Today’s Afterschool Special: “Let’s Make Friends With the Drunk Guy in the Park!”
It seems quite fitting that Ginga e Kickoff opens with Shou waking up with a huge grin on his face, because it sums up his character perfectly, and the series too. He’s a force of nature, this kid – a combination of relentless optimism and limitless energy that never seems to take offense at any of the challenges life throws in his path. I think Erika-chan is treating him rather badly, truth be told – she’s been giving him basically no help in organizing things and trying to save the Marauders, and when the Furuya Trips walked out again she basically left Shou in the lurch to go interview with another club. If anything Shou is a little too much of good sport – he’s getting taken advantage of a bit, and I feel badly for him.
Fortunately Shou seems immune to depression or discouragement and his quest to save the team proceeds apace, and he finally catches a break. Another chance encounter with the drunk guy in the park reveals that the Ojisan actually has some skills, and Shou begs him to at least teach him to head the ball better, as he’d just suffered a humiliating loss to Erika in a heading contest (aside: when I was playing soccer as a kid, heading the ball properly was one of the hardest things to learn – and it hurt). Turns out the drunkard is Hanashima Masaru, and the fact that a true seiyuu God like Kouyama Rikiya is playing him is typical of how “Ginga” goes the extra mile to get it just right.
We learn a little about Masaru-san (“don’t call me Ojisan!”) as we go – he’s looking for a job. He has a wife or girlfriend named Kaoru who plays badminton. And most important for story purposes, he clearly knows football – he’s not only skilled but manages to teach Shou to head the ball in a day (and for all his limited ability as the series starts, Shou definitely has the ability to learn). A pickup game with the Furuyas and an old rival eventually ends up with Masaru being drafted in and showing his true power as the “Lightning Light”, apparently a former pro player. Something seems to have gone terribly wrong and Masaru says he’d done with soccer forever, but just what that is Kaoru won’t say.
There’s not much suspense here – Shou is so relentless he could sell ugly to an ape, so we know Masaru-sensei will give in and coach the kids. And that’s a big plus as he’s hugely entertaining as played by Kouyama-san, and a good addition to the cast. The pleasures of Ginga e Kickoff might be simple ones, but they still promise a lot of entertainment – Shou getting better as his skills grow to match his will and field sense, Masaru rediscovering the joys of soccer, and eventually the team playing competitively again and questing for a title (and even more eventually, a little innocent puppy love for Shou and Erika perhaps). “Ginga” may not surprise you with its plot too often, but it’ll make up for that by surprising you constantly by how damn good it is.