of energy and animation, the story and tone feels unique enough to avoid falling into the imitation zone of any other recent anime.
That said, its story and tone are unique, but not especially engrossing. Our talentless-but-irrepressibly-genki lead goes just a little too far in his pursuit of soccer and friendship, racking up an insane number of blisters and bruises as he swears to join the soccer team in a short amount of time, all because the coolest guy in school asked him to fill in on a practice match. That coolest guy in school also melts a little too quickly in the presence of genki lead's indomitable spirit, leading to a scene where he screams out his wild emotions to the moon while biking back home in a way that basically destroys his credo as the "cool delinquent" on the team. It's all extremely adorable and entertaining, don't get me wrong, but there is something to be said for the restraint and nuance of other sports camaraderies and rivalries in other shows.
DAYS may be slapping its heart onto its sleeve a little too hard and fast for the characters to leave a stronger impression, but so long as you don't mind an extra ten pounds of sugar in your handsomely animated fujoshi sports adventure, this brazenly colorful entertainment has definitely brightened up a fairly bland summer season thus far.
It's not all that unusual for an anime series to introduce a strong main character in its first episode. What impresses me about DAYS is that it's able to bring not one, but two well-rounded and likable protagonists into the mix right away. Tsukushi borrows some traits from every other super-earnest lead in the history of sports anime, but most characters of this type tend to have some kind of absurd hidden talent to back up their enthusiasm. Tsukushi is completely out of shape and really sucks at playing soccer, and that makes his willingness to keep trying much more compelling than it otherwise might be.
As the more visibly talented of the pair, Jin also plays against type by avoiding the overly competitive aloofness that so often drags down similar characters. He seems like a genuinely considerate guy, and the empathy he shows towards Tsukushi makes him easy to like. There's an immediate chemistry between the two of them, and it feels like they could carry the series on their own. The rest of the cast has a tough time keeping up with them, as childhood friend Sayuri and team captain Mizuki seem merely adequate at filling their respective roles in the story.
DAYS also looks fantastic in motion, and it avoids a lot of the shortcuts that we sometimes see in sports anime. The characters actually move as they run or kick the ball, rather than standing still in front of a background full of motion lines. If the show can maintain this level of quality, it'll be worth watching for the animation alone. The character designs are nicely done as well, looking distinct enough to be memorable without taking things too far and venturing into cartoonish territory. The only potential question mark at the moment is hanging over the show's ability to depict an actual match; it's clearly good at capturing the emotional momentum of a game, but we have yet to see it go into detail on any strategies or techniques. That works fine in this episode since the priority is on how the characters are feeling, but the audience will need a little more information once the guys start playing for keeps.
With a strong pair of main characters and some impressive visuals, DAYS has the potential to reach beyond its core sports anime audience. It's an immediately appealing show, and I'm already eager to see Tsukushi earn a spot on the team. Whether or not the series can continue to deliver on this level will depend on how well the rest of the cast keeps up with Tsukushi and Jin, but I like what I see so far.
B-PROJECT may be intended for a female audience, but DAYS is by far the more fujoshi-friendly first episode. It also strangely enough seems to follow my own attempts at any sport that wasn't skiing or long-distance running – protagonist Tsukushi Tsukamoto catches soccer balls with his crotch and face, trips over his own feet, runs head-long into the fence, and even manages to develop the kind of feet that ballet dancers donning toe-shoes for the first time do, right down to the missing toenail. But he's got the kind of endearing can-do attitude that shounen heroes excel at, and by the end of the episode I found myself desperately wanting him to succeed in the game that he fell in love with.
Of course, his budding friendship with gorgeous blond Jin Kazama will be a major draw for some viewers. It can be read in a couple of ways, one of which is definitely BL-friendly – Kazama is clearly moved by Tsukushi's determination to play soccer, the lengths to which he'll go, and that last scene of him basically cradling Tsukushi on his lap after he's collapsed is the stuff fujoshi dreams are made of, and I'm not even a fujoshi, or even a big shipper in general. But wow, I'm as invested in this relationship as I am in Tsukushi learning to play soccer ably.
Tsukushi himself really is the heart of this episode. It isn't clear why Kazama chose him out of all of the other boys in their first year high school class to fill in for a missing soccer player, but Tsukushi is so thrilled to simply be included that he's like a shelter dog just chosen for adoption. His childhood friend Sayuri clearly has an idea of how much this means to him, but Kazama is shocked by the enthusiasm Tsukushi musters. It seems possible that part of his joy is related to the fact that his mother appears to be in a wheelchair, so a large part of his life may involve helping her around the house or some sort of social stigma due to having a handicapped parent. Soccer and being included appear to be freeing for him in some way, and that's contagious. Even the surly captain of the school soccer team seems to be caught up by it, agreeing to let Tsukushi complete the try-out exercises he initially failed. It is worth mentioning that this is the first time since Hana Yori Dango that I've encountered a character named Tsukushi. In that show, a comparison was made between her name and the resilience of weeds, and I can't help but feel that this applies here as well.
