“Eyeshield 21” is a sports manga with wide appeal. Like most great sports stories it understands that the true heart of the game is the people playing it.
“Eyeshield” verges on being on a shonen manga due to its clever take on football. Every game is a battle between warriors. All the stars have special moves that they use to give them an edge and the plays are often spectacles to behold with constant strategic interplay. This less then realistic take gives the manga an infectious quality, making the games feel like life or death struggles. Some of the games could be likened to battles in Naruto and Dragon Ball for the intensity and lasting impact.
The art also propels this clash of titans along and brings it to startling heights. The artist Yusuke Murata, of One-Punch Man renown, shows his usual level of excellent detail and understanding of form. The funny light-hearted moments and sense of comedy are expressive and charming. The action is tight and easy to read. Even in scenes of dialogue the mastery of anatomy shows how to combine the cartoonisms with realism effectively. When he pushes things to more unrealistic levels it feels like an organic extension of his realism due to his ability to judge how far to go. This is a manga that can be looked at purely for the art and framing even if football means nothing to you. Read it for the superb characters.
The characters are where “Eyeshield” truly shows its amazing plays. All the main characters are fleshed-out with compelling if not complex motivations. All have arcs, and watching them grow with each other and fight through there struggles is the highlight of the storytelling. Even all the teams they face have likable and memorable characters. Many of conflicts feel like true tests of ability and endurance for the main cast. More than once in the story you are left wondering how the Devil Bats will compete against their foes only for their heart and talents to come bursting forth in interesting ways.
There is a lot this series does right but it has a few weak points. While the writing is good, the story structure is repetitive. The series falls into a loop: of a volume for preparing for a game and then 3 volumes for the game. The games are intense but almost always come down to a few seconds and one point. This cliché and unrealistic approach to every game does get tedious.
Fans of action, sports, and great characters need to give this a try. Even if you are none of those, picking this up to look at the art is well worth your time. Every tackle hits like a truck, every victory screams from the page, and defeats drips with bitter sweat. Experience the thrill of sports vicariously and cheer for the characters.