Eyeshield 21 v22-24
Story by Riichiro Inagaki
Art by Yusuke Murata
Translation by Craig Kingsley & Hime Kingsley (#22-23) & Nich Maragos (#24)
Lettering and retouch by James Gaubatz
Edited by Kit Fox (#19-21)
Hey, it's Super Bowl time again (GO STEELERS!) so let's check in once again with Eyeshield 21! It was nice of Viz to ship volume 24 a week ahead of schedule so I could review three volumes at once — it's almost as if they wanted to have some fresh football-related product on the shelves during the one week the whole country goes football crazy. Go figure.
The last time I reviewed Eyeshield 21 the Devil Bats were locked in a tight contest with the Shinryuji Nagas and were down by 14 points with 8 minutes to go in the game. But they'd started to turn the tide with some trick plays and a few surprising performances from key players, and with that momentum they keep plowing forward and manage to pull off a last-second upset to unseat the top team in the tournament.
Unfortunately, it's not a very satisfying victory. Agon Kongo, Shinryuji's ace, has been built up as the series #1 villain for almost a dozen volumes now. He's been portrayed as an amoral, contemptuous, sociopathic superman with no regard for anyone else, even his own brother. A simple defeat isn't nearly enough of a comeuppance to satisfy the audience. Couldn't he have broken an arm or something? He doesn't even show any sign that he's learned any lessons from his defeat — his immediate reponse is to berate everyone around him for not giving their all, without acknowledging that the only person on the field guilty of that infraction is him. Here's hoping that this defeat keeps him out of the manga for a long, long time.
Anyway, after the Shinryuji game there are some nice comedic interludes involving the other tournament games, a rest day where everyone has to fight through super-sore muscles, and a quick trip to Ojo's cultural festival. And then it's back to the tournament for the first volume of the hotly anticipated Deimon/Ojo rematch. And this one should be a killer — we've been waiting for it for almost twenty volumes. The question is, how will Riichiro Inagaki manage to top the last game? It doesn't seem possible.
As usual, Inagaki manages to keep things light and breezy, countering the melodrama on the field with humorous antics off it. But the real reason I read Eyeshield 21 is for Yusuke Murata's art. Here's a nice sequence from volume 22 where Monta, Deimon's top receiver, and Ikkyu, his Shinryuji nemesis, battle it out in the air...
First, let's ignore the fact that this sequence takes place in some sort of crazy decompressed "Spider-Man" time, where two receivers can have a nice, long converstion in the fraction of a second it takes for a play to unfold. (It's worse than you think — I actually clipped two flashback pages from here because I wanted to focus on the physical action.)
The overall storytelling in this sequence is actually . Monta and Ikkyu's relative positions remain relatively constant throughout the scene, with Monta initially positioned in the lower left and Ikkyu in the upper right. The points of view also exaggerate Ikkyu's size and position above Monta to create the impression that he will be dominant in this exchange, at one point even pushing Monta almost entirely out of frame. Heck, the the Ikkyu-centric panels are even physically larger than the Monta-centric panels. But then Monta strikes back, with only his hand shooting into the frame from off-panel, exaggerating the unlikely nature of his comeback. As their struggle for the ball intensifies their relative positions start to shift along with the balance of power, with Ikkyu starting to float to the left and Monta to the right. Their sizes begit to equalize, with Monta and Ikkyu now seeming to be the same size. And when Monta finally wins their struggle he seizes the center of the panel and the foreground while pushing Ikku down and into the background. It's an interesting way of introducing an equilibrium and then tinkering with it to increase the drama.
Note that the inset implying simultaneous (or near-simultaneous) action tend to be clustered together with tiny gutters, and these groups of simultaneous actions are then separated by large gutters to differentiate them from actions happening concurrently. Additionally, each page has a three-tiered structure with two larger blocks on the top and bottom, which helps give a unifying rhythm to sequence as a whole (as well as increasing your emotional reaction when the rhythm is finally broken).
This sequence also contains some of Yusuke Murata's trademark exaggerations and extreme foreshortening. If nothing else, I'm always amazed by the way he's able to incorporate them into his style without having them look forced or awkward, though I suspect having a naturally cartoony style makes integration a bit easier. In particular, the giant hands in the first panel of the first page are just fantastic, seeming utterly solid despite being wholly disproportionate. It helps that their positioned over the characters arms, which are one of the biggest problem areas when you're doing this sort of foreshortening.
Also apparent in these panels is what Scott McCloud referred to as "the masking effect," though it's incorporated into the character designs rather than split between characters and their environment. The sports equipment is drawn with an almost fetishized level of detail — you can see every lace on the football, the stitches on the gloves, even every spike on the cleats — but the character themselves are cartoonish exaggerations with huge eyes, undifferentiated teeth, and weird hair. McCloud theorized that the masking effect was used to encourage a level of projection on the undifferentiated characters, which a level of specificity might have discouraged. I'm not so sure that's what it's being used for here. In fact, I almost think it's being used in the exact opposite way, with the detail level of the acessories being used to emphasize the reality of the scene in a way that the cartoonishly meloodramatic faces cannot.
Ten Important Lessons I Have Learned From Reading Sports Manga
Never start playing a sport to impress a girl. Either you'll discover that you like sports more than girls, or you'll be too busy playing eight-volume long basketball games to score.
Sports are so simple that you can learn the rules on the fly. A newbie can start playing a sport and have all of the rules and most of the basic techniques mastered in, oh, about a week. Never mind that the rules of football are so complex that even players, coaches and referees frequently get the wrong.
All forms of pride are shameful. And any expression of that pride will usually result in you being defeated as ironically as possible. All sins are forgiven, though, if you shift your boasts to the future tense. So "I'm the best receiver in Japan" is prideful but "I'll show you that I'm the best receiver in Japan" is not.
90% of Americans are from Texas. Apparently, it is every bit as big as Texans claim.
What happens on the field stays on the field. No matter how intense your rivalry on the field may be, all that pent-up hostility disappears once that final whistle blows. Off the field, rivals frequently trade training secrets, go to social functions together, and have sleepovers where they braid each others' hair.
Special training is always preferable to regular training, and the more special it is the better. Who cares if you've been working on your conditioning every day for ten years? I spent three weeks pulling a dump truck with my teeth while wearing a chicken suit. You can't win.
Guts are the only thing that matter. Natural ability, special training, genius-level strategy — none of these things can stand up to sheer determination. In fact, Japan's ants have so much guts that no rubber tree plant in the country is safe.
Once you get into the playoffs, the amount of space needed to depict a game increases geometrically. So if the Devil Bats defeated Bando in two volumes and Shinruji in four volumes, it will take them eight volumes to defeat Ojo. At this rate, Hakushu will take longer to defeat than Majin Buu.
Japanese high school students are the greatest athletes in the world. They've got it all — moonsaulting tennis players, baseball players with rocket arms, and ten foot tall football players. Since none of these athletes ever seem to make it to the Japanese Olympic team or any professional leagues, I also suspect Japan high schools have the best-organized doping program in the world.
Japanese athletes don't have soccer moms or baseball dads. In fact, most of them don't appear to have parents at all, from what I can tell. Maybe they're decanted in some lab, which would explain the extraordinary athleticism noted above.