Eyeshield 21 Anime Review
US Release By
145 25-minute episodes
2005-04-05 - 2008-03-18
What's In It
- Sports Action
- Underdogs Not giving up
- Obscene Workout routines
- Giant Mammoth Players
- Tiny Shrimp Players
- Unethical Recruiting Methods
- Unethical Coaching Methods
- Guns Galore
- Violence: 1 (mild)
- Nudity: 1 (mild)
- Sex: 0 (none)
- Language: 0 (none)
All his life, Sena Kobayakawa has been bullied and picked on for his small size, shyness, and submissive demeanor. His kind and strong-willed friend Mamori has shielded him from some of the worst abuse, but his reliance on her protection certainly hasn't improved his social standing. Even his biggest accomplishment--getting accepted into the prestigious Deimon high school she's attending--seems hollow, as he still struggles to find a way to fit in. But one day everything changes when Yoichi Hiruma, the sadistically ruthless quarterback and coach of the school's American football team, The Deimon Devilbats, discovers Sena's lifetime of evading bullies and rushing to complete the tasks they force him into has given him phenomenal agility and nearly superhuman speed. Hiruma quickly recruits Sena to be the team's secret weapon, an unstoppable running back to turn the team's fortunes around when the game is on the line. In order to keep other teams from being able to learn his weaknesses (namely that he has no football background, formal training, or any skills other than speed and agility), Sena is assigned a helmet with a tinted visor, thus concealing his real identity from opposing teams, his fans, and even most of his teammates. It is Hiruma's hope that Sena's running skill and mysterious new identity will not only make a game-changing difference, but also bring desperately needed attention and popularity to the little-known sport, enabling him to fill the team vacancies with players talented enough achieve his ultimate dream: A trip to Japan's High School Football championship game, the Christmas Bowl.
But even with the addition of Sena and his special talents, the challenges faced by the Devilbats are seemingly insurmountable. Following a horrible season in the prior year, the entire team disbanded. Now only two members of the Devilbats, Hiruma and center/defensive tackle Ryokan Kurita, have any prior football experience at all. Hiruma and Kurita must put together a new team from scratch, consisting mostly of students lacking basic knowledge of the game, and mold the inexperienced and fearful Sena into an effective all-round football player. At first it seems unlikely that Sena can overcome his fears, but soon he will be feared by his opponents when they face off against the defense-terrorizing running back known only as "Eyeshield 21."
Through grueling training sessions, relentless practices, and intense games, Sena and his teammates have a long journey ahead of them, but with the Christmas Bowl drawing closer by each day, they are determined to see it through to the end.
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Don't be put off by the sports-movies cliches the story starts out with; Eyeshield 21 takes a tried-and-true sports underdog formula and gives it an over-the-top anime twist, producing a brilliant combination of serious football drama with spectacular physics-defying action scenes and zany, off-the-wall humor. It's also not about simple main-character heroics; at its heart, Eyeshield 21 is about building a successful football franchise from the ground up, at the individual player, supporting staff, and overall team level. The series' epic length allows it to introduce the game, then gradually dig into its nuances through its large cast of interesting characters, almost all of which have significant roles to play. Its only real flaws are the somewhat repetitive structure of the games, a lack of coherence in field position, and, most tragically given the length, the unsatisfying spot that it ends the story.
Oerall, Eyeshield 21 is one of the best anime TV shows I've ever seen. It's got great characters on a remarkable journey as they learn all about respect for the game and each other, filled with nail-biting action, beautiful animation, good comedy, and an epic adventure story.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Eyeshield 21 takes the tried-and-true sports underdog formula and gives it an over-the-top anime twist, producing a brilliant combination of serious football drama with spectacular physics-defying action scenes and zany, off-the-wall humor. The result is a total masterpiece of football fiction: Something that enables the viewer to learn all about the real sport and enjoy exaggerated anime elements added in at the same time. Forget about how it compares to other anime sports shows, this might just be one of the best overal anime TV shows ever made. Like a great football team, it has the total package: Great music, beautiful animation, epic story, lovable characters, and phenomenal action. I tried my best to nitpick for serious flaws, but they simply do not exist in this show. From start to finish it just keeps getting better, just like the Devilbats, and will have you aching to see them make it to the top as much as the Devilbats want to get there.
