Blue Lock Volume 1 Review

Sometimes you’ll cooperate, sometimes you’ll betray each other. Rivals carving out a shared dream as Blue Lock’s Team Z.” – Jinpachi Ego

If you’re a fan of shonen manga, then you’ll no doubt have already heard of Blue Lock. With over 26 million copies in circulation and having received a two-cour anime adaptation (with more on the way!), this is one that fans of the genre have had their eye on. But is it as good as the sales and critical acclaim would have you believe? Let’s find out! 

The series takes place just after Japan lost in the round of 16 in the 2018 Soccer World Cup. New hire to the Japan Football Union, Anri Teieri, is frustrated by the national team once again falling apart against the skill of the rest of the world and has come up with a plan to change things. Together with coach Jinpachi Ego, Anri is proposing a project to produce new players from promising youth talent who can be shaped into something different and who will lead the team to victory. 

The perspective then shifts to our protagonist, Yoichi Isagi whose high school team is playing in the All-Japan High School Soccer Tournament. Unfortunately, right at the end of the game, the team loses and their dreams of going to the national stage of the competition go up in smoke. Isagi is devastated and wonders if he’d taken a shot at the goal instead of passing, would that have changed their fate in those final moments? Upon returning home, our protagonist receives an invitation for a special player training program, the very same program that Anri and Jinpachi have put together…

When Isagi arrives at the training site, he and 300 other hopefuls are informed that they’ve been selected to train at Blue Lock, a new facility that will test their skills to find the ultimate striker. Instead of building a whole team from the hopefuls, Jinpachi has only invited youth players who presently play the role of a striker and only needs 1 of the 300 invited. Those who are deemed unworthy will leave the program and be banned from ever playing on Japan’s national team in the future. There’s a lot at stake, but with nothing to lose, Isagi rises to the challenge. 

What unfolds after the initial setup is a survival of the fittest challenge. Isagi is placed in team Z, ranked 299 out of 300: the more skilled players are higher ranked and in groups further up the alphabet, so there’s no illusion that Isagi is one of the lowest-ranking players there. In a room with 11 other people, Isagi’s group are told to play a game of tag in which the person who is ‘it’ at the end of three minutes will be immediately kicked out of Blue Lock. With their whole future on the line, these hopefuls turn against one another as they fight to not become the first ones to lose. 

Blue Lock, at least as far as Volume 1 goes, is a high-stakes battle royale disguised as a sports series. This certainly makes sense given the author of this series is Muneyuki Kaneshiro who you may recognise as the creator of As the Gods Will, which was a ‘death game’ series. If you’re looking for a down-to-earth sports series then you’re better off with a series like Farewell, My Dear Cramer than Blue Lock, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find anything to enjoy here. 

Muneyuki Kaneshiro and artist Yusuke Nomura (creator of Dolly Kill Kill, also available from Kodansha) have put a lot of time into researching both Japanese soccer and the game as a whole. Although you may not agree that this game of tag we see in the second half of Volume 1 has anything to do with soccer, the reasoning Junpachi lays out afterwards makes a lot of sense in context. I’m willing to put aside any scepticism I have about the setup simply because it’s so much fun to watch the egotistical strikers face off against each other. 

And it has to be said that Blue Lock has a lot of potential here. The premise is that we’ll end the series with a perfect striker being chosen, but how we get to that point is an open question. It’s clear already that the creators are willing to do whatever’s the most fun at a given moment and that feeling of freedom is what’s going to keep fans on the hook for more. I certainly think it should be praised for being a fairly unique merger of two very different genres that create a sports series that we’ve not really seen before, at least not recently. 

I think it’s also worth saying that even if you’re an existing fan of the series due to the anime, it’s still well worth checking out the source material from the beginning. Nomura’s artwork is very impressive and makes great use of different perspectives and angles to perfectly capture the action. There are some excellent double-page spreads as well, which I’m sure we’ll see more of in the volumes to come. The anime did a good job of replicating Nomura’s style, but the manga is certainly still a step above. It’s ambitious for a series that runs weekly and I do wonder if the team can keep up the quality as time goes on. 

As much as I have talked positively about Blue Lock for the majority of this review, I feel it’s only right to point out that I wasn’t particularly happy about the opening scene of Chapter 1 where Anri is talking to the other members of the Japan Football Union who are all male and much older than her. Throughout the conversation, they’re making comments about the size of her breasts and behind, which I found off-putting and we could have done without. Thankfully nothing else of this nature came up in the rest of the volume and from watching the anime I know it’s unlikely to resurface, but it was certainly a poor first impression to give newcomers. 

Blue Lock Volume 1 comes to the West thanks to Kodansha who have been publishing the series digitally since early 2021 and are up to Volume 19. In print, Volume 1 came out mid-2022 and Volume 7 is due out later this month, so they’re slowly catching up. 

The translation has been handled by Nate Derr and it reads well although I imagine some UK readers may not like the fact what we know as football has been translated as ‘soccer’, but given it’s an American publisher, it’s hard to complain about that decision. ‘Football’ is only used in reference to the ‘Japan Football Union’, which does feel like an inconsistency when ‘soccer’ is used otherwise but certainly not to the point of being a problem. There are some insightful translation notes at the back of the volume as well, which cover references being made to key figures in Japan’s (and the wider world’s) football history. Just like the manga itself, you get the sense the translation has been well-researched. 

Blue Lock is ongoing in Japan with 24 volumes currently released and as mentioned earlier has over 26 million copies in circulation as of May 2023. Recently it was announced that the series was the top-selling manga series in Japan for the first half of 2023. It won the 45th Kodansha Manga Award in the shonen category for 2021. It was also nominated for the Harvey Award Best Manga category in 2022. 

There’s a spin-off series called Blue Lock: Episode Nagi following popular character Seishiro Nagi (whom we haven’t met yet, but anime fans will recognise). This hasn’t yet been licensed for an e-book release, but it is available in the US on Kodansha’s K-Manga, so hopefully we will see it get a wider release soon. As mentioned, the series has a 24-episode anime adaptation with a second season forthcoming. Episode Nagi is also being adapted into a movie, so there’s plenty more of this one to come! 

Overall, Blue Lock brings something new to the table. The series presents us with a high-stakes game in the search for the ultimate striker to represent the Japanese soccer team, which sounds simple but has a surprising amount of depth. Coupled with some excellent artwork, this is a series not to be missed if you’re remotely interested in the subject matter. And even if you’re not, give it a shot anyway – it might surprise you. 

A free preview can be read on Kodansha’s site here. Our review copy from Kodansha was supplied by Diamond Book Distributors UK. 

9 / 10


When she's not watching anime, reading manga or reviewing, Demelza can generally be found exploring some kind of fantasy world and chasing her dreams of being a hero.

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