Part of me wants to call Giant Killing a sports anime for those who don’t like sports anime – but I think “Cross Game” really fits that title better. That’s a sports anime that isn’t (in a good way), while GK is a sports anime that really is a sports anime.
It’s about the sport of soccer (football to non-Americans) in every facet, starting with the most obvious – the on-field action. It’s excellent—well-paced, smartly drawn, and exciting.
But this is a sports anime about everything sports means to people – to the players, the coaches, the front office, and most especially the fans. No aspect of the game is ignored, and none is treated less than brilliantly.
It’s certainly different to see a sports anime about professional athletes, for starters. I love coming-of-age stories, but we haven’t seen many sports series focusing on adults.
That opens so much fertile ground—the young rookie struggling with nerves, the aloof and cocky cover boy, the overachiever, the fading veteran hanging on to his leadership role… All are here, and all are portrayed in lively, layered roles.
We had ample time to live with the three strikers, Sera, Sakai, and Natsuki, all struggling with their own demons. The proud Captain Murakoshi, the prima donna Gino, the pugnacious defender Kuro—all real people.
But I think my favorite among the players was Tsubaki. His wide-eyed nervousness was something anyone who has stepped onto the field can empathize with, but he also grew more than anyone over the course of the series.
He got most of what he got with hard, tireless work – but his talent was undeniable. He’s the future superstar of the new ETU era.
And then there were the coaches – Dulfer and Blanc were especially memorable. In Dulfer, Tatsumi found the perfect foil – the brilliant and proud Dutch coach and believer in “beautiful football” trying to prove his own brilliance at Tatsumi’s expense.
He was one of the great supporting characters of the last two seasons. But fundamentally, this ensemble series was about Tatsumi. It was his unbreakable spirit that Goto noticed in England, and that sustained him as he took over a derelict club.
Tatsumi was lazy, irreverent, and often maddening – but it was his genius that made the series go. His genius in on-field tactics, but also his genius at analyzing and motivating people.
He has the ruthless ability all great coaches have to look at a player and see him in terms of whatever value he can provide to the team.
It can be a bit cold-hearted, but in a sense, Tsubaki had to get blood from a stone—to turn a last-place team without much money into a contender overnight.
And so he did – using the same Giant Killing techniques he mastered at East Ham. He spotted Tsubaki’s ability to disrupt the opponent’s shape immediately, even though all his timidity and mistakes.
In Giant Killing, He saw what Murakoshi needed to re-motivate himself, what Kuro and Sugie needed to believe in themselves again. He even saw what ETU needed to do to win the fans over again.
And oh, those fans. We got effectively three generations of them – the three little lads from the junior team, their dads, the “old-school” Edomae fans, and young toughs The Skulls. The fans were the heart of the show, in many ways.
It’s rare to see their travails portrayed like this, but any lifelong sports fan can tell you what it means to love a team with all your heart only to have them break it over and over again.
It says something about this show that the overall best Giant Killing episode was probably a “between” episode – #19.
This was the one that focused on the buildup to the Osaka match—the stretching, the strategizing, the tension in the locker room, and the excitement and trepidation among the fans.
I can’t think too many series would have bothered giving a full ep to this material – but it was a beautiful thing. I can never remember an episode of a sports anime doing such a great job of building up anticipation.
It did all the little things right – and that sums up Giant Killing pretty well. This is a show that just gets it. It gets soccer, it gets being a sports fan, and it gets the demons that trouble us and the joys we feel when we overcome them.
This is something of a golden age for sports anime, but if you’re one of those anime viewers who avoid them on principle, maybe you should re-think that stance.
GK is an outstanding series on every level, with complex and sympathetic characters, real wit, and exciting action.
I can’t imagine we’re likely to get another season, which is a real shame – but if we had to end in the midst of ETU’s rise, the show did a fantastic job wrapping things up with style and feeling.
Giant Killing Review
This is a story about what it takes for one dysfunctional soccer team with a poor record to regain its honor and make it into the national soccer league. This team is called ETU (East Tokyo United).
