Blue Lock the Movie: Episode Nagi review – football anime gets the battle royale-treatment

Estimated read time 2 min read

Like Squid Game meets Shaolin Soccer, this feature-length extrapolation of Muneyuki Kaneshiro’s popular manga and anime set in a football training academy treats the beautiful game like an epic showdown between demonic forces or a Kurosawa-esque assault on a mountain fortress. Terminator-eyed strikers, flame-wreathed shots on goal, players zoning out in an amniotic limbo; no bombast is too much when hammering home Blue Lock’s key message: a star centre-forward must have an almighty ego.

The head coach is even called Jinpachi Ego. In trying to identify a unique attacking talent for the Japanese national team at the elite Blue Lock academy, he is unimpressed by the close-knit bond between the two final recruits: rich kid Reo (voiced by Yuma Uchida) and his diffident schoolmate Nagi (Nobunaga Shimazaki). The latter especially is an enigma: a twinkle-toed footballing genius who declares everything a “hassle” and would rather be gaming than on the pitch. Both Nagi’s Eeyore-ish attitude and the pair’s alliance may have to be jettisoned if one is to triumph in Ego-san’s elimination process.

The cranked-up pitchside action is hilarious, like a live feed from inside Cristiano Ronaldo’s head as he replays his own goals reel. Debut director Shunsuke Ishikawa makes concussive use of striking key-frames as the players jockey for position and pivot for howitzer ball-pummelling, even if some of the transitional animation is a bit flat-footed compared with the likes of last year’s basketball anime The First Slam Dunk.

Translating football into the battle royale format only goes so far, though. As a key qualifying match stretches out over 25 minutes, character development is stretched thin, with only Nagi, Reo and their turbo-charged but dumb teammate Zantetsu (Kazuyuki Okitsu) given any attention. Even the issue of Nagi and Reo’s pact takes a backseat to the protracted birth of the former’s dormant ego, detailed in his own voiceover like a Terrence Malick film.

The film becomes a taxing blur of goalmouth sallies and nondescript players incredulously intoning the latest manoeuvre: “Rabona!” Par for the course in these serialised anime stories, Episode Nagi also cuts mid-story before a climactic match. No problem for Blue Lock fanatics, but not much use for those of us who just wanted to catch all the highlights.


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