Ao Ashi entered our screens in the Spring 2022 season, adapting the manga of the same name by Yuugo Kobayashi and Naohiko Ueno, which has been running since early 2015. The story follows Ashito Aoi as he has just lost his last junior high school tournament with his soccer club, putting in a solid solo performance but lacking backup from his teammates to make a difference in the outcome.
To clear his mind, Aoi goes for a run along the beachfront and meets Tatsuya Fukuda, a youth coach from the J-League team Tokyo City Esperion FC, who watched the game. Fukuda acknowledges that Aoi has exceptional talent but that it is unrefined and requires guided coaching to reach its full potential, which he offers when inviting him to come to try out for the team in Tokyo.
Realism in Sports Anime
Unlike many popular sports anime, Ao Ashi opts for realism in matches instead of overpowered high schoolers accomplishing feats that would make professionals look out of place. Kuroko no Basket and Captain Tsubasa are beloved sports anime showcasing how far animation can take human form in almost superhero-style ways, flying about the place to kick a ball mid-air with lightning power to break a net.
The realism extends to how the characters are presented in their struggles to get better at soccer. Aoi begins the anime playing as a striker for his junior high school team, scoring most of their goals and hoping to continue playing the same way when he reaches the Esperion team trials. However, after struggling to gel with some teammates, sound advice from those around him, and a stern wake-up call from his coach Fukuda, Aoi changes his position to full-back in the defensive line.
Not Always the Centre of Attention
Over the last eight years, soccer has seen a shift in how full-backs play, instead of being static defenders that prevent attacks down the flanks, many have become advanced playmakers on the outside of the pitch, as explained by Fukuda, which suites Aoi’s playstyle. This means that Aoi is no longer the focal point of attacks on the pitch, unlike most other sports anime that often see the main character leading the scoring, such as Hinata in Haikyuu!!!.
Aoi plays a great underdog character but showcases incredible talent that will develop throughout the series. However, with so many elite players around him already at the start, the opposition and teammates will likely scale with his abilities to create even more obstacles.
Aoi Ashi is a soccer anime that brings realism back to sports anime and tells an exciting underdog story with some of the flairs to be expected in the anime format. There have not been many soccer anime in the last five years, with a few that have not quite scored, but Aoi Ashi really brings the sport to life on the silver screen. What have you thought of Aoi Ashi as a sports anime? Do you think sports anime should verge more on the side of realism or the superhuman? Let us know in the comments!