Sports series have always been a fundamental staple of the Shōnen genre, and many have seen great success in Japan. The trouble is, they never quite take off to the same extent in the West. Despite a few notable exceptions, like the recently concluded Volleyball sensation Haikyu!!, sports series never seem to grab the readers attention over here as much as curse combat or superhero shenanigans do.
Indeed if you’ve read one soccer Shōnen, you’ve read them all, right? What’s up Captain Tsubasa fans! The cooperation and rivalry themes that appear so frequently in Shōnen titles are even more widespread within a sports series, so maybe people are just tired out of familiar trends. That goes double for readers without any prior experience with the specific sport to pull them in.
How about a new twist on those tricks then? If the old way of doing business relied on the teamwork and camaraderie so omnipresent in Shōnen, then perhaps a little more selfishness is in order. This is the unique answer that Blue Lock provides, and it’s made for all the more dynamic a read as a result. Read on to find out if Blue Lock Volume 1 is worth reading!
What Japanese soccer lacks is ego
Right from the get-go, Blue Lock gives you a sense that change is in the air. The opening pages call back to the Japanese national football team’s real-world defeat back in the 2018 World Cup. This catalyzes a new approach to how the country handles the game. The crusty older men in suits at the top of the football union are stuck in the past. Then a woman arrives with a fresh mindset and a new goal.
Anri Teieri’s dream is to see her country win the World Cup, and she proposes a bold new plan to achieve that target. The aforementioned Blue Lock, is a facility built to conduct the manic experiment of a spindly coach called Jinpachi Ego. Within the walls of Blue Lock, Teieri and Ego will throw 300 of Japan’s most promising youth soccer players together, clashing in a constant battery of tests and training. Whoever’s left standing above the other 299 will not only be the best striker on the planet. But, the key to Japan’s victory in the next World Cup.
Soccer Suicide Squad
‘Soccer Suicide Squad’ sure is an outlandish concept on the surface, but it’s the personal touch that gives it gravitas. We get a front-row seat into the inner workings of Blue Lock through the eyes of our protagonist, Yoichi Isagi. Isagi is a skilled forward and team player for his high school’s football team, but it’s one of those traits that result in his downfall. In the final moments of the big prefectural finals, Isagi forfeits his last-minute shot at the goalposts to pass to a teammate, who proceeds to miss the shot and cost them the game. This reliance on teamwork that is often represented as a strength in a sports series is Yoichi’s greatest weakness. This is the first of many surprising twists on familiar tropes that Blue Lock brings to the table.
To shoot without hesitation
The defining characteristic we gleam from Isagi is a sense of his drive. He is a kindred spirit to Teieri and Ego, even with the comparatively more minor goal of winning Nationals instead of the World Cup. While the rest of his team feels a similar sense of remorse in their defeat, he alone has to live with the cruel possibility that things might’ve gone better if he chose to take that shot when victory was in his grasp. Of course, there’s nothing he can do to change that. Soccer is a sport of 11 players, not 1. What good is all that drive alone?
The Blue Lock
Isagi receives the invitation to Blue Lock in the form of a letter listing a special training program. Along the way he bumps into Ryosuke Kira, superstar striker and former rival on the field. Kira was the MVP from the opposing team who ended Isagi’s run to Nationals. It seems like football fate that these two former rivals would be reunited within the walls of Blue Lock, their companionship solidifying with every shared victory. But this won’t be the case if Ego has anything to say about it.
Ego delivers an intentionally volatile induction speech to fire up his recruits. They’ve been schooled under the mindset that teamwork makes the dream work, but Ego’s dream calls for a little more glory hogging. This angers a lot of the candidates, Kira in particular. He recounts famous players in Japan’s history of the sport, team players who inspired him to take up the game himself. Like the old farts at the start, Kira has an antiquated approach, an outdated way of thinking about soccer that’s led to a stagnation in growth countrywide. Ego is here to drag Kira and that dated mentality kicking and screaming into modern times. One where a striker needs the drive to win above all else.
Blue Lock volume 1 spoilers
Blue Lock volume 1 spoilers
The Egotism of a striker
Competition, as opposed to comradery, is built into the very core of the Blue Lock facility. The five wings of its pentagonal shape house 25 teams worth of strikers. Each player is given a ranking from 1-300 to represent their skill level. Despite being the two most skilled players at that finals game, Isagi and Kira both find themselves at the bottom of the barrel. They’re both hitting the bottom half in scores and are dumped in Blue Lock’s lowest-performing group, Team Z. Bad news for them, but everybody loves a good underdog story, right?
Tag your it
The gauntlet kicks off with a simple game of tag. Deceptively designed to clarify a candidate’s skill within the cramped confines of the penalty box. The rules are simple, avoid getting hit with the ball and don’t get stuck with it once the two-minute clock stops. The winners pass the Blue Lock entrance test. The loser? Instant expulsion! Through a heart-pounding game of cat and mouse, the ball eventually falls to Isagi in the final seconds, and he sends it smashing into Kira’s smug face.
In an instant, the pair’s budding bromance is broken. The previously angelic Kira reveals he’s quite the sore loser. He lacked the single-minded drive to win that Isagi had and was punished as the weakest link by the result. It is a stunning declaration of the status quo going forward from Mangaka Kaneshiro and Nomura and the most memorable moment of the volume. When it comes to reaching the top in Blue Lock, no action is too unsporting, no tactic too underhanded, and most importantly: no player too safe!
There’s a monster inside me
A team of underdogs is nothing new in the lineage of Shōnen sports titles. But in the cutthroat world of Blue Lock, you have to be a specific type of striker. With an eccentric personality for good measure, of course. Of the few supporting cast members we dive into in this first volume, Meguru Bachira is the one that provides the most initial intrigue. A wild card in a team full of wild cards, Bachira senses a similar drive in Isagi, attracting him from an early stage.
Bachira explains his drive to Isagi as a monster that compels him only when playing football. The devil on his jersey-clad shoulder. Monster seems to be a fitting description, considering the raw, animalistic art that Mangaka Nomura utilizes here. It’s especially noticeable in the wide, bulging eyes, hungry for victory. It’s a beautiful synchronization between art and story. A unique artstyle used to depict an unconventional approach to a sports Shōnen. Both feel fresh and invigorating, and we’ve only caught a glimpse of what these monsters can become!
Is Blue Lock volume 1 worth reading?
If you’re hungry for something new, then this is the Sports series for you! There was already a certain buzz behind this series’ after its popularity in Japan, and now I can see why.
Blue Lock has energy, passion and attitude fitting for the competitive subject matter and is electrifying for the reader. An ego-filled shot in the Shōnen sports subgenre arm, Blue Lock is already on track to be one of my standout debuts of the year with an extremely memorable and exciting first volume. Consider me signed up for season tickets because Blue Lock is worth reading!
You can read the first chapter free on kodansha.us. If you’d like to support the site, please consider picking up Blue Lock volume 1 from BookWalker.