Captain Tsubasa might be the world’s most famous fictional footballer. This Japanese manga is loved around the world, although not always known by the same name. In Latin America, it’s known as Supercampeones. In Spain, it’s Oliver y Benji. In the USA, it’s Flash Kicker. In France, Olive et Tom, and in Italy, Holly e Benji. (Quite why they have to keep remaining characters, I’m not sure.)
It tells the story of a Japanese football prodigy named Tsubasa Ozora (known in different countries as Oliver Atom, Oliver Tsubasa, Majed, Andy Dai Zhiwei.. you get the point) and has been adapted into different anime and video games. It started in the 80s but its enduring popularity (even among professional footballers) has led to new issues of the manga, as well as more TV shows and more games being released up to this day.
You may know all this, but did you know Tsubasa joined FC Barcelona in the manga and show? We’re going to take a break from real football and watch some anime and relive the story...
Episode 1 - Road to a Dream
Watch in Japanese with English subtitles:
Watch in Spanish:
First, a little background. The anime originally tells of Tsubasa making his way through the Japanese school footballing system, and eventually catching the eye of the nation’s youth levels of football. By the time this series starts (called Road to 2002 in celebration of the first FIFA World Cup played in Asia), Tsubasa has become good enough that he has moved to the Brazilian league to make a name for himself. He starts in the youth levels of Sao Paulo and eventually makes it into the senior team. He will eventually sign for Barcelona, but the first few episodes tell the story of previous shows in the series. So let’s start with episode 1.
The episode starts with Tsubasa playing for “Brancos,” which in the original manga is Sao Paulo. While dribbling, he somehow goes into an extended flashback sequence which tells his backstory. Yeah, this show is weird like that.
He remembers meeting his friend Ryo Ishizaki, known as Bruce in many places, as a child, and his first time meeting Sanae (also known as Patty,) the team’s main cheerleader. Tsubasa asks Ryo if he can play football with him, and while Ryo is unsure, he eventually relents and the pair go to the park.
Sanae is skeptical of Tsubasa’s short height but is convinced to allow him on the team because the rest of the team say what really matters is his skill. Tsubasa is adopted into the team, known as Nankatsu, which has vowed not to lose 10-0 again. This only after their regular centerforward turns up injured.
Genzo Wakabayashi, AKA Benji Price, is introduced as the confident, hat-wearing goalkeeper who has never conceded a goal. He’s there for a challenge. If Nankatsu can score even a single goal, he will allow them to train in the park. If not, they will agree to never show their faces again.
Genzo tells his team, known as Shutetsu, that he won’t be needed since their rivals are so bad and allows the team’s second keeper to start. Tsubasa is deployed as a sweeper and he spends a long time making goal line blocks because his team, Nankatsu, is so terrible.
Genzo’s team goes 2-0 up before a drunk man wearing sunglasses wanders onto where the kids are playing. This should be alarming but it isn’t. I’ll explain later. Meanwhile, Tsubasa attempts a shot from his own goal that hits the crossbar. People are noticing that Tsubasa is super amazing and the rest of his team is terrible.
At halftime, Tsubasa’s team are 3-0 down. Genzo gives a halftime speech in which he orders double marking on Tsubasa, and subs himself on to avoid losing by allowing a single goal. Meanwhile Nankatsu puts Tsubasa upfront and make their entire strategy to pass to him. After the half Tsubasa attempts an attack but his team is thwarted and they concede again. But in the next play, Ryo crosses to Tsubasa, who shoots with a flying volley. The ball hits the crossbar, it’s headed back to him by a teammate, he crosses with a volley to Ryo, Ryo shoots but it’s blocked by the keeper, and then Tsubasa heads the rebound in. GOAL! Tsubasa’s team wins!
This highly improbable, convoluted goal is shown in super slow-motion, with characters allowed to say entire sentences while it happens, giving the sense that the characters must be talking at hyper-speed. The drunkard flings his flask away, saying the game is too interesting to keep watching. It’s ridiculous but very entertaining.
With a goal, Tsubasa’s team celebrates winning the challenge while Genzo calls the young star “lucky” and vows not to concede again. Meanwhile, the drunkard kicks a ball hard towards Tsubasa, who volleys it back. Again, should be concerning but isn’t in this case. The drunkard executes a flying volley shot of his own off of Tsubasa’s kick, which impresses the kids.
The drunkard is then revealed to be Roberto, a former Brazilian national team player. Roberto will become a key mentor figure for Tsubasa, but not just yet. The episode ends with Tsubasa saying Roberto is “looking for someone.” Hmmm... who could it be?
I will keep making posts for you guys to follow along - let’s hope real football is back by the time I get through the whole series!