Home > Episode Reviews, First Impressions > GIANT KILLING Episode 1 – Opening Day Jitters

GIANT KILLING Episode 1 – Opening Day Jitters

I like sports, and given the drama inherent to most sports themselves, you’d think there’d be plenty of great sports media. Really, though, sports movies and TV shows are almost universally terrible. American sports movies are unbearably repetitive, with a team of plucky underdogs that invariably triumph over adversity to come through when it counts, in the clutch. It’s a formula as riddled with cliches as that last sentence.

I came to sports anime with high hopes of better sports stories, but anime turned out to be just as bad. There are exceptions—I’ve heard rave review of Cross Game, for instance—but they’re rare. For the most part, sports anime basically follow the same formula as the action hero genre that includes such heavyweights as Bleach, Dragonball Z and Naruto, but applied to sporting events instead of killing people.

The opening and ending themes sound like Japanese people trying to cover Dropkick Murphys, which is hilarious.

If you’re familiar with the dramatic pattern of the Hero’s Journey, you already know the drill: You’ve got your plucky young hero, with no experience but a ton of potential, who struggles through initial setbacks but eventually becomes stronger and triumphs over adversity. And then triumphs. And then triumphs some more. Like their more violent counterparts, sports shows are basically open-ended. There’s always another enemy to fight or challenge to overcome, so they drag on and on until they finally get canceled or the studio gives up.

The problem with this is that it doesn’t apply very well to team sports, since the hero completely overshadows the rest of the team. Given that team sports tend to be the most popular sports, that’s what gets made into anime. There are exceptions, like or Hajime no Ippo (boxing) or Prince of Tennis (…tennis), but most tend to focus on the hero, who carries the team on his shoulders and is always the biggest factor in any big game.

The Europeans are pretty well-drawn.

As someone who’s played a lot of team sports, I can tell you that’s rarely the case in real life. Even when one player is overwhelmingly better than the rest of the team, he’s rarely the sole reason for a team’s success (basketball is a noteworthy exception, especially at lower levels—a really good player can be the difference between a team of worthless losers and a dark horse contender). Sports anime usually ends up being even less realistic and more formulaic than American sports movies, which is kind of impressive, in a depressing way.

It’s sad, because so much about sports is about triumphing over the petty adversities of everyday life and the close-knit relationships that form out of having common goals and spending so much time together. In the right hands, it would be perfect for a slice of life series, or as a background for other relationships in a drama series.

The Japanese all look kinda goofy though. Maybe subtle self-hate from a bunch of anglophiles?

***Actually talking about the show now***

Anyway, GIANT KILLING caught my eye because a) it’s about soccer, and I love soccer, and b) the main character is a coach, not a player. I thought maybe that would mitigate the hero factor a bit, but it really doesn’t. Tatsumi Takeshi is a former star player for East Tokyo United, who quit the team suddenly after taking a better salary from a club overseas, leaving his team relegated to a lower division. Several years later, they’re back in first division, and Takeshi is making a name for himself in England, coaching a division two team deep into the FA Cup.

I’d like to pause for a moment and explain to people who aren’t familiar with English football (soccer) how ridiculous that is. There’s one governing body that basically governs all football teams in the country. This includes everything from the teams in the Premier League, arguably the best football league in the world, down to the smallest club teams in the tiniest villages. The FA Cup is one huge tournament that any club can potentially participate in. East Ham United, the team Tatsumi appears to coach for, is in the eighth division, according to Wikipedia, which is low enough that everyone in the club is an amateur playing for fun. He got his team pretty far into the FA Cup, before they eventually lost to a Premier League team. That’s roughly the equivalent of my church league softball team getting far enough in a massive baseball tournament to lose to the Boston Red Sox.

So pretty.

So, GIANT KILLING is not a realistic slice of life series about teamwork and relationships. It’s a hero show, except the hero here is the coach. He’s brought back to Japan to revive his old club, which is now the laughingstock of the first division Japanese league. In an interesting move, the ownership mostly consists of his family members—his father owns the team, and his uncle, brother and sister all help run it—which makes leaving suddenly for a big payday in Europe even more of a dick move.

