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 36 - The New Dream Land
So I recapped episodes 1 and 2 previously, but I’ve decided to skip ahead. Why? Because I came to find out the first 36 episodes of this series recap the previous (extremely long) serieses, meaning Tsubasa doesn’t actually join Barcelona until about this episode. Since the premise of these blogs is to focus on Barcelona, I’m skipping ahead a bit.
I’ll recap what happens between episode 2 and 35, extremely quickly: Tsubasa goes up through the Japanese school system, he joins the youth levels of Japan’s national team, wins the World Youth Championship against Brazil (coached by his mentor Roberto), and makes his way up from the youth levels to the senior team of Brancos (AKA Sao Paulo).
Playing for Japan against Brazil, Tsubasa develops a new rival: Carlos Santana. No, not the guitarist, but an incredibly skilled Brazilian player who is known as the “cyborg of football” due to both his perfect attributes but also his heartlessness, which is a product of a tragic backstory of being abandoned as a child and losing both his adoptive parents, and then being adopted by a cruel man.
Santana believes in his own skill above all else, in contrast to Tsubasa, who believes in working as a team and has even switched positions from a centerforward to a playmaker. There is something prophetic about Tsubasa, if you ask me. Yōichi Takahashi, the creator of Tsubasa, has stated in an interview that the player that most resembles Tsubasa in real life is Lionel Messi. (He said Cristiano Ronaldo most resembles Kojiro Hyuga, another one of Tsubasa’s rivals.)
Anyway, onto the episode. Watch here in Japanese with English subtitles:
And here in Spanish:
Tsubasa is now a hot commodity in the international football market after making his mark in the Brazilian league with Brancos. Santana is also making a name for himself in the Brazilian league, playing with Domingos 1904 (Flamengo in the manga.) The pair had an encounter that ended in a draw recently in the Brazilian league.
Tsubasa speaks with Roberto, who tells him all the clubs in Europe are in for him and he has a decision to make. The player says he will travel to Spain first and “let his legs make the decision” if he wants to stay.
On the plane, Tsubasa has a dream of playing for Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League final against Genzo, his old rival, who is now the goalkeeper for Hamburger SV.
Sanae has, by this time, agreed to marry Tsubasa and is back at home watching a commercial featuring Hyuga. She gets a call from Tsubasa, who tells her he’s landed in Barcelona and plans to travel around Europe to test himself. Sanae tells him that Hyuga now plays in the Italian league.
Hyuga gives a press conference announcing that he will be joining Piemonte (Juventus), and comments on how Italian defenses are the toughest. Hyuga, being a forward, wants to challenge himself against the strongest defenses to prove he is the best. He gives a frankly supervillain-esque speech in which he shouts he wants to “destroy” the Italian league defenses. Again, somewhat prophetic here.
Tsubasa takes a taxi to the stadium and meets with an old guy, who I assume is the club president or something. Barcelona, known in the anime as Cataluña, are the current La Liga champions and are very interested in letting Tsubasa join. He steps onto the pitch and realizes he dreamed of that very stadium. I guess he doesn’t notice that he’s also wearing a Barcelona shirt in the dream. Anyway, he declares right then and there that he’s joining Barcelona.
He meets a kid who says he is Tsubasa’s first fan in Spain, a boy named Pinto. That boy would grow up to have a ponytail and be Barcelona’s second keeper. Just kidding.
The kid takes him to go see the B team in training. They then notice three men, who have seemingly punched (!!?) a B teamer into the fence surrounding the pitch. We’ll later find out he was probably slammed by a flying kick from one of the trio... and that’s somehow allowed on the training ground.
One of the guys, Gonzales, explains. They are apparently first-teamers who told any B teamer that if they can score against them, they will tell the coach the player should be allowed onto the first team.
Serrano, the B team’s best striker, attempts to take them on but one of the defenders slides towards him. Serrano hurdles him, but the defender (Almieja) sticks his leg in the air and kicks the ball out mid-hurdle.
The B teamers are scared to make another challenge. But then Tsubasa says he will take them on, prompting the old man to say Tsubasa is now a part of the team since he will join the next season. This show has a much more straightforward conception of the global transfer market than you’d think.
Pedro Fonseca, the third defender, takes Tsubasa on first as he challenges the trio. Fonseca’s technique is “Serpent Marking,” which is just a fancy name for holding the attacker with your arms, and I think pretty clearly a foul. Fonseca lets him go, baiting him into Almeija coming in with a slide tackle towards him. Tsubasa hurdles him, but Almeija stretches his leg out again. But our hero is prepared for this, having observed him do it before, and avoids him. Fonseca jumps towards him with a flying tackle, but Tsubasa dodges him by changing directions in mid-air a way that is very much impossible.
Tsubasa has a bad landing and the ball bounces away from him, and Gonzales rushes in to clear it by flying in studs up. Tsubasa jumps towards the bouncing ball and heads it, taking a kick apparently to the side of the head in that process. The ball bobbles upwards, and Tsubasa somehow bicycle kicks it after the collision and scores into the empty net.’
The three defenders ask him if he’s okay, and Gonzales offers a hand and tells him “welcome to the team.”
They now respect Tsubasa, but they question his decision to join Barcelona because they already have a star player in his position. In fact, he is considered the most key player in all of Europe. The player in question is Rivaul, “the eagle of Cataluña.” Rivaul is clearly an analogue to Rivaldo, who was Barcelona’s best player at the time.
The episode ends on that note. Whew! We covered a lot of ground here, but we are finally in Barcelona! It’s time for Tsubasa’s adventure in La Liga to continue.