By Masaya Tsunamoto and Tsujitomo | Published digitally by Kodansha Comics
Although I genuinely, deeply love shounen sports manga, I can’t deny that most follow similar story beats. I knew going in that Giant Killing is actually seinen, but wasn’t prepared for what a breath of fresh air it would be.
Instead of some first-year joining his high-school team, the protagonist of Giant Killing is Takeshi Tatsumi, a 35-year-old former pro soccer player turned coach. The series opens with Yuri Nagata and Kosei Gotou, the PR rep and general manager of East Tokyo United (a struggling Japanese team) finally locating Tatsumi at his job in England, where has led a team of amateurs to a top-32 finish in the Football Association Cup. They have even managed to crush professional teams.
It turns out that Tatsumi specializes in leading underdog teams to victory against highly favored opponents. He sees it as a David-and-Goliath scenario, hence the title of the series. Initially, the English club president doesn’t want to let Tatsumi out of his contract, but when he learns that Tatsumi used to play for ETU and that there are desperate fans in his hometown waiting to be helped, he relents and lets him go.
Tatsumi doesn’t seem to particularly care either way and it’s this neutrality that makes him an interesting character and effective coach. For instance, at his first practice session with the ETU team, he makes them run sprints for 45 minutes. Those with the most stamina turn out to be the younger guys, but they’re also merely the alternates on the team. With his guidance, they manage to defeat the older starters in a scrimmage. The stalwart veteran of the team, Murakoshi, gets his pride wounded by this, but rather than suggest that he’s no longer useful, Tatsumi instead points out that what he needs is to find his own secret weapon to overcome these odds. Tatsumi is adept at seeing a team or an individual’s shortcomings and offering strategies to overcome them, and that’s the kind of reliable leadership that Murakoshi has done without all these years.
On the one hand, Tatsumi exemplifies the gifted protagonist that this genre is full of, but his gift is not in his own athletic prowess (or not merely that) but rather his ability to furnish others with the tools they need to succeed, to reinvigorate failing franchises, and to rekindle fan enthusiasm. And, of course, the clubs don’t mind the boost in revenue that inevitably results. Giant Killing is every bit as addictive as a shounen series, but with grown-up stakes and nuance. I can’t wait to read more!
Giant Killing is ongoing in Japan, where the 43 volumes have been released so far.
Review copy provided by the publisher.