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Keith Tse


  • Writer's pictureKeith Tse

Same but new perspectives- Captain Tsubasa

I mentioned before that I am a fan of comics, especially Japanese manga. Some of my favourites deal with sports, like Slam Dunk, which I mentioned last time, and, of course, Captain Tsubasa, a classic comic about football, my favourite sport. I mentioned last time that my impression and appreciation of Slam Dunk had changed quite radically from when I watched as a child to re-watching it as an adult many years later. My assessment is essentially negative, which I feel sorry saying but the fact is that the whole story about high school basketball and teenage drama seem a bit juvenile for me now, since I am so far beyond my adolescence that none of that excites me anymore. I still enjoy the comics and anime immensely, but my change in perspective is a mark of my personal development over the years from a young boy to a young adult. I recently picked up Captain Tsubasa and reading it again has also given me a different perspective from when I watched/read it as a child, though this time my assessment is positive in that I think I appreciate it even more now than before, which I never thought possible given how obsessed I was with Captain Tsubasa (and football in general) when I was a child.

To summarize briefly, Captain Tsubasa deals with the life of this football wonderkid Ōzora Tsubasa (大空翼) who dreams of winning the biggest prize in football (World Cup) with his native Japan, something which has always been considered ludicrous given that football is not Japan’s main strength in the arena of world sport. Tsubasa, however, persists in his pursuit of his dream and conquers all obstacles that come his way, winning game after game against tough opponents and accumulating trophies and medals one after another. His is an illustrious football career, which is aided not only by his innate talent in football, as he is a football prodigy, but also his sheer passion and will in achieving what he wants. There are countless memorable matches, moments and tournaments in the series, but one of my favourite (and also widely regarded as the most dramatic) episodes has got to be the Junior High National Tournament, Tsubasa’s last football competition in Japan before leaving for Brazil to ply his trade professionally. Tsubasa and his team (南葛Nangatsu) are aiming for an unprecedented treble as they strive to win the national tournament three years in a row and maintain a perfect unbeaten record throughout their Junior High School years. The third year is the most difficult, since they face steep competition from all the best football players in the country. The situation is also complicated by the fact that Tsubasa, captain and talisman of the team, gets himself very badly injured and can barely stand, let alone play football, by the time he reaches the final where he faces his ultimate and strongest opponent in Japan, Hyuga Kojiro (日向小次郎). That is a very dramatic match where we see an injured Tsubasa and a rejuvenated and vastly improved Kojiro go toe-to-toe with all they have and fight it out on the pitch like gladiators and wrestlers. It is truly a brutal match, and one feels for Tsubasa’s ordeal as he is barely alive in this game and gets targeted (naturally) and tackled by all the opposing players. He gets knocked down time and time again but still manages to get back up once more and fight till the very end of extra-time. He manages to draw with Hyuga, who has a story of his own (which is also very beautiful and motivational- another time for this), and they eventually settle for a joint national championship, which makes Tsubasa and his teammates end their Junior High School years on a high with an unprecedented and untoppable perfect record in national football. Then follows the Junior European tournament, which is another exciting story- let’s talk about that some other time.

When I was a child, I was in awe of all the footballing skills and dramatic details in the comics, some of which have been scientifically proven to be humanly impossible (!) but nonetheless the whole story is very well crafted and presented by the author Takahashi Yoichi (高橋陽一). Reading it again now, however, I am more drawn by the motivational message behind these football episodes, which is indeed very moving and spiritually uplifting. It is no secret that the author aims to motivate people through his football story, and Captain Tsubasa is an immensely popular comic brand not only in Asia but also worldwide. I have been surprised by how many people in the world have read it and been affected by it, including some world-famous footballers e.g. Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero, Roberto Baggio, Fernando Torres, and many Japanese professional footballers who have credited Captain Tsubasa as the reason why they decided to become professional footballers (some even confessed that they modelled their style of play on certain characters e.g. Del Piero, who allegedly was a fan of Tsubasa’s signature shoot ‘Drive shoot’ and would practise curved shots from early childhood, which made him a free-kick master for Juventus and Italy (!)). However, the motivational message of Captain Tsubasa is so universal and moving that it is clearly applicable to people in every walk of life, since we all suffer setbacks and face difficulties in our professional careers (or life in general) yet Tsubasa’s moving tale (and that of his many companions, friends and foes) can be seen as an example for all of us in our pursuit and fulfillment of our dreams, even if they seem totally ludicrous like winning the World Cup for Japan (with all due respect). Just as Tsubasa displays undying strength (mental and physical), unbending will and unquenchable passion for the sport that he loves, we should also be inspired to pursue our dreams as fiercely and passionately as he does. This is a very powerful message, and one which I appreciate much more now than when I was a child, which is also testament to my personal growth throughout the years, since years of hard work in the real world have made me experience many difficulties in life, which has led me to appreciate the meaning and value of it all. It is interesting how my perception and reaction to Captain Tsubasa is totally different from that to Slam Dunk, both classic Japanese comics. Japanese manga really is a fantastic artistic/creative medium. They really are the best in the world when it comes to that.

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