One of the most common tropes in sports anime is having characters discover the importance of coming together as a group. It’s not a bad message to convey—there’s a reason these are team sports. But the soccer anime Ao Ashi does something different. Turning the utter importance of teamwork on its head, Ao Ashi stars a hero whose strength is his brand of selfishness.
The Tried-and-True Formulas
Team sports anime (as opposed to individual sports) typically go one of two ways in recent times. In the first, the protagonist is a brash and talented yet self-centered individual who quickly learns that there’s only so much they can do, and over time warm up to their teammates. Haikyu!! sees a pair of hotheads discover their strength as a duo, and Burning Kabaddi stars a disillusioned ex–soccer player. In the second, the protagonist is a kind soul who’s always thinking of others, and this gives them the natural disposition to excel in a team environment. Onoda in Yowamushi Pedal and Kuroko in Kuroko’s Basketball fit this archetype.
The Ashito Aoi Difference
You can chalk it up to various reasons, from Japanese culture’s prioritizing of the group over the individual to being fodder for shippers who love seeing romance in sports-based interpersonal dynamics, but these are the defaults. Instead of following those reliable formulas, however the main character is used such that the notion of group vs. individual is shown to be a false dichotomy. The anime starts with the aptly named Ashito Aoi playing for his middle school’s soccer team, where he appears to be an arrogant ball hog constantly ordering his teammates to pass only to him. But what becomes clear is that this is only a shallow evaluation of him.
Ashito does have a “selfish” play style, but he has excellent field awareness in terms of player positions and their physical condition. His calls for the ball and his taking on the role of star player are meant to be motivational, pulling his teammates along with him. As Ashito puts it himself, “I can’t do anything unless they let me play the way I like on the field.” His behavior is the equivalent of using cables to jumpstart a car.
Lessons to Be Learned
Plenty of sports anime also tend to feature characters who are unique relative to one another. That’s part of the fun of these large ensemble casts. But there’s a difference between having unique characters and having their individuality be a catalyst for success. Ao Ashi and Ashito Aoi both emphasize the concept that sometimes you need a maverick to break through convention, and that being a maverick doesn’t automatically mean not thinking about the team. I’m curious to see whether more sports anime will take this path in the future, or if the pure power of teamwork will remain dominant.
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