The members of ETU start out with a lot of difficulties; they have poor communication skills, conflicting personalities, mixed low and high self-esteem, and an overreliance on one team member. But within every player, there is a talent that is waiting to be manifested. Their new coach, Tatsumi Takeshi, helps to bring out the “giant killing” in all of them.
Sports anime tend to have a few story elements in common, like a central main protagonist who is a young prodigy, stereotypical characters (there always has to be the cute, black-haired rival), and lots of filler episodes dedicated to showing their normal lives (dating, school bullies, etc).
However, Giant Killing moves away from these and turns out to be something refreshing in its genre. It’s a short series that spends its time wisely developing its characters while still focusing head-strong on the sport. There is no central main character or a prodigy for that matter—everyone works hard to achieve and maintain their skills, and they receive an equal amount of attention.
While they’re playing soccer, Giant Killing takes a nice introspective approach to the characters. They constantly think about their situation, worry about their performance, and try to concentrate.
It is on the field where most of the character development takes place, as they learn to apply their mind and improve their skills.
ETU’s players are adults (20–33 years old), and they each have a unique combination of personality and skill. For example, Tsubaki (midfielder) is young, shy, and conscientious, and he is the fastest runner on the team. Gino (midfielder) is the narcissistic cool guy known as the “prince,” though he’s wisely observant, and he makes very accurate ball passes.
Natsuki (forward) is also narcissistic but in a loud, eccentric sort of way, and he shoots very beautiful goals. Murakoshi (midfielder) is looked up to as the leader, but he is way too controlling and lacks some energy due to being older. There is honestly never a boring moment with them, whether they’re just practicing, playing for real, or sitting on the bus to go home.
You might as well call Coach Tatsumi a psychologist. He is good at studying and understanding the minds of his players.
His specialty is to take advantage of their personalities in the games, purposely pairing them up with certain opponents and counting on them to make personality-driven decisions.
But the funny thing is, not a single player or outsider understands him. Tatsumi is rather blunt-spoken, informal, and unpredictable; he designs unusual practice activities, comes up with reckless-sounding game plans, and rarely ever expresses worry.
Simply put, he’s an oddball, but deep down he’s a good strategist who can unite his players.
The players on the opposing teams are just as well-developed and are incredibly DIVERSE. They speak the language of their nationality, such as English, Portuguese, French, and Dutch, which is a refreshing change from having everyone only speak Japanese.
A few obvious differences between these teams and ETU are their levels of organization, strategies, and behaviors. They have a lot more momentum going on because they have accumulated more recent wins, and everybody likes to have a big ego. But when they’re put under the fire by surprise, they face similar internal problems as ETU, such as their personalities getting in the way of each other.
As for the side characters, you just have a few people working along with Tatsumi, as well as a reporter, a cameraman, and fans. What is so awesome about the fans is that you see three generations of them: the old fans who are rekindling their passion for ETU, the younger loyal fans, and the adorable kids.
At first glance, the character designs are simple and boring. At a second glance, they’re actually very detailed. The shape of the head, eyes, nose, chin, and hairstyle differ among all the characters, causing them to look very distinct from one another. The main turn-off is just that they don’t look all that pretty.
The soccer matches are animated very well. When viewing them from a distance, CGI is clearly used to make every single player on the field move at the same time. Watching them close up, it’s impressive how they pass the ball and shoot goals; they really twist their bodies around in odd ways to make these kinds of moves and at some pretty awesome camera angles.
The soundtrack here is catchy and decent. The OP song “My Story ~Mada Minu Ashita e~” by THE CHERRY COKES is very upbeat, full of cheery shouting, and uses the bagpipe as a leading instrument. The ED song “Get tough!” by G.P.S sounds similar with the exception of it being dominantly rock. The rest of the music is repetitive but decent enough.
If you’re looking for an entertaining sports anime with diverse adult characters, national teams, various spoken foreign languages, and maybe a slightly eccentric coach, then look no further. Even if you’re not really into this genre or sport like I am, it can still be a great watch.
The soccer matches are very detailed and tense, and the players develop wonderfully every time they play. The interactions among the characters are the best part of the show; they’re bursting with personality, and they make the games incredibly addicting to watch. This one shouldn’t be missed!