[Post originally published on substack on August 20, 2022.]
The soccer anime DAYS and its 3-episode sequel DAYS: Touin Gakuen-sen! will excite all those who watch a sports anime for its sport. There are hardly any side stories that will distract you from the blood, sweat, and tears shed during training sessions, exhibition games and tournament matches. The enthusiasm of the players is contagious; it makes you want to grab a ball and start racing across the field yourself. Even if you are not fond of soccer, the story and its characters are captivating, which makes the anime fun to watch. Additionally, it presents a perfect opportunity to learn how you can do your best.
The Beginning Of A Love Story
First off, let’s get a little grip on what DAYS is about. Most obviously, it’s about soccer, or sakkā, as it’s called in Japanese. You might have seen a game or two; or more if you are an avid fan. Whether you call it soccer or football, being the most popular sport worldwide, you probably know that two teams play against each other on a grassy field and that the round ball has to go into the rectangular goal. This knowledge is pretty much all you need to be able to follow the story and enjoy the games in DAYS.
It all starts with the futsal game in the first episode. Tsukamoto Tsukushi, the main character, who has never played any sport before, is invited to this match by his new acquaintance and future best friend, Kazama Jin. Undeterred by the massive amount of physical pain caused to him during this game, Tsukamoto’s heart is set aflame with the desire to continue with ball sports, and thus decided to join the school’s soccer club. (If you are equally intrigued by hard court soccer, you might want to try out Futsal Boys!!!!!).
During the series, we follow Tsukamoto’s daily soccer club life: from participating in the training sessions as a newbie to becoming a starting member for the Inter High qualification games. We watch him experience friendships for the first time in his life and be part of a team – also, for the first time in his life. And particularly, we witness how he always gives his very, very, very best, be it running or cheering or playing soccer.
1. Discovering Your Heart’s Desire
I played soccer when I was little but have drifted off to other sports since. However, following Tsukamoto’s fiery passion for this ball game, my love for it was rekindled. His constantly blushing cheeks and big sparkling eyes convey the joy he finds in kicking the ball around with his teammates. He continuously pulls you along with his overabundant energy, no matter how exhausted you are from watching him run in endless circles around the school building.
Admittedly, it’s a miracle he found joy in this sport in the first place, considering the painful experiences he endured during his very first futsal game. I am not just talking about the torn and bleeding toenail. The ball, too, found its way to the most uncomfortable places on his body. And the way he flew – literally flew – into the goalpost would have knocked out a grown man. Additionally, after his first training session at the school’s soccer club, his feet showed the worst blisters I have ever seen in my life. How could he even walk with blisters covering his entire sole?
In any case, the blossoming friendship with Kazama and the prospect of being part of a team provided him with enough incentive to continue with the sport. Thus, Tsukamoto dedicates himself to supporting the team in whichever way he can.
2. Giving Your All
Day after day, Tsukamoto improves his soccer and people skills. Yet, he obstinately keeps denying any improvements or achievements. At the end of the anime, he repeats the same thing he said at its very beginning, that he has done nothing to help the team (win). Having heard this phrase multiple times throughout the anime, I got the impression of listening to a broken record. Where is the character development? Shouldn’t the main character be overflowing with self-confidence and pride about his achievements by the end of a series? Well, in all honesty, you would need some feedback to know how good or bad you are at the sport you just started, wouldn’t you? Unfortunately, Tsukamoto doesn’t receive any positive feedback because his teammates only praise him in his absence. Mizuki, the team captain, is equally enthralled by Tsukamoto’s high spirits and secretly appoints him as the next team captain once he himself retires. Tsukamoto, unaware of the high regard in which he is held, continues his marathon-like running routine and shooting exercises throughout the series, with tears of frustration, oftentimes, tumbling down his rosy cheeks.
3. Sacrificing Yourself
Friendships have their ups and downs. The same is true for the boys in DAYS. However, because they are a large soccer team and every player wants to be one of the eleven starting members, intra-team competition is unavoidable. While Tsukamoto’s teammates eagerly rise to the challenge, he is unable to cope with this. Never in his mind could he picture himself fighting with a friend or deliberately taking somebody else’s spot. Though, strictly speaking, he has done so the minute he became a starting member. But let’s not be too fussy about this. In any case, open competition is a no-go for Tsukamoto, and he even contemplates quitting the team. To be able to keep playing soccer without the unpleasant sensation of competing with his friends, Tsukamoto had to come up with a plan. So, after one night of deliberation, he decided to give up on being an egoistic forward. Doing so enabled him to pick up loose balls and assist the other players to score goals, which led to the most iconic scene of the anime. It shows Tsukamoto, breathing hard from the exertion, on his face the most blissful expression, while the coach comments admiringly: “You kill yourself to let the team live. The ultimate dedication.”
I wouldn’t regard it as suicide to assist others rather than score goals myself. At the beginning of the soccer anime Ao Ashi, you can find a good example of assisting your teammates without life-threatening consequences. In any case, Tsukamoto is the epitome of team spirit and self-sacrifice. Similar characters often appear in anime depicting team sports. That’s why I’m particularly curious about Blue Lock, where egoism seems to be the most important trait of the players. I only read the first chapter of the manga, but the story seems promising.
4. Doing Your Best
Tsukamoto expresses his enthusiasm by repeatedly saying, “I’ll do my best!” or “Ganbarimasu!” if you are watching the subbed version. If you listen closely, you can hear him say it in almost any situation; before and during soccer games, while catching goldfish at a fair, or while massaging his senpai’s shoulders. I don’t think I have ever seen a character in any other anime say “I’ll do my best” this often.
His dedication and commitment rub off, not only on his teammates but also on the viewers. So, if you are in need of motivation, watch the anime and feel the boost of energy that comes from witnessing the passion of Tsukamoto and his soccer friends.
A Voice of Reason
Tsukamoto hardly ever rests, which is not something to recommend, as constant overexertion wrecks your body. The other players, too, make light of this, as they follow Tsukamoto’s example and train even during mandated rest. The only times they do not train are when they are cooking or studying or admiring ladies’ bras. Kazama is the only exception as he hardly ever trains, but he is a confident prodigy, so you can’t take him as a reference. There is only one person, Ubukata, the club manager, that voices the importance of rest, and she does so quite violently. Necessary or not, she makes herself crystal clear: train wisely.
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