Muneyuki Kaneshiro and Yusuke Nomura's Blue Lock
Reviewed by Anson Leung
Kaneshiro and Nomura’s Blue Lock is about a high school boy, Isagi Yoichi, who dreams of becoming the best striker in the world. After losing a heartbreaking game when he decided to pass the ball to his teammate instead of taking a shot himself, and that missed shot cost Isagi’s team a chance to win in extra time, our protagonist falls into depression. Guided by fate, he soon receives a letter to join a national training program funded by the Japan Football Association, aptly named “Blue Lock.”
Once he arrives at the facilities, he gets inspired by the head coach’s speech. Football had always been seen as a team sport, but now Isagi is told to think of only himself. Only his goals matter, and everybody else is used as a pawn for his ideal. Every other position is second to the striker position—a sharp contrast to his high school coach’s mentality of passing the ball to his teammate whenever possible, which cost him his chance at High School Nationals.
Isagi Yoichi awakens an unknown desire which borders on an instinctive hunger. He previously envisioned himself as a player who could only succeed in high school level football. After the pivotal speech, he visualizes himself as a contender for the best player in the world. Along with 299 other high school players, the premise of this Japanese manga/ comic is to have the 300 best high school strikers compete with each other, for the sole purpose of making a striker that can win Japan the next World Cup. The last survivor will, by virtue of surviving this program, become the best striker in the world.
To make a manga stand out among its competitors, there must be a twist, or something unique about what is otherwise a standard shonen sports manga of a high school boy taking on the world. There are many sports manga that exist. In some cases, the twist is the main character not succeeding in his initial goal, but getting a new one instead. In the case of Blue Lock, the unique feature is the manga’s unrelentingly good artwork. There are manga whose art is comparable to Blue Lock’s, but this is a notably small number compared to the large number of manga in existence. The images pop to life, the goal -scenes are aided with images of fire, the characters’ eye designs depict them as literally monster-like in some instances, and the theme behind each character’s motif—in Isagi’s case, his are puzzle pieces—is drawn with intricate detail.
A second unique feature of Blue Lock is how “the power of friendship,” a cliché in most manga, is deconstructed. Normally, when a person uses this as their motivation, they magically gain enough physical prowess to defeat whatever challenge lies ahead. In one story arc, an impoverished boy in the program fights for the purpose of bringing his family out of poverty. In a critical moment, when he’s about to be eliminated if he loses the match, he pours “heart and soul” into one final shot. Keeping in mind the stakes, and the fact that this shot contains all his power, what happens next is especially disheartening. Not only does he fail to score, but on the rebound off the goal post, his opponent takes the ball and ends up scoring the point to secure his victory. The winner of the match comes from a nice middle-class family with no real stakes tied to losing.
A rather enjoyable feature of Blue Lock is its dialogue. When the Blue Lock program competitors insult each other on the field, the dialogue is overly dramatic, cringy, and, quite frankly, not everybody’s cup of tea. On the other hand, this is hilarious to a lot of the readers. Its comedy, intentional or not, will make its audience laugh.
A subset of this intentionally funny “cringy dialogue” is the naming conventions of the simplest of football abilities. For example, “metavision” is used to describe high level vision/ spatial awareness. “Chemical reactions” are when 2 players use their abilities with each other optimally, or when a player uses 2 existing abilities together to create a play/ new ability. It is denoted by “x.” For example, “spatial awareness” x “kicking power” = Volley. Another example is “Kaneshiro (writer)” x “Nomura (artist)” = Blue Lock.
Blue Lock shows you the perspective of the main character, Isagi Yoichi, as its main focus. But it also switches perspectives to his friends and his opponents to describe their background information and motivation for competing in the Blue Lock program. These only last about a chapter or two, as compared to the main story, which focuses on Isagi. I am not a fan of this, as it is sometimes used for unearned emotional moments that don’t come from a character with a built-up backstory that spans over the course of the entire story, but merely from relatively weak foreshadowing that comes only a few chapters prior to the emotional payoff. The impoverished boy I mentioned showed up early in the story, but his presence was mainly for comic relief. The first sign he was poor came just before he was eliminated. The anime actually fixes this problem by introducing his sentimental good luck charm—a cheap caramel box, as it was “the best his younger siblings could afford” —much earlier on than the manga does.
As an aside, I found issues with the story’s realism involving the over-emphasis on being the world’s best striker, whereas in real life, other positions are also very important. For a more realistic manga, please refer to Ao Ashi, which coincidentally I have also reviewed, in Issue 22 of The Temz Review. Ao Ashi aims for emotional payoff, while Blue Lock aims for amazing action and adrenaline. They both play “a different type of game,” so to speak.
The characters in this manga are also quite entertaining, somewhat complex, and easily recognizable character archetypes. Isagi’s best friend Bachira is a whimsical person who does things first and thinks later. He is one of the first people Isagi meets in Blue Lock. His conflict involves trying to overcome his trauma of having a friendless childhood due to his exceptional football dribbling talent isolating him from everybody else. Nagi is a lazy but amazing once-in-a-generation talent who only explored football to make money. At 6 months, he has the least football experience among the main cast and is capable of singlehandedly steamrolling a team with his world-class ball-trapping ability. He also only cares about the money, as opposed to being the best striker in the world, until Isagi defeats him in a game. Rin is an exceptionally good ball striker who has the ideal mental and physical specs Isagi wishes he had. His appearance is meant to purposefully reflect the main character’s image. He is also an edgy to a fault because of his trauma over his brother breaking their childhood promise to become the best striker in the world. His brother is Itoshi Sae, Japan’s best football player, who made a new dream to become the world’s best midfielder after realizing the gap between his skills and elite European strikers. He goes out of his way to join the U-20 team in order to assess his brother’s and Blue Lock’s abilities. His skills are excellent passing, excellent vision, and dribbling learned from Real Madrid academy. Interestingly, despite his realization he’ll never be the best in the world, he still looks down on every other striker in Japan for being even more inferior than he is. His complexity comes from the fact that he acts aloof to Rin, on purpose, to force him to become a better player in Rin’s attempts to “catch up” to Sae’s level of football.
The main conflict in the story involves Blue Lock attempting to prove itself a viable program financially and results-wise, to avoid getting shut down. This culminates in an exciting Blue Lock vs Japan U-20 game, where Blue Lock’s top players face off against existing Japanese talent in the form of the current U-20 national football team. It is a fight of Blue Lock’s egoist ideology against the team-oriented passing style of Japanese football, which Blue Lock aims to destroy. Despite the main character’s only main skills being his vision/ spatial awareness and his strong volleys, there is never really any doubt that the endgame sets up Isagi to become the world’s best striker. No matter how talented his friends or enemies are, there is never any hint of danger he will be permanently defeated by them.
Blue Lock focuses on action, not emotional payoff, as its main appeal. It is predominantly used to make readers feel excited about football by exaggerating the players’ skills to the point that they supersede real-life pros. The action shots are drawn with flawlessly beautiful imagery, and the story is as well made as one can expect from a manga of this nature. While I do wish the manga had more emotional buildup to its characters, and the writer certainly has the talent to do so, overall Blue Lock is still a riveting sports dramedy manga worth spending time on.
Anson Leung is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s Bachelor of Commerce program. He is an Alberta-based writer who loves all forms of writing, including poetry and article writing. In his spare time, he loves playing tennis and board games.