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Review: Football Anime "Episode Nagi" Gets a Battle Royale Twist

Review: Football Anime “Episode Nagi” Gets a Battle Royale Twist
Elimination game … Blue Lock the Movie
Photograph: undefined PR

Like Squid Game meets Shaolin Soccer, this feature-length extrapolation of Muneyuki Kaneshiro’s popular manga and anime set in a football training academy treats the beautiful game like an epic showdown. It feels like a battle between demonic forces or a Kurosawa-esque assault on a mountain fortress. Terminator-eyed strikers and flame-wreathed shots on goal make for a cinematic spectacle where no bombast is too great in hammering home Blue Lock’s key message: a star centre-forward must have an almighty ego.

The head coach is fittingly named Jinpachi Ego. At the elite Blue Lock academy, where he seeks a unique attacking talent for the Japanese national team, he is unimpressed by the bond between the final two recruits: rich kid Reo (voiced by Yuma Uchida) and his reserved schoolmate Nagi (Nobunaga Shimazaki). Nagi, in particular, stands out—he’s a twinkle-toed footballing genius with a disdainful attitude, calling everything a “hassle” and preferring gaming over playing football. This alliance and Nagi’s attitude might have to be sacrificed for one of them to succeed in Ego-san’s elimination process.

The intensified pitchside action is nothing short of hilarious, akin to a live feed from inside Cristiano Ronaldo’s head as he replays his own goals. First-time director Shunsuke Ishikawa makes vigorous use of striking key-frames as players jockey for position and pivot for powerful ball-pummelling shots. However, some of the transitional animation appears a bit clumsy when compared to last year’s basketball anime, The First Slam Dunk.

Translating football into the battle royale format has its limits, though. A key qualifying match stretches over 25 minutes, causing character development to thin out. Only Nagi, Reo, and their turbo-charged but not so bright teammate Zantetsu (Kazuyuki Okitsu) receive much attention. Even the dynamic between Nagi and Reo takes a backseat to the extended revelation of Nagi’s dormant ego, detailed in his own voiceover like a Terrence Malick film.

The film becomes a taxing blur of goalmouth skirmishes and indistinct players incredulously announcing their latest moves: “Rabona!” Typical of these serialised anime stories, Episode Nagi also cuts off mid-story before reaching a climactic match. This may not be an issue for Blue Lock fanatics, but it leaves those wanting to catch all the highlights somewhat disappointed.

• Blue Lock the Movie: Episode Nagi is in UK and Irish cinemas from 5 July and is currently screening in Australian cinemas.

Source: The Guardian