But Tatsumi is a dick, so at least it’s in character. He’s a conceited, arrogant bastard, making odd, nonsensical demands and basically treating his poor sister like a servant, but he also happens to apparently be brilliant at coaching underdogs. Despite all this, his idiosyncrasies and self-assured swagger still make him an interesting character, whether you love him or love to hate him.

This is good, because Tatsumi doing crazy stuff is basically all you get in terms of entertainment this week. There’s a lot of setup in this episode, explaining the backstory of Tatsumi and East Tokyo United and introducing its huge cast. It all moves at a good clip—although the scene introducing the management staff drags on a bit—but it still didn’t do much to grab my attention. Also, for a show so focused on soccer, there’s not a lot actually being played, except in the flashback story of Tatsumi and East Ham’s FA Cup run.

Look at him. He just looks like a douche.

Fortunately, I had the visuals to distract me. GIANT KILLING is a gorgeous show in general. The animation quality isn’t the best, which could be a problem in a sports show, but the drawing is top notch. The static backgrounds in particular are excellent, full of detail that makes you feel like you’re really there. The soccer scarves around fans necks and the player’s uniforms both have the kind of details that you have to be fairly familiar with the subject matter to appreciate. Studio DEEN have clearly done their homework, both in Japan and abroad, and the result is one sports show that at least looks realistic.

The only problem with the visuals is the character designs. It’s not the rounded, simplistic cuteness of anime aimed at otaku, more the sharply-angled, realistic style that’s common in sports shows. So, you don’t get the problem that arises with a more simplistic style where everyone’s face is more or less interchangeable except for the hair, but you do end up with a lot of goofy-looking people. The Europeans, oddly, look fine, but the Japanese do not, and since this is a Japanese show about Japanese people living Japan (albeit with flashbacks to England), it’s kind of an issue. At least everyone is easy to tell apart.

I thought the show was going super-deformed on me, but it turns out this is his normal face.

So, GIANT KILLING doesn’t look like that much of a deviation from the standard sports anime formula, but the premise is still interesting, and that and the attention to detail might be enough to keep me watching. I’ll definitely be watching it next week, because the episode ends abruptly, like they wanted to finish telling that particular story, but just ran out of time.

If you’re curious, you can watch this series here.

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  1. Robin Munn
    August 17, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    East Ham United, the team Tatsumi appears to coach for, is in the eighth division, according to Wikipedia, which is low enough that everyone in the club is an amateur playing for fun. He got his team pretty far into the FA Cup, before they eventually lost to a Premier League team. That’s roughly the equivalent of my church league softball team getting far enough in a massive baseball tournament to lose to the Boston Red Sox.

    It can happen, though. I’ve watched a soccer game that was, essentially, just that. France has a massive tournament similar to the one you describe in England, where all the teams of any size get entered in a massive single-elimination bracket. The first-division teams get a bye for the first several rounds, to make sure that when they do enter the competition, they’re facing worthy opponents. But one year when I was living in Saint Etienne, a neighborhood club team from Saint Etienne made it far enough in the competition to get to the round when the first-division teams enter the competition, and they drew Paris St. Germain as their opponent. Paris-StG is one of the top 4-5 teams in France’s first division, every single year: that’s like drawing the New York Yankees as your opponent. Furthermore, the draw had the neighborhood club team playing at home.

    Since the club team didn’t have a “real” stadium to play in, the first-division team from Saint Etienne offered them their stadium for the match. My father and I got tickets to the game — we normally wouldn’t spend that much, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime matchup. Now, Paris St. Germain could have brought out their second-string players and still won the match easily, but they didn’t. When the starting lineup was announced, it was Paris-StG’s regular lineup — which showed a lot of respect to the neighborhood team. It said, “We’re going to treat you like a serious competitor, and we’re going to play our best against you.”

    That was the only soccer game I’ve ever watched that ended on a score of 10-0 (yes, ten to nothing), and furthermore the only soccer game I’ve ever watched where the losing team, after exchanging jerseys with the winners, then made a completely unironic victory lap of the stadium, and everyone cheered them. It was just plain good sportsmanship all the way around, and it was a real pleasure to watch.

    So yeah… it’s not a very plausible scenario, to be sure. But I’ve personally watched it happen in real life.

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