The first thing one notices about the story are the set of sports cliches, easily matched to familiar movies. We've got a loser sports team who has to start over from scratch and uses a new player to turn their fortunes around (Necessary Roughness), and that person is a career victim whose hard life has given him special talent (The Waterboy), and is discovered by the team coach while running from bullies (Forrest Gump). But this isn't a problem, as the cliches represent the floor of the story, not the ceiling. They are just a set-up, and once the show starts to expand, it takes the storyline in directions the other films never had a chance of going, mainly due to differences in length. At 145 episodes, and with a central plot goal that's a long ways away (The Christmas Bowl), this series has time to take the story in totally unpredictable directions, and that's just what it does, throwing out twist after twist that simply cannot be seen in advance, from having the bullies who picked on Sena end up assigned to protect him as members of the team's offensive line to sending the team on a surprise training trip to America that takes up a huge portion of the first season.
At its heart, Eyeshield 21 is about building a successful football franchise from the ground up, at the individual player, supporting staff, and overall team level. The Devilbats start with virtually nothing; a skeleton-crew team with sub-par training facilities, no real fan base, a few rudimentary game strategies, and players ignorant of the game's most basic rules. From there, the team slowly advances--and I do mean slowly, as even the quarterback position is not explained until episode 6. Under Hiruma and Kurita's leadership, the team just has to take it one step at a time, starting with the most important concepts, like blocking, tackling, and running, and then moving on to more advanced tactics like a no-huddle offense, fake handoffs, shotgun formation, complex route running, and blitzing, while also recruiting new players and seeking to gain access to better facilities and equipment.
It may sound tedious, especially to those of us who already know all about the game, but it isn't. The development is depicted as both natural and rewarding, with certain new improvements setting off chain reactions that lead to other benefits (as they do in real football). This leaves the viewer wondering in every episode what will be the next new addition to enhance the team: A new play (like a screen pass), a new support function (a bigger team club house) a new individual skill (like pulling offensive linemen), a new player to fill a badly-needed vacancy, or some combination of them all? With so many different positions, plays, individual maneuvers, and strategies, the possibilities are endless, and no position or team function is neglected.
As such, it was fascinating to see the team develop and grow, generating interest in the sport with funding drives and merchandising, slowly filling in their vacant positions, training themselves into superior condition, and adding new weapons to their metaphorical arsenal on the road to their ultimate goal. In a way it sort of felt like the show was using the party- and skill-building elements of a traditional RPG, and whenever a new player joined or new skill was added, I could picture how it would play out in a video game: "Monta, wide receiver, joined the party," or "Sena gained a level! Speed increased by 1, Agility increased by 1, learned new technique 'spin and juke.'" That may be reading a bit too much into this, but that's the kind of effect this show has. It pulls you in and totally immerses the viewer in the experiences the players are going through. Watching the team and individual players develop is exceptionally entertaining and enjoyable through every new aspect of the game that is introduced.
I don't think I've seen a sports film or series that shows how much goes into building a successful football team, especially so many of the supporting elements that occur off the field and before game time. As the series goes on, the team has to deal with more and more complex issues. Some of them are faced by teams at all levels of the game (determining how much effort should be put into finishing the game after the score is out of reach), some are more common at the high school level (the lack of a full roster forcing players to start on offense and defense), and some are unique to Japan (lack of popularity of the sport hindering recruiting and funding efforts). All of them are legitimate issues that real teams have to deal with, and are handled in an effective and mostly realistic manner.
It also does a great job showing how the positions are mutually dependent upon each other, especially in regard to Sena's running. One of the first things he learns is that none of his skills will be useful without good blocking from his teammates. As the series progresses, he soon learns many other things he will come to depend on, such as a reliable passing game to stretch the defense and good play calling to keep the opposing team off balance. Although he's the main character, and arguably the most talented, it never once felt like he was single-handedly carrying the team. On the contrary, it mostly felt like they were carrying him, providing him with the necessary support (moral and physical) he truly needed to excel.
