Giant Killing is an anime about professional-level soccer that aired in the run-up to the 2010 world cup, which should really be everything you need to know about the savvy IQ level of the ones making it. Being from America, I didn’t follow a particular professional team, and had a passing interest in the upcoming world cup. This anime changed that attitude, mainly by building a large-scale fun cast and integrating realism to a level I’d never before seen from a sports anime.
My image of soccer, post-Giant Killing
Character Designs: Runs the range of age and more [Tetsuya Kumatani]
In Giant Killing, the ages of characters who get significant screentime range from 10 to 50 years old. At no point does a character not look his age. Also, since this series is about professional Japanese soccer, you’ll see a bunch of different nationalities represented as teams import quality talent from around the globe. Colorful styles are everywhere, as well as more subdued attitudes, and they’re all visible at a glance.
1/1 (Chiseled faces, among other things, give a wonderfully authentic feel to the designs.)
Soundtrack: A pair of gears for a pair of engines [Mori Hideharu]
Giant Killing is built to exhibit two things: thrilling professional sports matches, and the everyday lives of the individuals who work for that team. Giant Killing’s soundtrack is built to achieve two atmospheres: gripping tension, and awkward antics. Unsurprisingly, the two mix very well. Theme music is repeated in meaningful ways throughout the show. Also, you’ll occasionally hear a soundtrack piece appear just once, a piece written because the scene calls for just such a tune. Case in point: a festive street dance beat plays after some Brazilian players decide to show off a little with a ball that happened to come flying their way.
2/2 (Soundtrack always feels right for a scene, to the extent you can forget it’s there for whole episodes at a time.)
Series Composition: Experiencing all the levels of losing with a real live fanbase [Toshifumi Kawase]
The core plot of Giant Killing is fairly standard-issue; a hotshot manager rolls into the offices of a down-on-their-luck team and through a combination of spunky innovative tactics and creative personnel management turns their fortunes around. There’s nothing wrong with that formula, certainly, and manager Tatsumi Takeshi is a colorful enough character to make it compelling. His antics, stuff like benching all of the team’s starters and pulling all-nighters in the video room, are a sight to see. Less traditional for an underdog story like this is the fact that ETU loses. A lot. And not just in the opening episodes to their fated rival. Not that they don’t eventually win some games, but they lose enough of them that one can observe a very deep and definite frustration setting in a couple times in the series as players realize they haven’t won in a long time.
Speaking of characters reacting to losses, there’s something that sets this series apart: Giant Killing devotes a ton of time throughout the series on a concept most sports manga and anime gloss over, the 12th man.* From die-hard thug fans who show up to every game with an organized cheering routine and death threats for the mangaement to 40-something shopkeepers who just got back into the team now that it’s showing promise to kids who root for it because it’s the local team and they don’t know any better (the poor saps), the fans in Giant Killing all feel unique and real, and get quite a bit of focus. It adds a lot to a series when the bystanders of a match are people the makers and the viewers both care about.
It’s never not fun to watch fans riot when you’re safe behind a fence
3/3 (The cast functions well on astoundingly different levels)
Direction: Don’t call it cookie-cutter [Yuu Kou]
Giant Killing comes from very strong stock. The source manga won the 2010 Kodansha Manga Award near-unanimously, in large part thanks to clever storyboarding like this. One look at the way the show is put together shows it relies heavily on its source. It’s great with camera angles, but has a high percentage of still or slow-motion focus shots, making it likely that most of those shots are being taken from single panels of manga. That’s not necessarily a knock, as the source material seems as well-suited as any to be adapted via, but Yuu Kou really spends the entire show staying inside this comfort zone and as a result never depicts motion effectively. This tendency is only accentuated by the show’s use of obvious cgi when it does show large-scale motion. That said, the timing involved in pulling off a manga-ripped storyboard approach is a highly nontrivial thing, and Kou’s touch is, on the whole, something that makes the series a very compelling watch.
3/4 (A very by-the-book manga adaptation, but is handled with skill)
Overall: 9/10 (Worth coming home from work early to watch.)
*For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept, “12th man” is a term used to refer to a fanbase that helps its team win games by providing cheering and support. The name comes from the fact that soccer has 11 players to a side, so the fanbase is thought of as an equally important 12th.