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The Fall 2022 Preview Guide
Blue Lock

How would you rate episode 1 of
Community score: 4.0

What is this?

After failing to win the World Cup, there's unrest in the Japanese Soccer community. Many of the older patrons of the sport aren't too disturbed by the lack of trophies, but newcomer Anri Teiri is furious – and she's determined to fix what she sees as the problem with Japanese players. To that end she hires maverick trainer Jinpachi Ego, who devises a strange yet rigorous plan: he takes the three hundred best young soccer players in the country, sends them to a state-of-the-art training facility, and whittles them down until he has the absolute best striker in the nation. Yoichi Isagi is one of the boys chosen for the camp. He may be number 299 out of 300, but nothing – and no one – is going to stand in his way of coming out on top. (from manga)

Blue Lock is based on Muneyuki Kaneshiro and Yūsuke Nomura's soccer manga and streams on Crunchyroll on Saturdays.

How was the first episode?

Caitlin Moore

By most metrics, BLUELOCK's premiere is incredibly strong. It's well-directed and well-animated. The premise is unique, the action gripping. It takes the ideals at the heart of most sports anime, the joy of camaraderie and importance of teamwork, and turns them on their head by stating that to be a truly great striker, one must be completely self-centered and prioritize their own goals over the well-being of the team. By putting the players' entire soccer careers at stake, since they'll never be able to play on the national team if they lose, it raises the tension level to that of a death game. It's fun, innovative, and well-made.

And yet, by my arbitrary and biased scoring metrics, it has only earned three stars. Why? Because I didn't enjoy it, that's why.

I like sports anime. I'm not the kind of fan who'll eat up any series that comes up, but I have Run with the Wind and Free! on my shelf. I'm not an athlete, but Haikyuu!! let me experience the epic highs and lows of high school volleyball. I like the camaraderie and teamwork and watching the characters work together to strategize and find the best way to work together as a team. BLUELOCK sneers at my investment in watching characters try their best not for themselves, but for the sake of their teammates as well, and the bond between the players. Rivalries mean nothing when everyone in the room with you is not just your rival, but your mortal enemy.

It's deeply cynical in a way I just don't need. The outside world makes me feel cynical and sad enough; I look to fiction to bring me joy and hope. That doesn't mean I want everything to be a morality play; after all, I gave the ultraviolent spectacle Akiba Maid War high praise and, outside the anime realm, I'm watching Seinfeld for the first time and having a lot of fun. I just don't want a series that I feel like is actively spitting on me for wanting to see characters who care for and uplift one another. BLUELOCK is good, but it's also mean-spirited, and I don't need that in my life.

James Beckett

It took getting through the very dramatic opening scenes of BLUELOCK for me to pick up on what the show was really about. Sure, the bold art style and lush animation might lure you into thinking that this was yet another prestige sports anime about a bunch of hunky boys learning about the power and friendship and teamwork out on the soccer field, but once our bitter protagonist Isagi recovers from his team's humiliating loss and arrives at the mysterious BLUELOCK experiment that he's been invited to participate in, the anime's true colors become all too obvious. A megalomaniacal and legitimately deranged MC who rants endlessly about their vision for a “perfect” future (which in this case means Japan winning The World Cup); a cast of conspicuously designed and hypercompetent child prodigies who are all aiming to be the Ultimate representation of their chosen skill (i.e. kicking soccer balls real good); an unreasonably elaborate and impossibly expensive series of elimination trials that will slowly whittle our cast down to a lone “survivor”.

“It's just Danganronpa!” I cried out, as the premiere reached its climax. “It's Danganronpa, except instead of a bunch of kids getting offed in a dystopian reality-TV murder game, it's a bunch of kids getting their dreams to become Japan's greatest ball kicker metaphorically murdered! And instead of a psychotic robot bear mascot, the whole competition is being run by…Japanese Demetri Martin?” Okay, I get it, it's not a perfect comparison, and there's been plenty of over-the-top trial-by-combat arena anime in recent years, but dammit, I love Danganronpa, and if that has to be my in for a show like BLUELOCK, then so be it.

Really, therein lies BLUELOCK's fatal flaw, which is really more a matter of personal preference than anything else. I can get behind the energetic direction and melodramatic characters, and I can definitely find a place in my heart for an obscenely wasteful series of athletic exercises that function both as ruthless competition and entertaining psychological torture. I just don't like soccer all that much, you know? Like, if I had to choose between the metaphorical sports-ball killing game, and a much more literal killing game where characters dismember their best friends and are then forced to sow discord and distrust amongst the survivors in order to live, well, the choice is an obvious one. Also, while I can appreciate how all of the boys participating in Anri Teieri's competition are, I don't especially care about them as human beings, which makes it hard for me to imagine that I will remain captivated by the show's histrionics for long.

Still, I've long since come to terms with the fact that I am an Inside Boy Who Doesn't Get Sports™, and that there are just so damned many of you out there who will eat this kind of stuff up. That's genuinely awesome, and if that describes you, I think you might really get a kick out of BLUELOCK (get it!?). I'm sure lots of sportsball casuals will also find room on their fall schedules for this one. It's not my thing, but that doesn't mean that BLUELOCK isn't worth checking out if you need more Weird Sports (Question Mark?) Anime in your life.

