Reviewby Carlo Santos,
Sena Kobayakawa has spent his entire life running from bullies, but he's finally putting his light-speed legs to good use as the star player of Deimon High School's American football team. Disguised as running back Eyeshield 21, Sena must lead Deimon to victory while hiding his identity from opponents. Their next game is against the shady delinquents of Zokugaku High School, but can Sena and the team overcome Zokugaku's dirty tactics and their long-armed linebacker, Rui Habashira? Meanwhile, the team's success has piqued the interest of other Deimon students, and Hiruma decides that the best way to select new players is a test of endurance—all the way to the top of Tokyo Tower.
Why must Eyeshield 21 be so much fun? Give Sena a sword instead of an American football, spiritual powers instead of speed, and you'd have just another generic shounen series. But maybe it is the football that makes Eyeshield special. With a unique setting and unique roles, this manga stands apart from its peers, even when compared to other sports titles. A full-length game in Volume 4 emanates energy from start to finish, and the new characters introduced later on are just as colorful as the main cast. Even within the formulaic confines of the underdog sports saga, Eyeshield 21 has enough creativity and spirit to go the distance.
Anyone familiar with the challenge-and-fight pattern of typical shounen—and that's just about everyone—will find nothing new in the first half of this volume. Zokugaku is the newest obstacle in Sena's path to victory, and with catching prodigy Monta now on the team, the Deimon squad reveals a new set of techniques. Not too different from the world of ninjas or shinigami, right? Even newcomers to American football can get the hang of it, thanks to regular summaries of the rules and techniques. ("Even a monkey can understand football!" says one explanatory full-page spread.) Although predictable, the Zokugaku game flows with excitement all the way to the end, and the rest of the volume keeps things busy with an unorthodox tryout for new recruits. The story can be painfully methodical in its adherence to formula, but there are still enough quirks to make it worth reading.
Consider the case of the Hah Brothers, for example. The three bullies who tried to intimidate Sena in Volume 1 make a sensational return as the team's front line, with a wide-eyed "Hah?!" as their new catchphrase. A simple gimmick, perhaps, but a memorable one. Other side characters like Zokugaku's slimy team captain Habashira and vocabulary-challenged lineman Komusubi are equally distinctive. Somehow, the entire cast of Eyeshield 21 is likeable—even the "bad guys" are so over-the-top that it's hard to find them annoying. Instead, exaggerated personalities and traits keep things lively, bringing humor to a plot that would otherwise be boring.
Artist Yusuke Murata infuses the artwork with so much energy that readers might be forgiven for finding real American football boring. Let's face it—you're never going to see speedlines, flame auras, and stop-motion effects in the Superbowl. Such visual techniques are fair game in manga, though, and Murata reigns supreme when it comes to depictions of pure speed and action. His command of perspective is particularly strong, curving and distorting individual panels for maximum effect. Murata is equally adept at day-to-day scenes, filling them with rich detail but keeping a clear view of what's going on. The character designs, of course, are a feat of imagination: just look at the animal-inspired ingenuity of Habashira the chameleon, Monta the monkey, or Komusubi the hedgehog. The only shortcoming is a tendency to squeeze too much on one page: Sena's sudden turnaround against Habashira seems rushed, and a crucial panel at the end of the tryouts is barely readable.
In a manga that flows so swiftly from scene to scene, it's necessary for the translated dialogue to keep up, which it does. Although the characters speak in simple terms, their words are always to the point, and sometimes with a dash of humor. Purists may rankle at how Monta's "MAX!" catchphrase has been adapted into "Maxi-", but it's a small wrinkle (he says it maybe twice) in a script that is otherwise written in plain, natural English. On the visual side, Viz has developed a reputation for sneakily editing risqué imagery out of their other titles, but the infamous "middle finger" scene is preserved here in all its glory. The company continues its policy of replacing all Japanese sound effects with English equivalents, but the graphic design has evolved to a point where the new effects integrate into the art almost as smoothly as the original Japanese characters.
American football may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of manga, but the boundless energy of Eyeshield 21 makes it seem as natural as samurai epics or cyberpunk thrillers. This volume continues the typical shounen path to victory, but it's a path filled with slick action, hilarious characters, and a unique outlook on the quintessential American sport. Whether you're a sports junkie waiting for the NFL playoffs to start, or a manga fan looking for a fresh alternative to the usual swords and sorcery, Eyeshield 21 is a guaranteed fix for your football and action cravings.
Overall : B+
Story : B-
Art : A
+ New characters and exciting game action keep the series fresh.
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