Title: Giant Killing
Company: Studio DEEN
Format: 26 episodes
Dates: 4 Apr 2010 – 26 Sep 2010
Synopsis: East Tokyo United, once a premier soccer club, is now struggling just to maintain its status in Japan’s top professional league. After years of losing games, star players, and fans, the owners make a desperate move by hiring a new coach, the controversial Tatsumi Takeshi, himself a former star of ETU’s past glories and more recently, a successful manager in an English amateur league. Will his fresh philosophy and big roster shake-up turn the fortunes of the organization around, or will he tear apart a team already on the brink?
Seinen soccer: Grown-up concerns on and off the field.
International flavor: A “colorful” portrayal of foreign friends.
End of the last episode: Is not the end of the story, unfortunately.
Some savvy TV execs at NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) had the foresight to produce a soccer anime last summer that, as dumb luck would have it, happened to coincide with this year’s World Cup coverage. But beyond an easy sell riding on the coattails of the world’s favorite spectator sport, Giant Killing is an uncommon take on a genre traditionally dominated by young boys by taking a grown-up perspective of professional sports. Although crippled by a lackluster budget, Giant Killing shows the makings of a compelling variant of the “new coach with an underdog team” tale.
Giant Killing focuses on adult characters. The focal point falls upon coach Tatsumi, whose unconventional methods with the team and brusque relationship with the media and fans raises more questions than confidence. But beyond him, the series has no true main characters, just groups of various interests. There are the players on the team, professional athletes who are as far from the bright-eyed, cute, kiddy designs as you can get. They have rough, worn faces, wear mean expressions, and exude toughness forged from years of rigorous physical competition. There are the members of the media looking for the next big story and the PR personnel who deal with them as they put out fires from the coach’s most recent stunt. And then there are the fans, the old and jaded who remember the good old days and the young blood looking for inspiration, the ever faithful who organize chants and wave team banners at every game. It’s this cornucopia of personalities that brings each match to life.
Another way Giant Killing widens its appeal is by acknowledging the international influences on the game, even within Japan’s domestic league. It feels natural to include Italian, Dutch, Brazilian, French, and English players and officials in the mix. Yet watch as the poor Japanese actors butcher the Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, French, and English language lines they are dealt. You don’t even need to know the languages to recognize how poorly garbled these foreign accents are. Could they not afford to hire some native speakers for an episode or two?
This issue highlights Giant Killing’s giant Achilles’ heel: a deficient production. The company responsible, Studio DEEN, has a history of shoddy animation productions, and that trend continues here. Giant Killing employs numerous animation shortcuts that are as cheap as they are obvious: liberal use of slow motion, speedlines, and over-explaining side characters are this show’s favorite money-saving tricks. While conveying the story through multiple sympathetic perspectives is a strength of its storytelling, cycling through a who’s who gallery of narrators during every semi-important action scene is poor form. It stretches seconds of real-time play into half-episodes; one match spans a whole five episodes – longer than playing a full-length soccer game. Giant Killing also has sparingly few (presumably expensive) wide-scope shots, so oftentimes we only get the vaguest idea of the spacing and flow of the action.
One last knock on this anime is that the season doesn’t conclude so much as stop; Giant Killing ends at only the midpoint of the league’s season. We see signs of the changing culture of the team and its fans, but we aren’t treated to a finale that does justice to the journey.
Giant Killing mixes familiar sports tropes with the novel portrayal of the surrounding culture and matured characters. Though its failures in presentation are hard to overcome, the outlines of a great sports story are in place. For that alone Giant Killing merits the attention of sports-loving anime fans and hopefully another season.
The Rating: 6
Reviewed by: kadian1364