Eyeshield 21 is a surprising gem of a sports anime series. This second set of 13 episodes continues the Deimon High Devil Bats' journey to win the Christmas Bowl. The first volume introduced Sena as Eyeshield 21, a miniscule and mysterious runningback with sprinter-like speed and great moves. It also established the core players of the team as well as several rival opponents. In this volume, the Devil Bats continue to gain credibility as a football team and an American rival player is added to Eyeshield 21's rogues gallery.
With the addition of great skill players such as Eyeshield 21 and Monta, the Deimon High Devil Bats have suddenly established themselves amongst the upper echelon of Japanese high school football teams. With their newfound clout around school, they hold tryouts and gain a few more players to fill out the football team. Hiruma enters the team into a random drawing to face the best high school team from the United States, the X High Aliens. The magazine editor who runs the contest, however, has other plans and fixes it so that his favorite team, the Taiyo Sphinx, will win the drawing and face the Americans. Hiruma, never one to play fair, has his own ways of fixing contests and the Devil Bats instead win the opportunity to face the American team. After a dispute over the true winner, the two teams decide to settle this issue on the field. In order to face off against America's finest high school football team, the Devil Bats must find some way overpower the Taiyo Sphinx's mighty Pyramid Line and achieve victory.
This second volume introduces two new Devil Bats teammates, Yukimistu and Komusubi. The new characters are introduced in the first episode of the set, but beyond the story arc where they make the team, neither one has any major impact on the storyline. Komusubi is essentially Kurita's fun-sized doppelganger. He hero-worships Kurita, plays next to him on the line, and follows him everywhere. The balding Yukimitsu is even less relevant than Komusubi at this point. Yukimistu is a bookworm whose mom is opposed to any extracurricular activities that do not involve studying. Hiruma gives him the appropriate nickname of Baldini. Yukimitsi puts all his effort into getting through Hiruma's weed-out practices, surpasses all the challenges, and somehow makes the team. He then spends the next two football games sitting next to Mamori on the sidelines. Yukimitsu is an interesting and sympathetic character who, while goofy looking, deserves a better fate than riding the pine. I'm pulling for him to get involved in the on-field action in future episodes.
While established rivals, Shin and Habashira, closely follow Eyeshield 21's progression as a football player from afar, several new opponents are added to the mix. The Taiyo Sphinx players are a bunch of clowns as a whole. The best player is Banba, a massive wall of a man who anchors the Sphinx's renowned "Pyramid Line." The Sphinx's game time hero, however, is cornerback Kamaguruma, who comes off the bench to stuff Deimon High's receivers with his "Chariot Bump," also known as bump-and-run coverage. Panther, a much more compelling rival for Sena, is introduced in later episodes. Panther is the Aliens' best player, but for some reason, the head coach refuses to play him or even let him practice with the team. The reasoning behind the snubbing is explained away as the coach being jealous of Panther's superior athleticism. However, it's a thinly-veiled storyline on racism. You will understand when you see all of Panther's teammates. Oh, and that name. Regardless, the gifted athlete provides Eyeshield 21 with his greatest challenge since facing Shin.
In the first volume, my main criticism was the lack of background information on Sena. The same criticism still stands through this second volume which gives no more information about Sena outside of the school setting. This series is mostly focused on football games and practice. The sports action is where Eyeshield 21 truly shines. When the show veers away from the football field, the pacing slows to a crawl and the storyline gets a little boring. Perhaps the lack of scenes involving Sena's life away from football is a positive. Still, as a fan of the series, I am intrigued to learn more about Sena's background story.
The most infuriating element of the series is Mamori's inability to recognize that Sena is Eyeshield 21. Every time she comes close to making the connection, she talks herself out of it by coming to another conclusion. It's maddening. Many players on the team already know about Eyeshield 21's true identity and one rival player even figures it out soon after meeting Sena. I suppose if DC Comics can stretch out Lois Lane's inability to see through Clark Kent's glasses for decades, then Mamori can go a whole series without seeing through a tinted eyeshield. It's silly that Sena is still keeping his identity a secret, but in one episode he reveals a little deeper reasoning about why he continues the whole charade.
There are only two games in this volume that encompass a total of seven episodes. The first game is against the campy Taiyo Sphinx who are a few thousand years behind the times and live on the wrong continent. They play on a desert-like field in a pyramid stadium and dress up like ancient Egyptians on and off the football field. Oddly enough, their fans cheer by walking like an Egyptian during the games. The second game is against the top rated American high school team, X High Aliens. This is another high school team with a silly gimmick, NASA. In fact, their team name seems to change from the X High Aliens to the NASA Aliens in various places. The Aliens' special moves are a long pass called the "Space Shuttle Pass" and a kickoff return formation called the "Moonsault." Hiruma devises a counter to the Space Shuttle Pass--an all out blitz called the "Alien Autopsy." Thankfully, Eyeshield 21 doesn't beat the NASA gimmick into ground like it did with the Egyptians. Outside of the special moves, X High is a fairly down to Earth football team.
Seeing American football presented through Japanese eyes in an anime series is so novel that you are willing to overlook the silliness and even embrace it. It continues to be fascinating to see how a foreign produced series educates viewers on football topics such as blitzing, the spread offense, bump-and-run coverage, interceptions, and kickoffs. Hopefully the novelty does not wear down over the course of the 145 episode series.
Audio: The audio is Japanese 2.0 with English subtitles. The sound was average for a television anime series with no noticeable distortions or other anomalies.
All of the voice actors sound appropriate for their characters. The best voice is Hiruma who can go from good guy team leader to homicidal machinegun blasting maniac in the blink of an eye. Atsushi Tamura plays the role well and has some lines that sound downright creepy--fitting for a character whose origin likely involves some form of demon-mating.
Video: The series is presented in full-frame 4:3 video. The colors are vibrant and the art, which features an eclectic mix of character styles, is a joy to look at. There are some minor issues with line noise and pixelization throughout the series.
Extras: There are some trailers and DVD Credits and that's it.
Final Thoughts: Eyeshield 21 is one of those series that is inexplicably enjoyable. The story is simple, the overdramatized football games last way too long, and many of the characters are just plain weird. Yet, it all mixes into a charming and highly watchable series. This is not the greatest anime series by any stretch of the imagination--it's not even the best sports anime series. But, if you love football and you love anime, then there's no reason you shouldn't give Eyeshield 21 a chance. I can't wait to see what happens next. Recommended.