Jan 26, 2010 2
I’d been crunching some Japanese TV ratings numbers for a different post, and one thing that struck me was, beyond the usual ignored-by-internet-chatter shows that tend to top the ratings (Sazae-san, Chibi Maruko-chan, Doraemon and Shin-chan), there was another show that occasionally squeezed in at the bottom of the top ten, often above the pop culture sensation that is Naruto.
That show was Inazuma Eleven.
Which you had probably guessed from the name of the post.
Based on the hybrid RPG/football game from Level-5, it presents an OTT version of a school football league that resembles Shaolin Soccer more than it does Jossy’s Giants. As best I can tell from the eight episode’s I’ve watched so far, the plot closely follows that of the videogame. And there’s a recurring visual of players running towards goal that I’m guessing is a straight pull from the videogame as it really doesn’t belong in animation otherwise.
Despite that adherence to its videogame parent, there’s plenty to recommend if you’re a fan of OTT exaggeration and of Level-5′s character design (like Professor Layton, Inazuma Eleven benefits from a huge cast of characters who are far from cookie cutter in design). The exaggeration though is where the real fun lies.
For starters you’ve got a team of kids learning special football moves (the goalie summons a giant hand, the striker has a flaming kick) from an secret handbook in an underground training compound built under the school. That’s bigger than the actual school. And then there are the opposing teams.
The “evil” team drives arround in a bizarre looking giant bulldozer type vehicle that they use to destroy the schools of the teams they beat. It looks like something that belongs in a Warhammer 40,000 army. The other teams I’ve seen them play so far include a team of supernatural monster children, children raised by wild animals like Tarzan and cyborg children. Such are the wonders of the Japanese education system. Of course they’ve all got their own special football moves too – for example, the supernatural team cast “spells” on our heroes mid match.
You may note that I’ve mentioned 4 teams there, and indeed they’ve played 4 matches so far in the 8 episodes I’ve watched. No Eyeshield 21-style pacing here, Inazuma Eleven moves ahead at a fair clip, with nothing taking more than two episodes to resolve so far. As kids shows based on handheld RPGs go, this is up there with Pokemon. That might seem like I’m damning it with faint praise, but given the usual success rate with transferring properties from videogames to cartoon, Inazuma Eleven is a resounding win for director Katsuhito Akiyama (Gall Force) and OLM (Pokemon). In fact, if it wasn’t for the United States’ disinterest in the sport, I’d have expected the game and anime to have had an English language release.
One final note. The end credits feature the three female leads singing the ending theme in what I believe is a homage to the daddy of all sports anime with ridiculous training regimes Star of The Giants. Of course, Star of The Giants homages are as regular as clockwork, but I’d not seen that particular aspect, The Aurora 3 (or Three Daughters of Aurora, not sure on the exact translation/name), being referenced so directly before.