Kosher Kuts: Eyeshield 21

Japanese manga and American football: can two different tastes taste great together? Both forms of entertainment have their rabid devotees and people who indulge in fantasy scenarios with their favorites, but the similarities basically end there. Well, Riichiro Inagaki and Yusuke Murate apparently felt the gap should be bridged between the two mutually-exclusive fanbases and created Eyeshield 21. It began publication in Weekly Shonen Jump in 2002 and has since come stateside courtesy of Viz Media. There is also an anime version of the running that is sponsored by NFL Japan. There is no information yet about the anime coming to the United States.

The focus of Eyeshield 21 is Sena, a freshman at Deimon High School who tends to get bullied into running errands for people. Apparently, this constant harassment since childhood has provided Sena a pair of “Golden Legs”. Sena’s speed gets the attention of the school’s only two regulars of the high school’s football team, who recruit him on the spot as a running back. In order to mask Sena’s identity from rival teams and his over-protective friend, it is suggested that he wear an eyeshield with his helmet to completely cover his face. Sena is given a uniform with the number 21 on it and the saga of the Deimon Devil Bats football team begins.

Despite the odd premise, Eyeshield 21 is helpful and endearing. Sena has never played football before and you learn the different positions and tactics involved in football at an easy-to-digest pace. Also, given that the team only has three regular players, the early games are played with borrowed players from other teams, new players are brought in to cover these positions and the impact of their presence is shown in the matches. Sena is definitely the star of the show, but he definitely is not the only player to care about. Characters like the demonic Hiruma and the downright simian Monta have speech patterns that you might find yourself using on a regular basis. The emphasis on teamwork means that the game strategies change depending on where the other teams’ weaknesses are. These scenarios give different players the chance to show what they can do. Even the other teams can occasionally steal the Devil Bats’ thunder. The Oujou White Knights are Deimon’s main rival and their players get developed pretty well. Eyeshield 21 makes sure that you understand the game and love the people playing it.

The biggest weakness for Eyeshield 21 lie in the fact that, despite the unique presentation, it falls into the traps of a traditional shonen manga. Deimon trains, battles an opponent, beats them or gets beaten, they train to battle the next team, ad nauseum. Even the battles on the football field feel like Dragonball Z-style affairs. The manga is very tongue-in-cheek about the set-up though, as a “versus” panel with the two competing players facing each other is used to signal an upcoming “fight”. These battles also tend to be confusing as the position of the players on the field is not always clear. In a common example, Sena can pass by a defender on the way to a touchdown and that person can turn around, reach out, and still tackle him. These scenarios might just require a suspension of disbelief in the same vein as some of Deimon’s practice routines (running backs do not practice by kicking rocks down streets for hundreds of miles), but it hurts the manga’s ability to immerse the reader.

All things considered, Eyeshield 21 is a shonen manga with a unique presentation and great characters. Sena may be the centerpiece of the story, but his teammates and rivals get their fair share of spotlight time. These players keep the manga’s premise from getting stale. However, at heart, the manga is shonen and employs the same plot devises seen in other battle-oriented manga before it. The Devil Bats have just entered a new tournament, so, if you are turned off by this style, proceed with caution. Otherwise, definitely pick up a volume or two or this manga and pour over it. This odd combination of manga and football succeeds to great effect and is worth your time whether you are a football fan or not.

The Final Kut

Mazel Tov!

  • Learning curve for non-football fans is slim to none
  • Distinctive setting works in favor of the story

Oy Vey!

  • Keeping track of the action during games can be difficult