I have to confess that I love anime like Inazuma Eleven. They are perfectly aware of how completely, utterly stupid they are, but they show no sign of that at all. There's no hip, ironic self-referencing, and no clever-clever signals that the writers are secretly above all this, but doing it anyway - the Joss Whedon disease.
Yet, with complete sincerity, charming honesty and buckets of enthusiasm, Inazuma Eleven is incredibly, brilliantly stupid. In the tradition of many manly, manly sports series, from Slam Dunk to Rookies, it focuses on the competitive spirits of sportspeople as their rivalries and hardships push them to greater and greater feats. But, probably in part because it's based on a video game (by Level 5), Inazuma Eleven is about as silly and boyish as it gets, though coming just over a month after the release of the game, it's pretty clear the anime was developed in tandem with it rather than a later, derivative property.
Inazuma Eleven shows us a world where football (soccer to those who don't want to listen to the people from the sport's birthplace) is not only played to an incredibly high level but full of ridiculous special moves. At first, we just have effects that could seem like they're symbolic, an expression of characters' inner feelings and powerful moves like the shoots that envelop the striker's foot in flames or have them surrounded by a dragon - but then later we end up with characters generating tsunami and solid walls from thin air, stopping time and launching penguins at one another. Yes, really. These kids have abilities that could solve the economic problems of the entire world, put an end to crime and end most military conflicts, but all they do with their superpowers is play football. In school leagues, no less.
What's more, despite the supernatural adversaries they face, our heroes never, ever lose a match that matters. Not a single one! They go from no-hopers without even a full team to national champions against unprecedented opposition with absurd magical powers without once losing. If they concede goals, someone's strong feelings will come through in the end and win them the match in a montage of goal-scoring. For something based on sports, these anime really don't show the glorious ups and downs of close competition, but instead teach the Japanese youth that if you want it hard enough, and put yourself through enough stupid yet painful training, the sincerity of your emotions will overcome lack of talent or years' preparation - or, indeed, such dishonest measures as imitating others, over-analysing their skills rather than being intuitive and of course doping, because that's how sports really ought to be. Reality is sobering afterwards, but of course, reality doesn't have giant flaming pegasi rampaging across the sky because the goalkeeper and two close friends have rushed out past midfield.
And it's the sheer absurdity that is so fun. Matching it is a cast of truly outlandish characters. The main team has its misfits - the giant lummox of a boy, the tiny little one with pin-eyes, the creepy one nobody notices and more than its share of very pretty ones - this is, I should probably mention, one of the great favourites of fujoshi at the moment who gleefully ship the young boys together - and their opposition match their silliness. The schools they face tend to be themed in the great tradition of enemies of the weak in most Japanese shows, with schools where all the kids are ninja, schools where they are all otaku and, ultimately, one where they are themed like Greco-Roman gods.
On the way, generally the boys will come up against some personal hurdle, then have a match where they get crushed only for inspiration to strike and the hurdle to be overcome to win the match. It’d be irritating presented many other ways, but the conviction and lack of gall has a winsome charm and the appeal of the cute designs and bright colours are hard to resist.
These 26 episodes, covering the 'football frontier' are but the opening chapters of an extremely long anime. From the looks of it, there will be a lot of turnover in the main team - already there are so many new members, from childhood friends to former rivals, that many of the characters are stuck on the subs bench (including clearly the best pretty-boy, young Handa), and I've seen plenty of advertising media with entirely different line-ups. It's something of a marvel to me that Takeuchi Junko not only has enough time to do all the work she has for Naruto, but as well as taking on the dubbing for Gumball, has the lead role here as Endou, too. I suppose with the end of Reborn! she had a little more time, but c'mon...Naruto alone ought to fill most schedules. She's prolific on a whole new level.
Inazuma Eleven is easy, brainless watching, but that's a big part of its appeal. I enjoy its simplicity and straightforward silliness, and I like the designs and vague homoeroticism around the whole thing. I shall stick with it, and add it to the long list of incredibly long-running shows I watch...though very possibly it will stall just like all the others and I'll crawl through it over years and years!
Plus…it’s slightly strange, but I genuinely was wondering until I watched this what OLM were up to these days.