Sports anime tend to have a very simple, but highly successful success formula that more or less guarantees you’ll enjoy it if that’s your cup of tea. I mean, a story about a group of people who learn to work together as teammates and eventually friends? Maybe they win a tournament or two along the way? It’s fantastic to watch underdog teams get through challenges and rivals in order to bring home the victory. Sign me up! But Blue Lock looks that formula in the eye and spits on it. And in a way, it works.
Blue Lock is the show where all of the characters compete to be the very worst sports anime boy. The story centers on Yoichi Isagi, who is one of 300 strikers chosen for the Blue Lock program. The JFU devised the program to find and train new soccer players who will take Japan’s soccer to the next level. However, instead of teaching them how to be teammates and work together, the program actively pits the players against each other. This is because the show’s central philosophy is that the most egotistical plays are what’s ultimately the most important thing to break Japan out of its team-oriented funk. In a way, it’s the antithesis of what a sports anime is. What they want is the worst boy to ever exist in sports anime.
The animation and music for the show are fantastic, and the pacing makes it a really easy show to binge. Matches generally never overstay their welcome, and the characters are not that complicated. The soccer action is pretty intense. It’s Haikyuu levels of exciting, though with a lot less emotional attachment. This is because the focus of the show is on Isagi himself, with only a handful of other characters receiving any development. Chigiri, Bachira, and Nagi are really fun to watch because of their play styles. Outside of their plays, everyone is really fun, even though they’re objectively awful people. Like, Nagi is ridiculously terrible once you see more of him. But he’s so oblivious about it that it rounds back to funny (#JusticeForReo2023 for real though).
My biggest issue with Blue Lock ultimately lies with its protagonist Isagi. He’s really funny as a character. It’s hilarious watching him essentially call someone a slur for an hour and then, as soon as the match is over, he’s just a nice guy. Him being an unwitting homewrecker is also a riot. The problem is when he’s actually on the field.
The narrative establishes that Isagi is not a very good player, but he’s really observant. He’s above average outside of the Blue Lock facility, but within it, he’s lesser in almost every way compared to all of the major characters. So he makes up for that with predicting where the ball will go or what players will do, and then positioning himself on the field so that he can get the ball. That’s really neat, and he’d make a great strategist. But Isagi refuses to be that.
It was really cool to watch Isagi figure out his weapon and showing up objectively better players with it. His early development legitimately made me excited to see Isagi grow as a player. The problem is that Isagi never learns. Every match, he learns that his problem is overthinking and he should just take the shot. So he does. And then the next match starts, and he learns the same thing again. It’s underwhelming and repetitive. His “devouring” shtick of taking inspiration from other players only lasts for that one single match, which is another reason why his development and power-ups feel undeserved. I also found it unbelievable how Isagi is supposed to physically be one of the worst players on his team. But just because he can see better, he can pull out the ninja moves? His best plays involve him acting as a midfielder, and yet he constantly attempts to grab the striker spot from better players. Is this how Sharpay felt in High School Musical?
I felt like Isagi would’ve been more interesting as a player if he was more a strategist like Niko was. He’s exactly in the same boat as Niko where his weapons are his observational skills and brains, and they’re not as physically able as the better players. Later on, we see Reo, Rin, and Kaiser, who are all essentially “Isagi but better.” But they all have their own niches and positions in the field, whereas Isagi’s skill set makes him a better midfielder despite his insistence on stealing the ball from his own teammates because he wants to be a striker. It’s interesting how the premise of Blue Lock encourages the players to “devour” each other to reach new heights, both as individual players and as a team. But Isagi as a player makes the concept frustrating to watch. His canon incompetence contrasts with his lofty goals and foul attitude, but the narrative awards him for it every single time.
Obviously, I still really like Blue Lock. I mean, I recommended it from the Winter 2023 line-up. It’s a really fun show to watch for sports action, but I wouldn’t go into it with the expectation that it’s a sports anime. Isagi also seems popular in the fandom. So maybe I’m just too critical of him. Perhaps the desire to score your own goal even if you’re not the best player to do so is one that is a normal soccer player instinct. I wouldn’t know because I’m not a sports girl. But what I do know is that Blue Lock is genuinely fun to watch if you want to turn your brain off.
Blue Lock is available for streaming on services like Netflix and Crunchyroll. The manga is ongoing and Kodansha has licensed it for North America.