Nicholas Dupree

Soccer shows are a dime a dozen in the world of sports anime, and it takes a lot to stand out among the hundreds of competitors. Some try to spice it up by playing an offshoot of soccer like Futsal Boys!!!!!, or they take the angle of a girls team like Farewell, My Dear Cramer. But BLUELOCK (you have to put it in all caps, it's the rules) isn't a soccer story looking for a gimmick, because it's not really a soccer story. It's not even really a sports story either. No, this is a show about rearing the ultimate athletic psychopath, a monster of physical prowess and mental ruthlessness that can dominate any tournament and make every other player piss their pants at a glance. Our plucky boy protagonist is not here to become the best teammate and win nationals – he's here to be sharpened into the ultimate sports anime villain.

It's an absolutely ludicrous setup, and the show is both totally aware of that and absolutely giddy to soak in all its insanity. The man who sets up this Football Death Game is a freaky-looking weirdo who delivers his grand thesis for Soccer Sociopathy with the cold zealotry of a Hellsing villain, urging 300 high school boys to forget everything they've ever known about teamwork so they can become the most cutthroat, mercenary striker to ever tie his cleats. Our hero, Isagi, turns into a dead-eyed cipher in his climactic moment, not just willing but excited to strike down his greatest competition if it means achieving his dream. It's Kakegurui but way more people get soccer balls kicked in their faces, basically, and it's a total blast in the moment.

A lot of that fun comes from the presentation. While the actual soccer animation is solid, and makes great use of 3D backgrounds for some dizzying cuts, the real sauce is in how these wild, crazy characters are depicted at their most vicious. Faces contort into masks of terror or fury. Kicks land with the impact of a shotgun. Isagi standing over a wounded opponent, about to end the poor kid's soccer career before it even starts, is framed like he's going to execute the guy. It fully commits to the bizarre insanity that lies at the end of all sports anime bad guys, and it all lands perfectly.

My only real concern is how long this show can keep all of that up. Sure, it could be fun to follow a group of soccer serial killers in a chain gang for a while, but eventually the novelty is going to wear off, and I'm not sure BLUELOCK has much else to offer if it can't keep up the schlock. Our hero's only ounce of sympathy comes from how he refuses to take down an easy opponent, instead deciding to take on the best player in the episode's opening game of Battle Soccer Tag, and that's only just enough to keep him from being a total monster. If this cast is going to be solely made up of bad guys, it runs the risk of turning into a miserable pile of edginess if it ever lets off the gas. But at least for this episode, it's a (blue)lock for my watchlist.

Rebecca Silverman

Call it the anti-Aoashi. My first thought when I read the manga of Blue Lock was that the creator had really wanted to write an elimination game style dystopia, but someone in the editorial department told him that he had to create a soccer manga instead, and I must say that this episode has done nothing to dissuade me. Do you like soccer and have a basic understanding of how the game works? Throw that out the window, because in this show, it's all about the ludicrous plans of a total jerk who basically kidnaps three hundred high school boys and forces them to carry out his insane experiment to prove that what's holding Japanese soccer back on the world stage is excessive teamwork. Seriously, this is the exact opposite of the lesson Ashito learns in the far better Aoashi.

If you don't look at this as a soccer story, however, you may have a better time. It's certainly got a crazy hook, and from a psychological standpoint there are some interesting details. Watching protagonist Isagi just stand there coldly while his teammates sob around him in the beginning is telling (if you don't take into account that we all process things differently), and the fact that Kira is the only person not instantly swayed by the aptly named Ego could have been a good detail if he weren't eliminated from the games by the end of the episode. Kira's loss could be foreshadowing that the story buys Ego's unhinged ideals and is going to attempt to prove him right, but personally I'm just glad that the one guy with any empathy and half a brain got out while he could.

This doesn't look terrible, and there's a good variety of unhinged faces among the cast, which definitely helps. Ego's face is especially well done in a totally creepy, chicklets-for-teeth kind of way, and his VA is doing a great job at sounding completely confident in what is a totally off-the-wall plan that shows a basic misunderstanding of what a “team sport” is. It's just not my kind of fun.

Richard Eisenbeis

Well, wasn't that a happy surprise. Going in, I was sure that Blue Lock was going to be another standard sports anime with a small twist on the usual formula, only to be blindsided by a show that's basically the antithesis of the typical sports anime. Themes of emotional growth through teamwork? Who needs that BS? This anime is about forging impressionable teens into egotistical soccer divas who think teams exist solely to make them look good.

In fact, Blue Lock shares more similarities with death game anime than it does with sports anime. Our heroes are trapped in a secluded location. Of the 300 of them, only the top six will be chosen to become pros. And the stakes are life-or-death—for their lifelong dreams. After all, the mastermind behind the whole thing assures them that those who are unable to progress will never reach the professional level regardless of skill, talent, or hard work.

What I really loved about this episode was that the first test—the game of tag—is designed not to eliminate the weak but rather to assess player mindset. Targeting those weaker than you shows that you feel there are others better than you in the test. But what this program is looking for are those that believe themselves to be the best—those who would target the biggest dog in the yard to show their superiority.

The test also reveals a bit about the personalities of our supporting cast. Some believe in fair play. Others are okay with dirty tricks. Still others are more interested in playing the mental game—preferring emotional attacks over physical ones. It's a great way of building a foundation for the side characters without distracting us from Yoichi's story.

All in all, I smiled through almost the entirety of this premiere episode. While I'm not sure how this anti-sports anime will turn out once the novelty of its premise dissipates, the impact of this first episode is undeniable, and I will most certainly be back for more next week.

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