The Spring 2022 Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Community score: 3.7
What is this?
Aoi Ashito is a third year middle school student from Ehime. Behind his raw game hides his immense talent but Ashito suffers a huge setback because of his overly straightforward personality. The youth team manager of J1 club Tokyo City Esperion, Fukuda Tetsuya, appears in front of Ashito. Fukuda sees Ashito's limitless potential and invites him to take part in his team's tryouts in Tokyo. The story of the boy who will revolutionize football in Japan rapidly begins to unfold. (from manga)
How was the first episode?
Aoashi is the fourth sports anime to debut this season, and fortuitously enough, its arrival divides them into perfect even groups. Birdie Wing and Fanfare of Adolescence are anime-ass anime, cheerfully over the top and full of pretty people doing ridiculous things. Love All Play and Aoashi are on the more grounded end of the spectrum, focusing on promising young men with capabilities well within the range of real humans, recruited for their talents to join top teams in high school.
If you were to choose just one sports anime, I'd say go with Birdie Wing all the way. And then if you said, “No, that series is too goofy, give me something more realistic,” I'd say something mildly insulting about your taste because who doesn't want a clandestine mini-golf match where the opponent is wearing a clown mask? And then you'd say, “That's unnecessary and rude, Caitlin, because taste is subjective,” and you know what? You'd be right. So I'd say between Love All Play and Aoashi, the latter is certainly the more promising of the two, largely because Ashito is the more interesting of the two protagonists.
He's cut from a similar cloth to a lot of other sports protagonists: a big fish in a small pond, gifted but raw, and arrogant. Oh, and yelly. I think about half of his lines are screaming. He could easily have become obnoxious and unpleasant to watch, but he's also unusually self-aware, and thrives because he has teammates who aren't put off by his over-the-top confidence and instead work to support him. He's the second son of a single mother, who he loves dearly. It's the foundation of a decently compelling, flawed protagonist if he doesn't rub you the wrong way, but rest assured, he will rub some people the wrong way, both within the story and among the audience.
There's not a whole lot of actual soccer this episode, though. Ashito gets kicked out of his match at the start of the episode pretty quickly, and he spends the rest of the runtime practicing a particular technique solo on the beach. There's some talk of strategy and technique, but to be honest, as a non-sports watcher, it pretty much flew over my head. Or maybe I just wasn't interested enough to try to understand, but when it comes to entertainment value, those are effectively the same thing.
As was the case with its cohort, Aoashi's premiere is all table setting for the actual plot to get going. It's a perfectly acceptable start to a series I'm not particularly interested in.
What a pleasant surprise this was! I love it when a sports anime can dish up satisfying drama off the field as well as on, and while it took me a while to warm up to Aoashi, I eventually found myself intrigued by Ashito Aoi's story. I imagine that this is a show that will play even better to folks that have an appreciation for the ins and outs of soccer, but if a total neophyte like me can get something out of Aoashi, then it must be doing something right.
At first, I was as little annoyed with Ashito, and I didn't expect to have much love for him as a protagonist. He's cocky, overbearing, and unapologetically self-centered in a way that is maybe too accurate to some of the teens I deal with in the real world on an everyday basis. Thankfully, though, Aoashi leans into Ashito's personality in a way that takes advantage of his flaws and strengths in an interesting way. Sure, he's got an ego the size of a Goodyear blimp, but he also has the skills to back it up, and his impromptu training session with Tatsuya later in the episode reveals that he isn't at all ungrateful or ignorant of his teammates' skills and efforts. He demands attention and priority on the field mostly because he knows he can play circles around anybody else, but his love for the sport itself seems very pure. This gives the kid a lot of room to grow over the course of the story, which bodes well for the future.
It also helps that the episode goes on to make Ashito much more sympathetic than he might seem at first glance, and all of the side-characters around him are well-developed enough to complement his story. When Ashito ruins the game (and his chances of getting recruited to a popular high school), it seems like he is doing the usual thing where he lets some bully's taunts about his skills get the better of him. It isn't until later that the bully, genuinely full of remorse, confesses that Ashito lashed out because he was defending his mother, who herself is a well-drawn character, a stern but obviously loving single parent who struggles to make ends meet in the backwater town that her family is stuck in. Outside of Tatsuya and Ashito, none of the other kids or adults have anything revolutionary going on, but it's clear that every person in this story has their own goals and dreams; they all feel very human.
I'll admit that, when the show gets way into the weeds with the soccer mechanics and whatnot, I found myself a little lost, but to Aoashi's credit, the training scenes and play-by-play recaps were at least comprehensible to me, despite the fact that I haven't played a game of soccer since the fourth grade. Besides, when the episode ended, I was honestly excited to see whether or not Ashito would succeed in the Tokyo tryouts and make it into Tatsuya's junior league team – which is a pretty high mark of excellence for a story like this, since we all know that Ashito has to succeed in some way or another for the plot to move forward. In short, Aoashi is a sports anime that can take well-worn tropes and archetypes and spin them into a product that still has heart, and that counts for a lot. Enough for me to give it a hearty recommendation, at least.
On one level, Aoashi is very much like your run-of-the-mill sports anime. We have a naturally-talented protagonist in Ashito who believes if he tries hard enough, he can overcome anything. This, of course, has made him arrogant and self-centered—proudly proclaiming his skills to anyone who will listen. He's very much the biggest fish in a very small pond.
