Eyeshield 21: Anime’s Venture into American Football Part 1

*Minor sidebar: if my paragraphs or my posts are too long, someone please tell me. I never say in three words what I can say in ten.*

Ok, ok, so I know I said I was going to write more about how stories seem to try to get us to sympathize with villains and how there are characters that, like people in real life, are…well, complicated. And I will! I will get there, but this particular post has been itching to be written. I kept thinking about all the things I wanted to say whenever I was away from the computer. So I must let it out, whatever it’s interrupting!

So what is “this”? It’s a semi-review of the anime Eyeshield 21. It’s a partial one because I haven’t finished the series yet, I’m only about halfway through (It’s got 145 episodes!). I’m splitting it into to two posts, because I originally published it as one and it was just way too long.

Eyeshield 21 is the story of how Kobayakawa Sena joins the ailing American football team upon entering high school. Sena has been bullied, presumably because he’s smaller and more timid, throughout elementary and middle school, always protected by his only friend Mamori. Though  Deimon High School looks like it’s going to be the same old story, after Sena joins the tiny (read: two member) football team, things start to change. It turns out that our hero has spectacularly fast legs from outrunning bullies all the time. The football team captain Yoichi Hiruma sees him run and forces him (literally at gunpoint) to become the running back for the Deimon Devil Bats. He makes him take on the name Eyeshield 21 and wear a helmet with an eyeshield so that no one knows who he is and tries to steal him from the team. And so Sena’s adventure as a running back begins!

Personally speaking, I like this show. It’s a shonen sports anime, so it has all the usual messages and tropes of the genre: obstinate determination, hugely impossible odds, the value of friendship and teamwork. Although I don’t know that I always like how these ideas are presented, I do like them for the most part. So far, the anime does a rather good job of giving the characters (at least Sena) challenges: the first few times they face an opponent they don’t necessarily win. I think after awhile this might change, and they win everything–which is misleading in two specific ways, in that hard work always gets you what you want, and winning is everything. However, it’s  fairly free of distasteful sexual humor. I think the worst offenders are the cheerleaders (who are still infinitely better than actual cheerleaders) and one of the teams they play in America called the Sexy Queens–who happen to be all men and wearing horrible-looking wrestling-type outfits. The latter are more embarrassing and painful to watch than anything else.

All in all, Eyeshield 21 is not an amazing anime, but it’s certainly diverting and fun to watch. I mean, it’s a Japanese take on American football, for crying out loud!

There are, of course, some more good (and not so good) things in this show, but for now I’m going to focus on the good things, which one can see in a description of some of the characters.

Sena

Sena is just plain good. He’s not perfect–he gets rather too scared at times, and at others thinks too much of himself. But on each occasion he learns to have courage or to see that the situation isn’t all about him. For instance, in the first episode, Sena meets up with some bullies who want to go after his old friend Mamori and his new friend Kurita. Although he’s scared of them, he chooses to stand up to them and does what he can to keep them away from his friends. Then later, when he’s playing football (albeit under duress from Hiruma who I’ll talk about later) and gets scared of the pain, he sees that everyone else is working really hard to win and decides that he should too. This hero is also very compassionate and willing to help his friends. When second-year Yukimitsu has difficulty with some team training, Sena literally carries him on his back for a while, and gives his friends encouragement throughout the series.

Sena’s not perfect, of course: he lies to his friend Mamori about the fact that he’s on the football team, who thinks he’s just the team manager. He also continues to use the alias Eyeshield 21 after he finds out that Eyeshield 21 is an actual football player from the U.S. You could cite Hiruma’s bullying as his inducement, but even he could’ve asked Hiruma for a different alias or made his remaining on the team hinge on the condition that they change his alias. And he could not put up with Hiruma’s habits so much–but I’ll get to Hiruma later. He’s his own ball of wax.

One other thing I’d like to address in relation to Sena is the comparison people make to Sawada Tsunayoshi, better known as Tsuna, from Katekyoshi Hitman Reborn!

[Mini Reborn! Summary for those who don’t know about it: Tsuna, an under-average middle-school student, discovers that he is next in line to lead the Vongola, a mafia group, and very reluctantly and unwilling begins training with his hitman tutor Reborn. I just don’t understand why someone would name their mafia after clams….]

I will admit that both characters share a certain timidity and fear. But their fears stem from different places. Tsuna’s comes from complacency, mediocrity, and despair: his grades aren’t of the best, he’s not an athlete or particularly athlectic, and considering that girls aren’t falling all over him, he’s not the most popular guy in school. So everyone calls him dame-Tsuna or “no good Tsuna,” and he doesn’t really have any friends. The same could be said for Sena, who becomes an errand boy for the bullies at every school he goes to and gets beaten up whenever he is unable to perform his duties (and therefore has no friends). Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with not being the most popular person in school, or not getting top grades (and in some cases you don’t even have to get what is considered ‘good’; so many people forget that C is average and that men do not live by academics alone), or not being athletic. And there’s not necessarily much one can do about bullies, although Sena could have told his parents or his teachers–which may have happened but since we never see his parents we’ll never know.

What’s different about Tsuna is that he accepts everyone else’s opinion and confirms it with his actions. He doesn’t say, just because I’m not the smartest, the strongest, or the most popular doesn’t make me no-good. He never stands up for himself.  Sena never really stands up for himself–he makes very, very, halfhearted attempts at it, but ends up submitting to the bullies. However, although he can’t manage to stand up for himself, even before he actually starts on the football team, Sena stands up for others (see example with bullies above).

Also, Tsuna seems to have no other abiding interest beyond his crush Sasagawa Kyoko, who he’s not even brave enough to talk to–and I’m not even talking about asking her out, just forcing words out of his mouth to form complete sentences. I know the people you’re attracted to can take your breath away, and that talking to them can be kind of hard, but usually it’s not that hard. *sigh* I shouldn’t be so hard on people that way, I guess, as I can be pretty shy myself.  Sena, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have any great abiding interest, but he gains one. He actually comes to like playing football, even though he was initially forced into playing it. This point is a bit like comparing apples to oranges, considering that the mafia and football are quite a bit different. The main point, however, is that with a little bit of a push Sena eventually likes what he chooses, and continues it because he likes it. He’s not lukewarm, he’s passionate. Tsuna constantly refuses to be the next mafia boss (and I would too!) but seems to have no passion for anything else (besides Kyoko). He gains friends and the occasional touch of self-confidence, but is still a bit of a pushover because he continues in something he doesn’t like (until the whole Future Arc).

But anyway. The situation behind Tsuna’s fear, then, is “I can’t do this because I literally can’t do this; I’m not good enough. And I’m really scared.” Tsuna has become and remained what others say he is. It is only when Reborn comes to be his tutor that he is at all motivated to do something, and he’s only motivated to do it so that he doesn’t get killed. Tsuna’s biggest problem is his sense of inferiority, not his fear. And I mean a sense of general inferiority, not in any one specific area. Tsuna literally believes himself to be good at nothing. Sena doesn’t think he’s inferior generally speaking: he’s just afraid of getting hurt physically and having no friends.

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