One sports series that I really enjoy is Eyeshield 21. I’m not even that big into football and frankly, before this series, I didn’t fully know how the game was played; it’s quite the accomplishment for a series if it can make even nonfans of its subject invested in it.
March 2015 marks the 10th Anniversary of Eyeshield 21 being published in America. As such, along with the fact that it’s been a while since I read this series, it’s the perfect time to revisit this manga and see how it holds up. We’re looking at the first three volumes of the series here, so let’s answer the question: Is it good?
Eyeshield 21 Vol. 1-3 (Viz Media)
Written By: Riichiro Inagaki
Drawn By: Yusuke Murata
Translated By: Allison Markin Powell
Sena Kobayakawa is a kid that’s been bullied and made an errand boy all of his life by stronger kids. However, he just got into Deimon High School and he vows (with a bit of pressuring from his childhood friend and motherly figure Mamori Anezaki) to never to be pushed around again. However, this little weakling’s high school career is about to change when he crosses paths with the school’s very small football team, the Devil Bats. Soon, he finds himself roped into joining the team by the captain/quarterback, Hiruma, who has taken notice of Sena’s incredible running ability and speed. Sena is given the codename of Eyeshield 21 and finds himself taking part in football games, making new friends, and also new rivals. This is going to be a long and wild ride for this kid.
To give you all just brief description of the series or even just the first three volumes would simply not do this series justice. Eyeshield 21 is one of the best sports series and even in these early volumes, it shines brightly and shows so much potential for where this manga can and will go. As such, it’s best to break this down by volume and different parts of it to better explain.
99-0? Sounds like the coach did a good job of not running up the score.
The first volume introduces the primary cast of characters (Sena, Hiruma, Mamori, and Kurita, who is the linebacker). Everyone gets a moment to shine so you get a better idea of what you can expect with each of them. The story is simple and a bit familiar for a sports story, but the characters, their senses of humor, and the occasional spot of drama keeps you invested in what is happening. It introduces a few other characters and plot points that will become important later on and even does a good job with introducing the sport of football to newcomers so they get a better understanding of the game.
The second volume builds on the first one by adding new characters and a new rival team, the Ojo White Knights (Oujou in the Japanese version), to the mix and making the Devil Bats’ next game longer and more interesting. Not only that, the writer does a great job fleshing out and giving some characterization to each of the prominent members shown on the White Knights so that everyone feels unique and there is more gravitas added to the game. It provides the main characters their first real challenge, while also giving each of them a chance to show their skillsets (we learn just how crafty and clever Hiruma is, while just how much of a force Kurita is on the line). The third volume then wraps up the Ojo game in a pretty surprising way and continues adding new characters and subplots that grow the series more (like Raimon and the mysterious former third member of the Devil Bats). All of three of these volumes are fantastic. Heck, I would recommend buying all three volumes together to get the best first impression of the series.
The characters are easily one of the strongest points of the series. Every character, as long as they are given a bit of attention (whether named or not), is memorable and have their own personality traits that define them. Sena is a weak and cowardly character at first, but slowly grows more confident and sure of himself as time goes on. Hiruma is an incredibly devious, pretty mean, and at times nasty individual; but his devotion to the game of football and his friends/teammates (especially seen as time goes on) really makes him a pretty neat character, combined with just how smart and even funny he can be. Shin, the star player for Ojo, is a very quiet, focused, and very hard working linebacker. He is considered to be an unstoppable force of nature and dreaded individual on the football field, really living up to it when we see him in action. There’s far more beyond these three (including the very loveable but powerful Kurita, the over-protective but efficient Mamori) and it would take a long time to go over everyone in this series individually. Just know that this series is absolutely great with it creating and building up these characters.
Well sure! I’ll use your cellphone you extremely trustworthy looking individual.
The writing itself is also very strong on the book. Inagaki’s pacing is solid, always knowing the right speed for the story to move in every scene; he gives slow and emotional moments time to let them sink in and makes the action/football games intense and full of energy. The story structure is solid, with every scene serving some purpose in either progressing the story, developing the characters, and/or having a funny moment. Speaking of which, Eyeshield 21 has a great sense of humor and timing. It’s outrageous and over the top at points, but it all fits the tone and feel of the series, like Hiruma sending a “missile” of fan girls at one of the stars of Ojo to distract him from seeing the game or Shin actually picking up Sena and holding him in the air instead of tackling him, just so someone else on his team could come over and yank the ball out of Sena’s hands. It’s great stuff and is certainly guaranteed to get a couple of laughs at points. The dialogue also just as strong and really helps with contributing to the humor and characterization. Fantastic stuff overall.
However, all of this is only bolstered by the incredible artwork from Yusuke Murata. Murata’s art is an absolute treat and makes this one of the better looking mangas I’ve read, especially when it comes to the characters. Every character looks incredibly distinct and unique from one another in the series, from their faces, hairstyles, body types, and more. There’s never repeats of any character outside of maybe a crowd shot. Every character is incredibly expressive and shows a great range with the emotion in their faces and with their body language, really selling a lot of the drama and humor in the scenes.
The characters aren’t the only facet of the art that Murata nails; the layouts are very well put together, with the story just flowing wonderfully from panel to panel — this makes the football matches a treat to look at, as they never become confusing or hard to follow at any point. Every hit looks powerful and real, the impact of each felt. The attention to detail is amazing at points and even after so many years, I’m still noticing small things or background gags in the pages (like one player in the first game who is laying down suddenly snaps back up just to get a glimpse at Eyeshield 21). The detail really brings out some of the intensity and makes for some impressive imagery in the book, like when Shin steps on the field for the first time or Sena scoring his first touchdown while dodging eleven other players.
The last thing to note is that these volumes (and the rest going forward), have some very nice bonus material in them. There are two pages in the back that give some background info on some side characters who briefly popped up in the book (like a reporter covering the Ojo game or some teachers for instance), while you have a two page spread at the beginning that shows all of the characters who are in that particular volume in a goofy image. There’s brief bits of bio information about main characters, maps of the school, details on what the reporter team was up to during the big game, and more between chapters or at the end of the book. It’s enjoyable bonus material that adds more to series and helps flesh the world out more. I honestly wish more series had more auxiliary stuff like this.
Is It Good?
Eyeshield 21 Vols. 1-3 are the perfect way to enter this series. These three volumes alone should tell you whether or not if this is the series is for you. They create a lively world with memorable characters, fantastic writing, a great sense of humor, intense football matches and amazing artwork. I highly recommend it for those looking to read a sports series or who want something different than what they usually read.
Eyeshield 21 is available from Viz Media. All of the volumes of the series are currently available for purchase, though I believe some are out of print or hard to find nowadays. An
anime adaption for the series was made and is available to purchase from Sentai Filmworks. It doesn’t come with English dub version from what I hear, though a different company at one point did try dubbing the show. However, you do not want to look it up or try watching it… it was not very good to say the least.