Eyeshield 21The Boy With the Golden Legs: What does a wimpy kid who’s been bullied all his life have to depend on but his own two feet? Sena Kobayakawa is about to start his first year in high school and he’s vowed not to get picked on anymore. Unfortunately, the sadistic captain of the football team already has his eye on Sena and his lightning-fast speed.

Eyeshield 21 is a manga revolving around Sena Kobayakawa, a cowardly but good-natured guy who has always been picked on throughout his school years. Years of running around for bullies have made him quick, and it is this speed that catches the attention of his new high school’s American Football captain. Using underhanded tricks, the captain gets him to kind of ‘join’ (he thinks he is team manager) and in order to hide his identity from the other sports clubs, Sena gets given a shielded visor and is dubbed, Eyeshield 21. From this point on it’s a story about how Sena learns the sport of football, grows up and begins to carve his very own mark on this very testosterone dominated sport.

It is written by Riichiro Inagaki and drawn by Yusuke Murata, and proved so popular that it spawned a highly successful, ongoing anime series in Japan. Volume 1 pretty much focuses on introducing the manga’s diverse cast of characters as well as showing Sena’s possible potential for greatness by thrusting him into his first game for Deimon High School.

If you’ve ever read Slam Dunk, Initial D or any other of the plethora of coming-of-age sports manga out there, then you’ll immediately know the story of Eyeshield 21. It has all the aspects of this type of story: the protagonists who has skills he is unaware of who is thrust into a sport not out of his own choosing and who then proceeds to become the best there is, beating a number of unlikely scenarios in order to come up tops. It is a successful formula and Riichiro sticks as close as possible to it. It has all the action and drama such a title needs, but its extremely generous helping of comedy and oddball characters gives it that extra little push to make it to the big time.

Of course it helps when the artwork is as detailed and easy on the eye as Murata’s work is. The characters are distinctively and well drawn, and while much of the comedy employs super-deformed work, the lines remain clean and you are never lost as to what is going on. The characters are all pretty distinctly drawn, and it is quickly apparent that the artist went to a lot of effort to personalise and …cartoonise’ the characters in order to fit in with the tone of the book. Of course, that isn’t to say that Murata can’t hit a feel of realism as you’ll quickly pick up on in the backgrounds of the work.

As I said, although pretty formulaic, Riichiro’s writing is strong and his sense of flow is good. He also seems to understand the passage of time a little better than most, giving us football games that don’t draw out longer than absolutely necessary (anyone remember the agonisingly long basketball games found in Slam Dunk!?). His take on physical comedy and his vivid imagination (just look at the duo of Cerebus and Hiruma – an absolute classic) is refreshing and to be honest, Eyeshield 21 is easy to read and will have you grinning to yourself every now and then, despite the well-tread formula that it so carefully follows.

Of course, perhaps another reason just why the book proved so popular is the fact that it is based on a fairly unknown sport in Japan, namely American Football. Combined with the Japanese’s legendary consumption of all things American (actually, who in the world does not consume American culture by the gallon), Eyeshield 21 provides a brand new playing field for the sports formula manga – and has been justified in its immense which is extremely well deserved.

You can get Eyeshield 21 pretty cheaply online which is always a good thing, and if you are looking for a decent, fun read and have an inkling about what American football is all about, then Eyeshield 21 will definitely not disappoint!

Related link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eyeshield_21