Giant Killing – 1
Football/soccer is a weird sport for me. Like many Americans, I don’t really watch it often, but unlike many Americans I have an appreciation for it — why wouldn’t I appreciate a sport that inspires such hot-blooded passion in so many people the world over? Plus, it is actually fun as hell to watch in person with a good crowd. I covered my college’s soccer games for the school paper, and I never attended a game I didn’t enjoy.
What does this have to do with Giant Killing? Well, while the production values aren’t the hottest (from Studio DEEN? What a shocker), and the main scenario isn’t original — hotshot, eccentric coach comes in to turn around a ragtag team and take them to glory — this first episode does a fairly good of presenting a place where not only is this sport the only thing that matters, but also that the concerns of the sport spread beyond the team itself. I doubt this is intentional on the part of the story (financial problems are a timeless problem, haha), but Giant Killing‘s scenario is pretty timely.
From what few sports shows I’ve seen/know about, the teams themselves operate in a vacuum — i.e. they only deal with personal problems and the team’s problems. Fans are generally supportive, and with high school teams they don’t really have to deal with the hard facts of life since the schools seem to be generally well off in anime. East Tokyo United, though, has a ton of problems. The higher-ups are worried about getting asses into seats, the fans range from apathetic to downright angry and the players themselves are either not confident or may have an overinflated sense of their own worth.
I enjoy the somewhat idealized nature of, say, Cross Game, don’t get me wrong, but Giant Killing is a bit more in line with how sports operate. Plunging attendance is a legitimate problem in sports, at least in America (and I assume in many other places, given the state of the economy). The NBA has at least a third of the league (probably more) hemorrhaging money, baseball has a big split between the haves and have-nots and America’s most popular sport — American football — is feeling the sting of things as well. The way the problem is dealt with in Giant Killing makes me smile, because it’s exactly what an American team would do: Hire a legend from the team’s past to lead the squad and hope to hell good things happen.
The fan situation is fun, too. I smiled at the fans gathering in protest at Tatsumi’s hire, because it is so true to life — passionate sports fans hold grudges for a long ass time. Any sane person will look at a hugely passionate sports fan from the outside and wonder how in the hell he or she could lose sanity because of a silly sport; well, these sports are more than just that to a lot of people. They’re markers of identity. If you’re, say, a passionate fan of the Los Angeles Lakers, you are not alone; you are one of many Lakers fans who give a piece of their soul to that team and revel in their victories and despair at their defeats. (Also, you hate the Boston Celtics, those dirty bastards. Not going to lie: Seeing the Celtics struggle this season has given me an inordinate amount of pleasure.)
I compare it to being a huge fan of a certain anime series — let’s pick Code Geass. You’re a fan of Geass, so you want to see it do well. You’re on the edge of your seat when the show has great episodes and groaning when it has crappy episodes. You slowly get a bit more into the fandom: Maybe you talk the show up with people on message boards, blog about the series, buy the DVDs, whatever. You even like this series so much that you can rattle off the directors, key animators, seiyuu and whoever else in seconds flat. When people talk shit about Geass — as many do — it irks you, even if you don’t like to admit it. People on the outside may wonder how someone could be so singularly dedicated to this series, but the thing is, unless they are a part of it, they can’t really understand it.
That’s what being a passionate sports fan is like — that passion makes you a bit crazy and prone to doing things you might not do otherwise. Above all, sports are drama. It’s easy to get sucked into it way too much. I consider myself a fairly sane person; however, when the Lakers blew that 21 point lead in game four of the NBA Finals (to the Celtics of all teams!!!!!), I was pretty much catatonic and had to be driven home rather than enjoy myself at a party. The game six curb stomping left me in a similar state. I can’t remember that series without wanting to punch things, which I’m pretty sure is the way my dad feels about the 1984 NBA Finals (the worst series in Magic Johnson’s career). Point is, sports connect to people in ways that make them act out rather bizarrely. Leading a protest against a coach seems silly, but Tatsumi betrayed these fans — in their mind — by leaving ETU for a foreign team. That’s a grudge they’ll hold for a good while.
(But it’s all worth it when you get to celebrate by walking drunkenly down a street after a big victory.)
Now, I don’t want Giant Killing to focus on sports economics or the fans too much — these are simply details I enjoyed and that helped set a cool stage. (Although I do hope it borrows a bit more from real life situations and sets up a love/hate relationship between Tatsumi and the sports media. Tatsumi is a journalist’s dream: An outspoken coach who will undoubtedly feed them gold nugget quotes for stories. However, he will also bring the wrath of God down upon any journalist who tries to stir up shit in the paper.)
The episode itself is just OK, although I think there is good potential here. Tatsumi’s brashness is a lot of fun, and I’m glad to see he is shaking things up right away. It’ll be a lot of fun to see how he manages the egos on this team, too (ego handling is a major aspect of coaching, haha). Not holding out much hope with DEEN working on this, but if the soccer matches are at least decently animated, I’ll be happy.