Devils vs. Gods

Eyeshield 21 v19-21

Eyeshield 21 v21 cover

Story by Riichiro Inagaki
Art by Yusuke Murata
Translation by Craig Kingsley & Hime Kingsley
Lettering and retouch by James Gaubatz
Edited by Urian Brown (#19) & Kit Fox (#19-21)

Hey — it's football season, so let's check in with everyone's favorite football manga, Eyeshield 21!1

When we last checked in with the Deimon Devil Bats, they were in the middle of the 3rd place game of the Tokyo tournament, trailing behind to the Bando Spiders at halftime. I think you can all guess how that ends (this ain't Slam Dunk). Once they've secured a spot in the Kanto tournament, they get the worst possible bracketing — a first-round match-up against the ten-time defending championship Shinryuji Nagas.

Here's where the series runs into a bit of a problem. As anyone who's been reading since v1 knows, Shinryuji is the team to beat, nearly unstoppable. But over the last 20 volumes, the Devil Bats and their foes have become nearly superhuman. We've seen running backs as fast as Olympic-class sprinters, linemen larger than dump trucks, quarterbacks playing at a pro level. They've managed to add some variety by giving players their own unique techniques — Sena has unbeatable bursts of speed but very little endurance, Panther is super-fast but has leaves the ball vulnerable, Riku has an unconventional stride that makes it hard to predict his movements, and so forth. But this is the big one. How can they possibly make the Nagas seem more fearsome than these other foes?

Turns out they can't.

So rather than making the Nagas seem tougher than every other team the Devil Bats have played, they instead focus on making them the team you have to hate. Or rather, they focus on making Agon the player you have to hate. Agon is vicious, unmotivated, egotistical, lecherous, and rude. It's a weird combination of personality traits and it they don't quite gel. He's an asshole to everyone, even his own brother, and they all put up with it — even his coaches and teachers. Oh, and when it comes to football technique he's a better QB than the Kid, a better defensive back than Shin, a better tactician than Hiruma.

It works, but not quite the way you'd think. Rather than "heel heat", Agon winds up with "X-Pac heat." You do want Agon him to get his comeuppance — not because he deserves it, but because it means you won't have to see him ever again. Fortunately, it looks like we'll get that shortly. Hopefully it'll end with his brother ripping him a new orifice.

This isn't a good sign, though. If the Devil Bats beat the Nagas, there are still another two teams to go. How can they possible make those teams more threatening than the Nagas?

Eyeshield 21 v21 p. 50-51

Eyeshield 21 v21 p. 50-51

One of the reasons I keep reading Eyeshield 21 is that it's one of the most visually exciting manga out there. You can quibble with Yusuke Murata's aesthetic choices, but you can't deny that he puts more effort into making every scene as dynamic and exciting as possible. It's hard to think of another comic with the crazy forced perspective, extreme foreshortening, and bizarre distortions that Eyeshield 21 delivers up in every chapter.

There's a bit of a decline in his on-field choreography in the latest volumes, though. We get fewer and fewer wide shots of the field, and more tight close-ups which are emotionally exciting but make it hard to follow how plays are developing.

But it's an encouraging sign that Eyeshield 21 is only starting to slip after 21 volumes. Most series have exhausted their momentum long before this point, and there's got to be another three to five volumes here before the premise is totally exhausted.

  1. Okay, the season technically started on Thursday, but I don't care until the Steelers have their first game.

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