The art is fairly simple and not hugely attractive, but it works for this show and the animation, while again not spectacular, tries to make up for it. It's rough in feel but works for the story, which is very old-school shounen in its vibe. I've been at this long enough to know that even if I don't like real life sports, sports anime are generally worth paying attention to, and DAYS does not look like it will betray that experience. Whether or not you care about soccer, this is one underdog story worth checking out.
From very early on in this episode, DAYS' protagonist Tsukushi Tsukamoto gave me strong Hajime no Ippo vibes. Like Ippo, Tsukushi is initially no good at his chosen sport - invited to play soccer by his classmate Kazama, he quickly reveals he has no coordination, stamina, or running speed at all. But also like Ippo, those weaknesses ultimately only serve to underline his strengths: an earnest commitment to what he does, a talent for becoming easy friends with others, and an ability to work, work, work beyond anything anyone could ever expect.
Characters like that are always fun to follow, and Kazama makes for a strong counterpoint to Tsukushi's talent-free dedication. Kazama initially comes off like he's almost manipulating Tsukushi into playing (something Tsukushi surprisingly admits to thinking himself), but quickly demonstrates that he's as warm-hearted as he is pragmatic. Tsukushi's dedication and earnest love of play end up inspiring Kazama as well, and so the two ultimately apply for their school's soccer team together.
And beyond the solid core characters, DAYS is also equipped with extremely competent execution. Director Konousuke Uda has a fairly limited resume outside of his tenure on One Piece, but MAPPA are definitely a studio to look out for - in just a few short years, they've handled production on stellar shows like Rage of Bahamut Genesis, Ushio and Tora, Terror in Resonance, and Teekyū. DAYS' character designs are crisp and appealing, possessing a nice variable line density and coming to life through very consistent animation.
This episode lacked any major soccer-feat theatrics, but that makes sense - Tsukushi is a beginner and Kazama only somewhat above that, and soccer is a sport that shines brightest when players are used to playing with each other. The direction was generally up to the task of instilling energy in Tsukushi's trials, and the music was a particular highlight, full of strong rock songs and orchestral trills. Overall, DAYS comes highly recommended to any fans of sports shows, and I'd suggest anyone else who's curious give it a shot as well. It's a polished and likable production.
I played youth soccer (I refuse to call it football!) in my elementary school years and even attended a pro game or two, but lost all interest in it by the time I got into high school. I also seldom like any sports anime. Hence this series had two heavy strikes against it when I started watching it, so I wasn't expecting more than another typical array of mindless sports series tropes. Thus that I actually liked the first episode enough to give it an above-average score came as a complete surprise.
And really, there isn't anything all that special that the first episode does. Tsukushi is the fairly standard nice kid who nonetheless can cheerfully tough his way through just about anything, while Jin is the fairly standard super-talented guy who maybe hasn't been achieving to his full potential due to a lack of motivation. It looks every bit like Tsukushi is going to be his inspiration and motivation, as he has the kind of drive that Jin apparently internally lacks. (Or else something has happened to turn him off of formal team play. Hard to tell which is the case at this point.) Nothing out of the ordinary there – unless you watch Jin carefully, that is. While it's easy to see how his demeanor can give the sense of a delinquent, he's actually a pretty congenial guy, too, and the chemistry between him and Tsukushi is almost instantaneous. (I can see a lot of shipping involving these two coming down the road, if it hasn't started already based on the manga.) That and the way his reactions to Tsukushi's tenacity aren't over-the-top actually appealed to me and give me some hope that this might have more to it than just being an ordinary sports series.
That the series is getting a quality production effort from studio MAPPA is another big plus. Probably also doesn't hurt that this is not director Kōnosuke Uda's first time helming a sports anime; he also did Ginga e Kickoff!! a few years back. Perhaps because of that, the soccer animation has a brisk sense of framing and movement which make the play seem dynamic without going over-the-top, and it gets capable animation support. The character designs are also clean and attractive, though Tsukushi's rosy cheeks, which I'm guessing are intended to make him endearing, are a little much.
I probably won't be watching this one out – because, after all, this is still a sports anime – but those who like soccer and/or at least tolerate sports anime in general may also find this to be a better-than-expected start.
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