Of course, the great story and team development wouldn't amount to much without excellent characters, which is not a problem since Eyeshield 21 simply has a wonderful cast, starting with Hiruma. Though he's not the title character, I gotta say it was Hiruma who really made the series shine. Fanatically driven to win at any cost, and with no regard for his teammates' personal feelings, his tactics involve coercing students to join the team through blackmail, shooting at them on a regular basis with a vast arsenal of weaponry (though it is vaguely implied he doesn't use live ammo), and putting them through training and workout routines that not only put Rocky to shame, but would probably be too much to handle for an average Navy SEAL. But, even so, one can stil see moments of mercy and respect for his players shining through, and in a way some of his methods seem justified, as his unskilled, football-ignorant team at the start of the series really does need some unconventional methods to get them ready in time for the Christmas Bowl tournament. Hiruma gives off the image of pure evil, but a necessary one, and the only real hope the team ever has of becoming a legitimate title contender.
And of course there is Sena, his complete opposite. Sena's compassion for his teammates, unwavering trust in their abilities even after they screw up, and drive to help others succeed (even other teams' members) are a great contrast to Hiruma's cruel, emotionless team-building tactics. In a way it seemed like they both needed each other, with Sena relying on Hiruma's knowledge of the game and leadership quality to make tough decisions, while Hiruma requires Sena as a moderating force of reason and support for the individual players when his ruthlessness drains their spirit and stamina too much. Like the team, Sena starts out from scratch with only natural talent in a narrow area and no real skill. Even his respect for the game is somewhat limited, as at first he sees it only as way to fit in and gain new friends. But, through Hiruma's ruthless training, Kurita's friendly encouragement (Kurita represents the best aspects of Hiruma and Sena, being a gentle giant off the the field and a fearsome warrior on it), and his own work ethic, he quickly transforms into a top-notch running back motivated by pure love of the game and the thrill of a big win. Watching his development is one of the high points of the show, and one that can be enjoyed without neglecting other parts of the series or his teammates' significant developments as well.
When it comes to characters, almost nobody gets relegated to "second string." It seems like virtually every character introduced has a major role in the story, and even ones who don't do much early on seem destined for bigger things down the road. Obviously a series this long has to have a lot of characters, but I've never seen one so dedicated to giving so many such vital parts to play, even non-players like Mamori, who ends up as the team manager. Mamori gives this series another thing it really needs, a strong-willed, intelligent, compassionate, non-over-sexualized female character to aid the team. It's a shame Hiruma doesn't give her a bigger role, such as taking her under his wing to make her an assistant coach, since she's clearly smart enough for it and a quick learner, but she still feels like an essential part of the gang. The only other significant female character is Suzuna Taki, who decides to make herself the team's cheerleader (without being asked) after her brother joins the team. Like Mamori, she's depicted as energetic, smart, and extremely helpful to the team's success, especially when it comes to helping them establish a fan base at their school, while avoiding all the typical stereotypes associated with her job. In fact, some of the cliches about cheerleading--ditzyness, vanity, and supermodel attractiveness--apply far more to her brother then to her.
As for Sena's secret identity of Eyeshield 21, it's neither necessary nor plausible (there is no way he could keep his identity a secret for so long, especially from someone as intelligent as Mamori), but it makes a pretty good sub-plot. The mystery behind the team's star running back legitimately brings in a lot of needed publicity and popularity to the team, while it creates an interesting personal paradox for Sena in that he's finally done something to make Mamori proud, but can't actually reveal to her what it is. In a way, working up to the point where he feels he can tell her is as much a long term goal as making it to the Christmas Bowl, as he eventually explains he doesn't feel he can tell her until he has achieved the proper skill level so she won't have to worry about him anymore. Like the Christmas Bowl, it's another long-term central plot point that the series can use almost limitless methods to reach, and that's just what it does, keeping the story effectively interesting and unpredictable.
But of course, the real substance of Eyeshield 21 is the games, which blend real football tactics and plays with the wild superhuman action of shows like Fist of the North Star, Street Fighter 2, and Dragon Ball Z. Watching 15-foot leaping catches, gargantuan monster players who can plow through opponents like they are made of paper, 100-miles-per-hour passes, comic-book-style teams that represent their team's name in the most literal sense, tackles and blocks with the impact of automobile collisions, and light speed running are some of the show's best features, along with epic games and rivalries that are brilliantly set up. The series still features real life football plays, strategies, and actions, just done in a wonderfully exaggerated fashion that's simply a blast to watch.
