One hundred and twenty-seven episodes down. A show aimed at Jr. High boys, 13-15.
And one of the best pieces of entertainment I’ve seen in a while, though I’ll have to explain why.
Inazuma Eleven is a Shounen (young boys genre), hot-blooded, tournament/progressive, super-powers, soccer-based anime. It’s based off a role-playing game, which is apparent when you watch it.
First off, this isn’t your average soccer. Japan loves making sports anime, and there are plenty of soccer-themed ones. Hungry Heart: Wild Striker is one of my older favorites. But they add twists, like super-powers, aliens, people who want to control the world through sports, etc., to make it more than just a simple soccer show. Yes, Inazuma Eleven has those “aliens” and super-powers and evil people that really need to get what’s coming to them.
The genres this falls under are some of my favorites. Hot-blooded, kiai (spirit, as in put some spirit into it), never-give-up, various words for all the same basic feel. Endou is the central character to Inazuma, a boy who loves taking on strong teams, never, ever gives up, and is a goalkeeper. The show centers around him as his team plays various soccer matches, progress through the world, and meet new friends, teammates, rivals, and villains. That’s about all I summarize for the plot of the show. It’s actually a pretty basic plot and progression.
And for that, it shines. It’s very, very simple. Get stronger, play in matches, overcome difficulties, and get stronger. It’s a show that encourages teamwork, love for one another, and overcoming trials through dedication and honesty. And again, it’s simple.
So, why is this show that is simply a tournament fighter using sports so special? Why is this show that is aimed at young boys half my age (has it been that long? Wow I’m old…) one of the best pieces of entertainment I’ve seen in a while?
Several reasons come to mind.
First, my expectations are set based on the audience. I started watching knowing this show was aimed at younger teenage boys. So though there is a bit more latitude (you’d think…) to stretch things outside an adult’s belief, a younger person’s entertainment has room to fling around reality. It’s a show made for kids, thus kids aren’t going to really care about physics. But Inazuma feels like it doesn’t stray too far. The kids have special shots and blocks with their own names and superpowers, but it’s all in the context of the show, the fictional world they live in. The show makes it pretty clear from the beginning you’re going to get super-powers for the next hundred episodes or so.
Why does that succeed? Well first off, even though it’s an expectation set on a younger audience, it works for an adult audience as well. After all, they tell you up-front, this is how things are. They define the rules, or lack of them. When creating a work, one very important thing is consistency. It doesn’t matter if something is “wrong” in some sense, as long as it’s consistent. So, a point goes to Inazuma, for not only playing to the kids, but also letting the adults know that it’s okay to drop the belief in reality right away and enjoy the ride.
Why is this of note to me right now? I feel like I’ve somehow grasped part of the reason why recent entertainment has been so lackluster, and frankly annoying at times. It was entertainment aimed at adults. But it treats the audience as if they are young kids. In doing that it trampled over both, it overreached in some way and ended up being a mess. Realistic shows that had just slight missteps in showing how a realistic thing actually happened end up feeling far more artificial than Endou summoning a giant golden “God Hand” to stop a soccer ball from reaching the goal. Endou’s world: Artificial world where than can happen, and kids love it.
Second, the consistency of the message delivered. The badguys that appear here and there always have a team of “enhanced humans,” whether that’s by a drug, a new body-enhancing element, or a brain-modifying program. The “cheaters” are eventually overcome by Endou’s team, who fight with teamwork, trust in each other, and the spirit to never give up, no matter how bad things look. Cheaters never prosper comes to mind.
Other parts of the consistent message are that friends help you overcome trials. That giving your all is satisfying, no matter the result.
Third, the mood it sets. The spirit to never give up and hot-blooded are two themes used strongly in Inazuma, as well as in plenty of other works. And it’s something that’s sorely lacking from most western media. We’re so caught up in “realism” and the dramas of life that we’re lacking a lot of entertainment that creates a good mood. However, this is of course offset by something Hollywood has finally stumbled into. It’s a bit of progress, but it’s still only a small oasis in the midst of daytime TV.
