Compared to the other football anime coming up this year which I have knowledge of prior to its airing (Blue Lock), I have to say that I’m fairly impressed with how head-on Ao Ashi approaches the sport as apparently we’ll be seeing all the process that leads one to become pro in this world – and the introduction to that is what we see in this ep.
Ashito is at Esperion gates where he quickly meets with Soichiro and Eisaku, who have also been admitted to the Youth Team. Their first encounter is with two girls watching the first team training and upon recognizing Ashito, the girls ask for his and his peers autographs. Now to the dorms, we get to know part of the rest of the team, six of them who’ll be also staying there (Yuma, the most welcome guy there and general mood maker, Asari, the loner and Kuroda, Soichiro’s roommate). The last one, who’s been scouted, is still missing and will be sharing the room with Ashito. And by the next day, their first meeting as a team takes place.
Introductions to how the team functions are made – basically, the newly accepted players will be playing in the B team with those who perform good eventually being promoted to the A, under Fukuda’s wings. It’s exciting news for the young guns but the short reunion gets interrupted with the arrival of Togashi, the last joining player with a glorious entrance with his former bike gang peers giving him a loud farewell. Intimidating as it may have been to everyone, Ashito quickly befriends him (because “he’s not one of the promoted guys from the Junior Team,” as stated by him). Next is an intrasquad match proposed by Fukuda himself; apparently, his intent is to have the young players bond over football but nervous as they are, performing their best will certainly be a challenge.
Ashito accidentally eavesdrops the head coach and Fukuda’s conversation – Nozomi is still suspicious that Fukuda may be giving special treatment to the boy he travelled so far to get from Ehime. His take? Unless Ashito improves in a miraculous pace, he’ll never make it to the A team, nevermind pro. Ouch. I can’t imagine being in Ashito’s position and hearing this (even if by an accident) in his very first day by the person who’s supposed to guide him to become a pro. Hana’s also there and refutes what Nozomi’s saying – she’s her first fan, after all. But for Ashito, the damage is already done. From what shown so far, he doesn’t seem like the type to back down easily but I very much look forward to see how he’ll overcome this.
It’s again a nice ep. I like the focus football is having here and a special nod goes to the characters, whose first impressions have been good so far. Soichiro’s innocence (and an apparent, even if sightly, lack of awareness of his own capabilities compared to the others) gives a nice impression and Eisaku seems like the hothead of the bunch. The new additions seem to work well, too, and I’m very much pleased with the level of the humanization the story is quick to give them. Some have been here longer, others just arrived but in the greater end, they’re all fighting to make the cut.
Something else I can also see is the seeding of plot points that are going to be explored in the near future. For example, why is Togashi against the promoted players? Why is Nozomi so suspicious of Fukuda? What’s Fukuda true deal with Ashito and how will it impact the story? And his relationship to his family (and the weight the forced abandonment of his career still possibly carries)? I have no answers to those questions yet, of course, but it’s nice to see that early on Ao Ashi is preparing the ground for different stories among the cast to take place. That’s always reassuring when you know a series will last for a long time as this has been.