Once again, Eyeshield 21's length is a major asset. While the average game in most sports films is 5-20 minutes, Eyeshield 21 features games that span the course of multiple episodes, often ending with a momentum-shifting play or event as a cliffhanger (one episode is actually filled up by a single game ending play!). This is when the show is at its finest, and the games are so intense and hard-fought you may find you simply can't stop watching until the final whistle.
The action also excels at the individual level, with players that have "special moves," like a certain way of blocking or tackling that is difficult to avoid, each presenting a new set of challenges for the Devilbats to overcome. Also, while some teams are depicted as simple "bad guys" who need to be defeated, most are depicted as skilled and honorable opponents who put as much effort and dedication into the game as the Devilbats, which makes the rivalry set up between the teams all the better. Nearly every game, from the most meaningless exhibition matches to tournament games the team has to win to reach the championship, is depicted as a major event with a huge impact on the team and overall story, properly keeping the amount of filler to a minimum.
I wish that was all there was to this, but sadly there are a few things that prevent the show from hitting five-star status. The first is that in games, the show often doesn't do a good job of tracking or stating field position. Routinely I saw huge gain after huge gain on a drive only to discover the team has somehow isn't even close to the goal line. Sometimes plays that look like sure touchdowns don't even get the team into the red zone, while other times it will seem like a ball carrier will spend 10-25 seconds sprinting at top speed yet somehow fail to gain 5 yards. It's not a huge deal, but it creates a lot of unnecessary confusion and would have been easily corrected by simply having the announcer state the field position during or after most plays, as they do in real life, or at least after the plays that result in big gains/losses.
The other flaw is that many of the big games use the same structure: The Devilbats team or one of their key players is dominated by an opponent, gets really frustrated, seems like they are going to give up, then finds some source of inspiration or weakness in the opponent's playing style that enables them/him to play better. It's understandable early on when the Devilbats are an incomplete team of rookies struggling to learn the basic aspects of the game, and watching players and teams overcome adversity is always enjoyable, but it gets a little annoying to keep seeing it later in the series after they've filled all their positions and become hardened veterans through vigorous training programs and games against tough teams. By that point, the playing field between them and their opponents should be more level.
However, the one thing that really hurts the series is the lack of a proper ending. The show just cuts off abruptly without showing the full results of the Christmas Bowl tournament. The lack of a good ending is common anime problem, but this isn't a 3-episode OVA or a 90-minute movie. It's a TV series of 145 episodes, including at least a dozen fillers. For a show this long, not having a proper ending is simply unforgivable, especially since the manga it's based on does. It's not the most inconclusive ending I've seen, and it at least slightly makes up for it with a nice scene after the final credits showing the futures of Hiruma and Sena, but it does so by taking a huge leap forward in time and neglecting everyone else. That's not good enough. Not after establishing so many great characters and making them such an important aspect of the plot. If anything, the ending felt like a cheap ploy to get viewers to go out and get the manga. On me, it's probably going to work, but that's still no excuse.
But overall, Eyeshield 21 is still one of the best anime TV shows I've ever seen. There's just nothing major to complain about besides the ending. It's got great characters on a remarkable journey across multiple locations and nations as they learn all about respect for the game and each other, filled with nail-biting action, beautiful animation, good comedy, and an epic adventure story. It shows great respect for the real game, while also staying true to its exaggerated-reality anime roots. If you're a fan of sports and anime, I'd say you have to check this series out. It's got everything a fan of both of those things could hope for and then some. As currently the only American-football-based anime on the market, it's set one hell of a standard for any other that might follow. But even if it remains the only one, the makers can still take pride in knowing it happens to be a series for which there are few equals in terms of quality, among sports anime or any other kind.
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Even after this series, American football remains a relatively obscure sport in Japan. As such, this is still the only American-football-based anime ever made. However, there are plenty of anime shows covering other sports that are popular in America, such as Basketball (Buzzer Beater, Slam Dunk), Tennis (The Prince of Tennis and the shoujo classic Aim For The Ace), Boxing (Fighting Spirit and the even older classic Ashita no Joe) and Baseball (Princess Nine, Cross Game).
Notes and Trivia
Based on a manga series of the same name written by Riichiro Inagaki, consisting of 37 volumes that ran between 2002-2009. The story in the manga goes way beyond the anime, showing the full results of the tournament and the lives of most of the major characters afterwords.