That would be: the superhero movies. Once you consider the above point, it makes sense that the superhero movies have done incredibly well. Because let’s face it: we like it when the good guy wins. We like it when there is a defined good and bad guy. We like it when sometimes, the good guys help the bad guy to reform.
Notice I said that it’s about the mood. Inazuma never gets too depressing, same with superhero movies. There are downs to get through, of course. But there’s never insurmountable despair. Entertainment that starts off depressing and only goes further down is out-rightly stupid in my eyes. There are some that of course will rise, but I’ve seen some that I stopped and went “this show doesn’t make you happy. Why should I bother watching it when I know it won’t end any happier?” Some I’ve continued watching and regretted. Some manage to pull themselves out of a hole.
(I feel like I do have to enter one notable exception here. Gundam AGE is a current anime, part of the Gundam franchise, that’s been on my mind a lot lately. I initially thought it was aimed at a younger audience at first, considering how the animation at the outset was more kid-like than the previous Gundams, and that the initial main character was a really young boy. Boy, was I wrong. I’ve watched much of the previous Gundam series. Wing, Original, SEEDs, 00, etc. But Gundam AGE has consistently blown me out of the water. It’s not a happy show. It’s probably the most depressing Gundam so far. It made me think at one point: this show isn’t getting happier. So why keep watching? Easy. Gundam has never been entertainment, except for maybe G-Gundam. The Gundam series is Anti-War propaganda. That’s how I’ve viewed the franchise. And war is not happy. Gundam has always played with which lines it’ll decide to approach each time it comes out, and AGE has set them, then crossed them, and then set new ones. Its impressive. And because each Gundam series is anti-war, every series has a massive war in it. AGE has a one-hundred year war in it, actually. It’s still entertaining, especially watching how the characters act and progress. I was very, very surprised to see some characters make decisions that go against the norm, and specifically made decisions that I’d have them make if I were writing. So yes, there are some exceptions, though not many. And it’ll be interesting to see if AGE does end up “happy” in the end or not. Though once you’ve got a hundred year war, a hundred years of pain and sadness, even a happy end is bittersweet. But of course, that’s why it’s Anti-War.)
But the ones that have you cheering for them, those are entertainment to be cherished. When I saw Iron Man when it first came out in the theaters, I was amazed at the end. Not by the movie, but by the audience. Everyone started clapping and cheering and standing once the movie was over. That had never happened to me before, though I’ll admit I don’t go to the theater much. But it made an impression on me, knowing that this movie about a superhero had people clapping and cheering as if their team had just won the superbowl.
Inazuma Eleven reminds me of that. Its simple, straightforward plot for boys. Its knowledge of the audience. Its dedication to a strong, simple message. And the mood it inspires. It made me glad, both while watching it, and after. It didn’t rush its ending. It didn’t try for stupidly complex plots that no one could understand. It didn’t write itself into corners. It didn’t require you to know every single thought the writers had when creating it scene to know what’s going on. To go along with that: the writers actually knew what was going on. As a writer, I watch stuff and consider what’s going on from the creator’s viewpoint. And sometimes it’s obvious to me when a writer screwed up, and knows they screwed up, but tries to pass it off anyways, since most people wont notice.
I notice. And Inazuma didn’t leave me hanging for the most part. Though there were still a couple parts I winced at as a writer, I didn’t have to snap at them because those winces meant nothing to the younger audience. At least there were no grimaces.
It’s a fun show. It makes me wish soccer was actually interesting. I guess that’s why this is fiction, and they have to add in superpowers. Heh. Way better than most of the stuff aimed at older audiences that’s been coming out recently, and I’m directing that at Japan as well. Get your act together, otherwise I’m just going to relegate myself to the ridiculous shows. The serious ones are either brilliant or boring. And there’s a serious lack of brilliant ones.