Giant Killing 11: late first thoughts
June 13, 2010
I hadn’t intended to blog Giant Killing, but I was planning to eventually review it. Why now, though? Why review a 24 episode show at episode 11? The answer is simple: this episode was perfect. Episode 11 delivered everything I had hoped to get out of this anime, and then a little more. Since this is a “first impression” I won’t be revealing spoilers. My aim here is to tell people why, based upon seeing about half of this series, I think it is worth watching.
As you might be aware, Giant Killing is a sports anime (football/soccer) that focusses on the underdog team of East Tokyo United (ETU), and their new coach Tatsumi. Sports anime have a particular problem to solve, ultimately they need to deliver victories, but for those victories to have meaning, they need to make you believe that it won’t happen. One way to do that is to build up the opponent, but if you rely on that technique too much, you have to keep powering-up each successive opponent, which can get rather comical. The other main tactic is to knock the legs out from under the point of view characters; the problem with this approach is that seeing your guy(s) lose repeatedly is very demoralizing. Giant Killing has mostly taken the latter route, which can make it a little hard to watch the episodes up to this point. In fact, some of those blogging the show think ETU is bound to lose the current match.
The payoff for all of this suffering comes in being able to feel the rush of adrenalin when a play comes together. When that happens, you know the makers of the show did something right, because you believe it. At some point you stop being surprised when things keep going wrong; you come to expect it. When finally, as if in an abusive relationship, the hand that stretches out doesn’t hit you, but rather offers you help getting off the floor, the gratitude is profoundly emotional. There is no time to think about who knocked you down to begin with. This isn’t about winning anymore, this is about having your faith in the underdog validated because they finally didn’t fuck it up.
The underdog can win through good luck, and that can provide a cheap thrill. The audience can be emotionally broken, so that even seeing points placed on the board during a losing game is experienced as a sort of triumph. The opponents can be vilified, thus raising the stakes, and the ultimate emotional payoff. But Giant Killing manages to be more than this. There was a point late in the first half, when ETU had narrowly averted a disastrous play. They were hard pressed, not because of their poor playing, but because their opponents were honestly playing well. Nevertheless, a reporter noted from the press box, ETU was standing up to the challenge. At this point some background music kicked in, with an overdriven guitar lead, which emphasized the exhilaration, not of victory or revenge, but of the joy in movement, and the courage and beauty of athleticism. This is re-iterated at half-time, as an ETU player is stopped by players from the opposing team who want to congratulate him on his impressive play. I can’t play that music for you here, but check out the OP, which has exactly the right feel for this show.
Another great thing about this show is the “I told you so” principle. This show is loaded with smart asses who are just looking for a chance to rub it in the face of someone. Fortunately many of them are rooting for ETU, so all ETU has to do is show everyone they can do it, and all of these smart asses will get to look smug. The biggest smart ass of all is the coach, Tatsumi. He keeps his counsel to his self more than I had expected, but when the time comes, he calmly explains to your face that he has owned you. Another is the reporter mentioned earlier, who hasn’t had a chance to crow yet, but when ETU does pull an upset, she’ll have the printed page to prove it. Finally the camera guy who refused to tip his hand to the rookie was great this episode.
I don’t know if this post will convince anybody to watch this show. A lot of the people who like this sort of show were on it from the beginning. Some people might be waiting to hear mid-season reviews before committing to 24 episodes. Maybe you are reading this review years after I sat down to recommend Giant Killing. All I can really say is this is an exciting, emotionally intense sports show, and regardless of how it ends, I have already got what I wanted out of it.