Several video games based on the series have been made: "Eyeshield 21: Let's Play American Football! Ya! Ha!!" on PSP, "Eyeshield 21: MAX Devil Power" on Nintendo DS, "Eyeshield 21: Devilbats Devildays" for GBA, and Eyeshield 21: The Field's Greatest Warriors" for the Nintendo Wii.
The entire show is currently available streamed on Crunchyroll.
Most episodes have a segment called "football clinic" which asks trivia questions about football in general and provides answers, eventually featuring real Japanese football player Hayato Arima demonstrating football techniques. Some are really helpful to those who don't know about football (the show's target audience), and others explain less-known aspects, such as Arena football in the US. However, they eventually get annoying, as they end up repeating themselves with basic questions the viewer should know after watching for that long. For example, in episode 28, it actually asks what the running back's job is. Really--28 episodes into a series in which the main character is a running back. How dumb do they think we are? Episode 123 actually asks how many quarters are in a game! Talk about insulting.
One aspect of football noticeably absent from this series is penalties. I saw only a one or two of them in the whole thing. I suppose it could be that the players in Eyeshield 21 are so rule-abiding that they never commit them, but I saw quite a lot of things that would draw a yellow flag in real life, at least based on NFL and college football rules, such as contact with a receiver beyond five yards ahead of the line of scrimmage and intentional grounding.
Though I have no evidence to support this theory, I can't help but think Eyeshield 21 may be based on or inspired by real life NFL star LaDanian Tomlinson, who had entered the league over a year before the manga was released. Like Sena, Tomlinson was a superstar running back known for his speed and agility, who also wore #21 and a tinted visor that concealed his face (though it didn't hide his identity--it only made him more distinctive). Could all these similarities be a coincidence? Well, yes, but I can't help but think it's possible there is a connection.
Inagaki himself has cited NFL Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk as his inspiration for Sena, which I find odd as they share virtually nothing in common other than both being running backs (Faulk didn't even wear #21). Faulk wasn't huge for a running back, but wasn't small either and was especially known for his prowess as a receiver out of the backfield, something Sena is rarely used for in the series. It's also possible Inagaki has some affinity for the San Francisco 49ers, because the only real NFL players referenced in the series are 49ers superstars Joe Montana and Jerry Rice.
In many anime shows the characters' names are a sort of in-joke, and this is no exception. For example, Mamori's name literally means "protect," Kurita's name means "chestnut," a reference to the shape of his head, and Hiruma's last name is written with kanji meaning, appropriately, "leech demon."
Hiruma has the largest arsenal of guns I've ever seen from an anime character, most of which are real-life firearm designs. I was able to identify a M16A2 rifle, an M4A1 carbine, an M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, an MP5 sub machine gun, an Uzi submachine gun, an AT-4, an RPG-7, an MM1 grenade launcher, a Smith and Wesson Model 29 revolver, and a Beretta 92 pistol. That's not even counting numerous shotguns and handguns that I could not identify, but looked real, along with rocket launchers, a flame thrower, and a tank. A pretty impressive arsenal for a guy who only uses guns for intimidation value, and mostly against his own players.
US DVD Review
You would think an anime about a sport that is most popular in America would get a good American release, but that hasn't happened yet. There is no boxed set, and Sentai Filmworks has only recently started slowly releasing the series in subtitled-only DVD collections containing about a dozen or so episodes each. They have clean openings and endings, and that's it for special features.
They're only up to the fourth set as of this writing, and at upwards of $30 each, these are extremely expensive. So, unless you've got a lot of cash to burn and a lot of empty space on your shelves, getting the whole series this way might not be feasible. It is, fortunately, also available streamed.
Amazingly clean considering the subject matter, this one can be enjoyed by the whole family.
Violence: 1 - Plenty of hard hits on the field and gun-point intimidation from Hiruma, but none of the devastating injuries you see in real football.
Nudity: 1 - Some rare non-detailed male nudity, but that's it. Even the cheerleading outfits aren't revealing.
Sex/Mature Themes: 0 - Even though the main character starts out in an established relationship, the only romance in this series is pure love of the game
Language: 0 - A lot of creative insults from Hiruma, but no profanity.
Available in North America streamed on Crunchyroll in subtitled form, and on subtitled-only DVD sets of about a dozen episodes each from Sentai Filmworks. As of this writing only the first four DVD sets have been released; there will theoretically be 11 sets total if they continue with the same format.