It makes me laugh to think I’ve been a soccer fan for most of my life. It didn’t start out that way. In the Midwest, we are brought up on football, baseball, basketball, and high school wrestling. Soccer was a PE thing and nothing else, on the same level as dodgeball or racing on those little wooden scooters. But when I was in high school back in 1994, the US hosted the World Cup, the biggest event in soccer. As a sports fanatic, I followed the groups, learned the rules and got hooked hard. Flash forward all these years, and I’ve got jerseys in my collection from my favorite teams, Newcastle United, Sporting KC and the US Men’s and Women’s National Teams. I wake up early on the weekends and enjoy a spot of breakfast while watching the English Premier League. It’s an awesome way to start the day. So when I saw a soccer manga hit our review list, I had to jump on it. It didn’t hurt that it had a great pedigree backing it up, too.
In 2010, before he created Your Lie in April, Naoshi Arakawa made a 2-volume manga called Sayonara Football, which has finally arrived in America. The story focuses on Nozomi Onda, a student at Fuji First Junior High and proud member of their football club. The problem is, Fuji First is a boys-only team. Nozomi tried to get a girls’ team going, but there wasn’t enough demand. She still practices with the boys, though, and it shows. Her skills are on par with, if not surpassing, any of the boys on the team. Her combination of speed and finesse devastates her teammates on the pitch, as her spin moves set her up for plenty of scoring opportunities.
But in the end, the terrible glass ceiling still hangs over her. Her coach sticks to the rules keeping her off the team, despite her playful blackmail attempts, and team captain Tetsuji Yamada refuses to lobby on her behalf. He claims Nozomi, being a girl, is too frail to stand up to the boys, though he might have other personal reasons to make that call. It only makes matters worse when Nozomi is reunited with Yasuaki Tani. The soft, mild-mannered boy she dubbed “Namek” in 4th grade while putting him through rigorous soccer training has grown into a tall, imposing defender on Egami West, Fuji First’s next opponent. And Yasuaki is set to prove that over the years, he’s become a better player than Nozomi. She then doubles down to try to prove she belongs on the same field as the boys.
Arakawa does a great job bringing life to Nozomi and her team, both on and off the pitch. Nozomi is a rambunctious spitfire of a girl who refuses to take no for an answer, and you can’t help but root for her to take her place on the team. Not all of the other characters get the development you’d like, but Tetsuji and his best friend Kaoru are still likeable in their own ways. The soccer action is lavishly portrayed, making you feel at times like you’re a defender trying to contain Nozomi. It might be a little tough to understand for non-fans of the game, though, as the story doesn’t break down rules or tactics as much as many other sports manga do. But soccer is a pretty straightforward game, so there’s no trouble still getting wrapped up in the matches.
Whether you’re a devoted footie fan or a casual reader looking for a fun slice of life book, this is definitely worth checking out. It’s a light, energetic read leaving you wanting more. And if you do want more, you’re in luck! This may have been originally a 2-volume story, but in 2016, Arakawa started an ongoing sequel series, Farewell My Dear Cramer, which picks things up when Nozomi hits high school. That’s arriving stateside in January as volume 3 of this series. On top of that, it’s been recently announced that Cramer will be getting an anime in April of next year, so Nozomi and her friends have plenty of fixtures left on the schedule. So get your kit on and join the Sayonara Football supporters’ club today!
It feels like forever since North America has gotten a soccer manga. Captain Tsubasa continues to be unlicensed, and the last one I can remember was Whistle! that ended in 2010, and its sequel series remains unlicensed. Now we have one from the unlikeliest of people, Naoshi Arakawa, the creator of Your Lie in April. As such, while we do get some soccer action, the focus is instead about a girl on the verge of great change and the awkward transition in between.
Nozomi Onda makes for a compelling protagonist. She’s a force of nature with the ball, though she’s constantly fighting both human nature on and off the pitch. The middle school Nozomi attends only has a boy’s team, and with puberty hitting hard, the physical differences between Nozomi and her teammates are becoming apparent. Still, she proves she has more skill and smarts than most of her teammates, making her starting XI ready. But her physical difference is used for sexism off the pitch, as the coach refuses to have Nozomi in the lineup for the upcoming tournament. This is best illustrated in Nozomi’s younger brother, her protege. He was once weaker and less of a player than Nozomi. Fast-forward to puberty, and now he’s stronger and faster than Nozomi, even though he’s younger. So who will the coach pick?
Nozomi’s personal conflict will be familiar for fans of Mitsuri Adachi’s Cross Game, but here there’s more direct conflict by placing the female character as the main protagonist. Arakawa doesn’t have the subtlety of Adachi, but in Sayonara Football that makes the themes of change more apparent. Nozomi isn’t the only person going through change; from her female manager friend to long-lost childhood friend, people are looking and becoming different. How they will change will be the crux of the series going forward, and I’m interested in seeing how they progress.
Oh, and the soccer action is alright. Arakawa loves his action lines, and you know he’s done his homework in illustrating some of the technical parts of the beautiful game. Still, you get situations where you don’t understand how the transitions between panels happened and some mistakes in the action.
For us lucky soccer fans, we’ve finally got a new manga, and it’s off to a solid start. Remember, a soccer ball, like life, is round: anything can happen.
Midori and Sumire are soccer stars at rival middle schools, destined to collide—one’s a striker, the other a goalie. But the two girls end up in the same high school, with a lazy coach and a bizarre teammate, Nozomi, who brags that she’s a genius but can’t seem to stop kicking the ball into her own goal. To become champions, they’ll have to get over their rivalry and work some magic on the field—not to mention the challenges of growing up.Add to CartLearn More