Premiere Report: Blue Lock – Anime Expo 2022

Volleyball, surfing, soft tennis—name a sport and an anime will appear. But what about a series pitting Japan’s best soccer forwards in an experiment to create the best striker among them all? The highly anticipated anime adaptation of BLUE LOCK was featured as the last of Crunchyroll‘s Simulcast Premiere block, and manga fans couldn’t contain their cheers and excitement at the beginning of the panel. For new viewers of the series, the first episode may have left the room unconvinced of continuing the series.

Before the premiere, a recording of director Tetsuaki Watanabe expressing his gratitude for fans who have supported the series up to this point. He voiced his hope for their continued support and that the BLUE LOCK animation team are hard at work putting the episodes together.

Lacking an opening and ending song, the first episode dives straight into the middle of Yoichi Isagi’s fateful decision to pass the ball to his teammate. Despite his faith his in his teammate his, he ends up missing and their team loses the qualifying match to the opposing high school. Their coach gives his losing team reassurance that they gave it their best, but Isagi silently disagrees. In his own mind, he was set on one day making it to the World Cup. Time passes, but Isagi remains hung up on “what-ifs” and wallows in his misery. He continues to dread the moment that he passed the soccer ball to his teammate, and wonders if he would’ve made it to the World Cup had he decided to strike the ball himself.
Kazuki Ura, voice of Isagi, belts a yell of agony as Isagi remains troubled and pained over his team’s loss. The anime transfers the manga ‘s intense facial expressions and unhind inner emotions into motion, but I was n’t convinced of Ura ‘s performance his. He’s a relatively new voice actorand holds a lot of promise, but he comes off very green in one of his first main character roles.

Isagi is surprised by a letter that invites him to become a certified athlete, and but he’s confused as he his team just lost their latest match. While he’s on his way to the destination, he sees Ryosuke, the striker who scored the winning goal that stole Isagi’s teams’ win. Ryosuke comes off as a starry eyed, righteous young adult, but he’s made to face his naivety his when the group finds out who brought then together.

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After a brief introduction of hair color-coded characters in the crowd, Jinpachi Ego reveals he’s performing an experiment on all of 300 forwards who have gathered in the room. He calls his project his, Blue Lock: a last man standing battle royale to become the world’s greatest striker. While the other boys jeer at him, they ca n’t deny his observation his that Japan has never won the World Cup. His purpose his is to create a great soccer player—a solitary hero—much like how the greatest soccer players in the world are “insane egoists.”

Hiroshi Kamiya‘s delivery as Ego is excellent—the most compelling voice acting so far—and calls to mind Youwamushi Pedal‘s Midosuji (Yusa Koji), but with less slimy sound effects. Kamiya ‘s roles vary from the deadpan Saiki Kusuo to the strict Levi Ackerman and has never had a problem convincing audience of his characters. However, his character’s phrase—“lock off” (leave, get out)—sounds awkward to an English speaker as it’s cheeky but sounds out of place for a series around soccer.

Manga and anime series that start off with a tournament arc rarely draw me in. At the halfway mark in the episode, Ego’s experiment is an immediate set up where the intensity of the situation brings out the personalities of each character. That doesn’t quite work if the audience isn’t compelled to learn more. There is one big stake for participants: anyone who loses at Blue Lock will be banned from playing for Japan forever. Of course, they all disagree, but Ego offers them the door. If they want to be better than they are, they will need to prove themselves.

Isagi is ranked near dead last, and he’s given the opportunity to reverse the situation he was in at the beginning of the episode. Yet, this false equivalence—believing in his teammate vs. hitting someone weaker than him to become stronger –is a problem I have with the original manga as well. Anti-climatically, he does chooses not to hit someone weaker than him but soon after sleepy Meguru gives him a third choice: take down the strongest to become stronger. The key animator should be given credit for their ability to take Isagi’s internal mental battle from the manga panel to the anime because the animation made up for what Isagi’s voice lacked.

Meguru strikes Ryosuke in the face with the ball—I let out an “ouch” after hearing the impact— the episode abruptly ends after locking on his crazy eyes and follows with the title card that reads: Dream. Unfortunately, for those who couldn’t make it to the panel, the series will stream in October 2022. For long time manga readers, the adaptation picks up the pace of the manga. But for fresh viewers, this may not be a sport series strong enough to commit to.

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