BLUELOCK – Episode 1

By: Vrai Kaiser October 8, 20220 Comments
a boy mid-jump kick toward another boy

Crunchyroll, which has long underpaid its employees, has currently declared its intent to recast the English dub of Mob Psycho 100 rather than even consider meeting with SAG-AFTRA representatives to discuss unionizing their dubs—this would help actors gain access to things like health insurance, and help make up for lack of residuals. People continue to pressure Crunchyroll to change their stance on social media; we encourage readers who are able to take part.

What’s it about? Reeling from a missed chance at high school nationals, Isaga Yoichi’s luck changes when he receives an invitation from the Japan Football Union. He arrives to 299 other forward strikers his age, and a man who gives them all a choice: if they enter the Blue Lock they’ll compete to become the best striker in Japan; but if they lose, they’ll never be allowed to play for Japan again.

There’s some interesting stuff going on with masculinity in BLUELOCK. Its central conceit—that Japan has never once won the World Cup in soccer, and this failing is down to its teams’ lack of self-centered, driven egoists—hits on the conflict between the broad social expectation to smooth things over and not stand out in Japanese society and the aggressive bravado often prized in depictions of machismo, especially in shounen media. How does one compare the “my team is my family” warmth of sports series with the girl-collecting, singular power fantasies in the glut of modern isekai titles? How does the emotions of one tip into the other?

a thin, washed out man pointing ominously
And why does their Monokuma humansona have Bluetooth?

Yoichi is a character at a precipice. He wants to believe in the ideal of team sports as a communal experience, but the fact that passing to a team member rather than taking a crucial shot himself lost them the big game gnaws away at him. He’s not inherently a bad kid, he’s just competitive and ready to buy into a worldview that will feed that bruised ego. Of course, the cost of that is not just cutting down all the other boys around him but starting with the guy he’s previously admired and wanted to play alongside. What cost is too high to fit the definition of a successful man?

I’m not convinced that BLUELOCK is thinking too hard about these concepts on a conscious level. Like the vast majority of horror movies, it feels like a mix of one strongly thought-out topic stewed in influences from what the rest of the genre is doing, with a lot of the most interesting secondary themes coming out sort of incidentally. “How does Japanese culture frame competition,” but also “what if I took that death game format that’s popular and applied it to a sports series”?

Yes, this is the kind of show where everyone pulls big stretchy faces as they opine on some truly absurd, often faux-deep shit about Human Nature™. I have affection for that kind of thing if it’s done with enough aplomb, and BLUELOCK’s premiere gets by the competency mark even though it’s hurting from the lack of death in its death game setup. Sure, these kids will be banned from playing for Japan, and that’s not nothing. But my immediate thought was “these are the best in the country….they can probably be scouted to play for other nations?” Maybe it’s to do with the show’s thematic ties to the question of national pride and accomplishment, but that unacknowledged potential took me out somewhat.

Yoichi stops from kicking a ball at a cringing boy
If it devolves straight to “I’ll make this a noble quest to be my strongest self” then I’m disappointed TBH

I’m also not confident in the show’s ability to maintain its tension and keep my investment in the long haul. Death game titles benefit from shorter lengths so that the stakes stay high and the audience doesn’t get exhausted. Shounen battle and sports series thrive on running for years and years such that they’re famous for almost never having satisfying endings. And BLUELOCK, incidentally, is at 20 volumes with no sign of slowing down.

I don’t foresee myself keeping up with this past the first three episodes, not in a season as packed as this one, but it’s probably worth a look if the genres it’s dabbling in interest you. And if we got some pitches about it down the line, that’d be cool.

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