Luckily, that's not all there is to Ashito, and almost the entirety of this first episode is dedicated to demonstrating that. Despite his oversized ego, his time on his middle school team has taught him the importance of teamwork. He is well aware that the only reason he is able to make the plays he does is because everyone is working together to give him the openings he needs. And while he does have skills, he lacks training; one night with a high-level coach is enough to improve his game drastically, and he is driven enough to put the hard work in when challenged. But, as we discover, his true talent lies in his spatial awareness—an oft-overlooked but incredibly valuable skill in any team sport. Ashito knows not only exactly where his teammates are but where members of the opposing team are positioned as well. He is in the right place at the right time so often not due to luck, but because he makes sure he is there when the opening comes.
But, despite his love of soccer, Ashito has a shadow looming over his life: he's poor. Even though they are living out in the country, his single mother and older brother can barely provide for him on a daily basis. His ragged shoes are the perfect indicator of this. And its the fact that the opposing goalie bad- mouths his mother and their financial situation that causes him to lose his cool. A personal attack on him or even his team he can stand. One on the woman who is struggling to keep a roof over his head and food on the table? That's his breaking point.
It's not hard to feel for him when, even though he is actively being scouted to tryout for a team in Tokyo, he knows it is impossible. His mom explodes at him for even considering the idea, but it's clear that her anger isn't directed at him, but rather at her own perceived failure of not being able to follow up on the opportunities he has earned. It's heartbreaking. No good parent wants to see their child miss out on a chance like that, and while we know that he'll obviously get his shot and make the team (there wouldn't be much of an anime if he didn't), that doesn't make the drama any less effective or well-executed. If sports anime are your thing, you should probably give this one a try.
It's tempting to simply slot Aoashi protagonist Ashito into the same slot as characters like Sakaki from Futsal Boys!!!!! and Kageyama from Haikyu!! – the guy who doesn't think that there are any other players on the team, and if there are, well, they're just around to make him shine brighter. And really, that's what most people seem to have thought about him from the get-go; he's got a reputation as a ball hog and, if that jerk kid on the other team is to be believed, that rep has gotten him booted off plenty of soccer teams in the past. We start to get a hint that such is not the case when he headbutts the jerk after what we're allowed to assume are imprecations against Ashito's current teammates, because if the other boys are just props for his glory, then why would he bother to defend them? But it turns out that that's misdirection as well, and the result is a first episode that manages to go just enough above and beyond to hook viewers to make it stand out among the other three sports shows (four, if you count Dance Dance Danseur, which is likely to run similarly to a sports show) airing this season.
Lest you think Aoashi is reinventing the wheel, it really isn't. It's still a story about a kid who loves his sport, is good at it, and dreams of playing on much larger stages. Mostly it's just got a bit more turmoil for its protagonist, which doesn't feel as manufactured as, say, Love All Play's drama. The two biggest barriers to Ashito's success are people's misconceptions about his playstyle and that his family simply doesn't have the money to fund his dreams. It's the latter actually sets him off – the jerk kid doesn't stop with insulting his teammates, he moves on to a particularly cruel blow about how poor the Aoi family is while making unkind insinuations about Ashito's mom. Ashito knows that he needs backing from someone else to be able to play at the level he wants to, and there's a sense that his devotion to the game is both from his love for it and because he has to get really, really good if he wants to attract the assistance he needs. And maybe there's a bit of an escape from his mother in there, too – she's clearly worn out and stressed, which comes across as mean, with older brother Shun stepping in to be the supportive figure in Ashito's life. But really, can you blame their mom for worrying?
I'm not thrilled with the way that the episode relies more on still shots than animated soccer action, but I think the story may make this worth following. It's varied the usual sports flavor just enough to make it stand out a bit, and while I don't care much about soccer, I am interested in seeing where Ashito's story takes him.
It's Sports O'Clock again, and we're back at it with another show about young athletes following their dreams. This has been an inconsistent season for sports premieres, with Birdie Wing delivering some goofy fun and Love All Play not delivering much of anything. This soccer show, meanwhile, lands somewhere in the middle of those extremes. It's much more conventional (and less entertaining) than the underground golf clowns, but it's a heck of a lot more competent than the badminton boys.
Whether or not you enjoy this one is gonna come down to how much you like Ashito, our central, shouty soccer boy. I like to think I have a pretty high tolerance for loud-mouth shonen heroes who act before they think, but even I found myself getting annoyed by his constant yelling. Maybe it's just that his voice actor sounds really close to Natsuki Hanae's Tanjiro voice in Demon Slayer, and I'm just sick of that particular cadence. Either way, I found the circumstances around him a lot more engaging than the boy himself. It's interesting that he comes from a single-parent home, one that's struggling financially, and that does tangibly effect him. He's defensive of his mother and the (implied to be disreputable) work she does to feed him and his brother, and their financial situation means it's a lot harder for him to follow his big shonen dreams of soccer stardom. That's some good, solid drama that could help the show standout against countless other soccer shows.
And that's important, because basically everything else in this premiere is by-the-book sports anime material. You've got the unconventional coach with a tragic pro-sports backstory who happens upon our diamond in the rough main character. You've got Ashito doing an all-night training session in order to pass the arbitrary test said-coach assigned him. Really the only tweak to the formula is the reveal that Ashito is more aware and intelligent on the field than his seemingly spontaneous playstyle would suggest, and that'll only become important once he actually joins the Youth team in the coming episodes. We only get a few minutes of actual soccer being played, but it looks pretty solid – certainly better than Farewell, My Dear Cramer ever did – so that low bar has been cleared.
Overall, while there's some intriguing twists to Ashito's character, the rest of this feels like your standard sports fodder without a whole lot to draw you in. It's competent, successful even, but it doesn't inspire the same kind of excitement you can get from the best of these shows. If you have a love of soccer and a tolerance for loud anime boys, it may be worth your time.
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