First Look: Captain Tsubasa (2018)

Manga Adaptation by David Production
Simulcast Pending


Ōzora Tsubasa has loved playing football (soccer, whatever) since he was a kid, even having his life saved by one. Now aged 11, he’s moved to the city of Nankatsu to attend elementary school, as well as further his football career.

Euri’s verdict: Parking the bus

David Production picking up the license to Captain Tsubasa was a real out-of-the-blue move, and while many fans have found themselves upset that it wasn’t an announcement for JoJo‘s Vento Aureo, it can’t be argued that it’s a safe and likely very profitable series for them to animate. This is a series that was massive in the early 80s, and not just in Japan either; it found great success in Latin America and Spanish speaking countries in particular. This is a show so popular that famous footballers like Lionel Messi, Alexis Sánchez and Andrés Iniesta have cited it as part of why they ended up becoming professional footballers. If you’re not super familiar with these guys, you may have spotted the first guy on one of many FIFA game covers. Personally, my first encounter with this show was in Spain while I was on holiday in the early 00s, where I knew it as Oliver y Benji.

On top of that, it also seems like a good time for a football anime. Inazuma Eleven isn’t as popular as it once was, and the only other football shows we get are one-offs like Giant Killing or Days. Throw in an incredible amount of nostalgia and you’d think it’d be plain sailing from here. Viz Media has picked up the rights for the series, but there seems to be no word of a potential simulcast. Part of me thinks that there’s a larger opportunity putting a dubbed version of this show on children’s TV where possible, but if that’s the plan, we certainly don’t know about it.

Fortunately, the show itself is really well done. If you’ve seen the original show then you’ll know exactly what to expect, as this one closely follows the pacing of the original anime series. We’re introduced to Tsubasa, a seemingly ordinary kid who is infatuated with the beautiful game, so much so that he actively dribbles a football around wherever he goes. He’s moved to Nankatsu because of the schools, many of which have strong football clubs, so that he can continue to pursue his dream of being a professional footballer. While exploring the city, we’re introduced to Wakabayashi, an incredibly gifted goalkeeper who’s so cool he wears a hat with a W on it. There’s also the ‘familiar looking’ drunkard, who will become much more important pretty soon.

The first episode is very particular in how it shows just how good Tsubasa is at football, as we only get to see some fancy footwork for the first half of the episode. When he does strike the ball, the show does a great job of emphasising just how skilled he is at doing so. In this version, this is when the animators start to show what four seasons of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure does for you.

In the original show, the sound effects that accompany Tsubasa’s impressive football skills sound a lot like those from the original Mobile Suit Gundam. For the modern sound effects, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’ve been ripped right out of JoJo, and they’re even given animations to match. While it’s obvious that the show’s visual style has modernised, this is perhaps where it’s the most apparent. This new high def and digital version of Tsubasa looks fantastic, but it’s also exactly what you’d expect such a modernisation to look like. The audio and animation work done to emphasise Tsubasa’s football skills is where David Production are making this show their own, even if it’s just in a small way.

They are, however, playing this series safe from the outset. Comparing this episode to the first episode of the 1983 series, there’s not a lot that’s different in terms of content. We don’t get to see Tsubasa meeting a few of his soon-to-be team mates while exploring the city, though to be fair, all we’ve really missed is Masaru coming off his bike and falling into a river. Interestingly, the biggest change seems to be the absence of Nakazawa Sanae, the tomboy cheerleader who was originally present when Tsubasa kicked the ball underneath the moving truck. Whether this is more accurate to the manga or a change on David Production’s part, I don’t know, but I do hope that she stays as rowdy as in the original when she does turn up.

One other change comes in how the two shows start. In the 2018 version, we get to see a 2 year old Tsubasa almost get hit by a truck when his parents decide it’d be a good idea to let him play football by a road unsupervised. In the original, Tsubasa is listening to a radio broadcast reporting the end of the 1982 FIFA World Cup, where Italy have just beaten West Germany in the final. What’s really neat about this is that the Japanese commentator of the game rhetorically asks whether or not Japan will ever make the world cup, because in 1983 when the original anime aired, they had yet to manage it. They would eventually qualify for the first time in 1998, but it’s a fascinating part of the original show that I’m kinda disappointed wasn’t brought up to date for the new series.

All in all, these things are relatively minor. Both shows end episode one at the exact same moment, and I’d be surprised if David Production deviates from the original show’s pacing any time soon.

If you’re a fan of football anime, or have a passing interest in the sport and enjoy JoJo sound effects, definitely give this one a go. It’s a little harder of a recommendation for fans of the original show as there’s a lot to love about the original, but personally I’m more than content with what I’ve seen so far and I’m looking forward to seeing how David Production are going to handle the football matches themselves. We already got a good sampling of what that might look like, and I’m excited to see what they do with the more ridiculous special moves.

Oh, and the ED is a cover of the original show’s OP, sung by Tsubasa’s new voice actor. Just in case you were worried that this wouldn’t be the Captain Tsubasa you already know and love.

Zigg’s verdict: Solid Mid-Table Performance

This is….completely fine I guess. It’s about everything you’d want from a modern remake of a classic property – a bright, solid animation upgrade that nevertheless sticks to the classic look, tweaks the story slightly for a more modern setting, and generally puts a new coat of paint on the original narrative. I have to say I was hoping for a bit more outlandishness from the JoJo maestros at David Production, and the show definitely grabs me the most whenever it gets super dumb, like toddler Tsubasa’s hilarious near death experience, or Wakabayashi’s chi field defence. It’s hard to knock Tsubasa for being a bit formulaic, since it’s kind of the story which invented the formula in the first place, but I’m not sure this plays in 2018 unless you’re an existing fan of the franchise or an 8 year old boy.

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