When it comes to sports manga, few are as intense as Muneyuki Kaneshiro and Yusuke Nomura’s Blue Lock. Volumes one and two impressed me greatly with their action, pacing, and tension, all of which effectively straddled realistic rendering of soccer with the series’ more over-the-top premise. Vol. 3 continues the round robin tournament arc, with each game being a do-or-die scenario for Team Z. If they lose a single game they’ll be ousted from the Blue Lock program and as a consequence be barred from ever representing Japan on an international level. How do they cope with the pressure, and how well does the creative team depict their struggles? Is Blue Lock Vol. 3 good?
One of the series’ main joys thus far has been following protagonist Yoichi Isagi’s development. The first two volumes mainly focused on his mental state, whereas in Vol. 3 his actual soccer talents take narrative priority. The further he progresses in Blue Lock the more he learns about his teammates and opponents’ skills, forcing him to look inward and consider his own unique potential. The answer is his keen spatial awareness. Asides from being a fitting talent for an underdog character, it’s an excellent choice from the perspective of engrossing readers in the games. It keeps the flow of action fast-paced as readers discover pivotal information simultaneously with Isagi, creating an edge-of-your-seat feeling while reading.
Isagi isn’t the only character of note here though. Two of his teammates— Hyoma Chigiri and Wataru Kuon— are also the subject of unexpected but exciting character growth. In Chigiri’s case the development touches on common athletic anxieties, specifically those regarding the affect of injury on career prospects and senses of wrecklessness. These are very realistic concerns that help ground the manga a bit and serve as a reminder that these characters are still kids, unusual circumstances or no. Kuon, meanwhile, is developed in a way that embraces the Blue Lock program’s ridiculous and competitive nature. Without spoiling pivotal reveals, I’ll just say he’s at the center of some intriguing scenes that are possible only because of the series’ far-out premise.
Artistically Nomura continues to deliver great work here. The frequent shifting of perspectives and compositional choices reinforces the chaotic nature of gameplay, with momentum swinging back and forth sharply and quickly. The art also makes great use of both realistic detailing and cartoonish caricature. The most memorable example of the former is an angled shot of a player running that focuses on their cleats, with impressively detailed line-work depicting their harsh, bumpy bottom texture. Meanwhile, this volume’s main antagonists stand out from the pack of hyper-serious characters thanks to their exaggerated facial expressions and features. One of them even has eyebrows shaped like alligators, a bizarre detail that helps add a sense of levity to such a tense series.
Less charming, however, is the brief appearance by Anri Teieri. The only named female character in the manga thus far reappears just to be bent over and have her ass take center stage in an absolutely laughable attempt at fan service. It feels so out of place that it’s hard to even be mad at, instead just seeming beyond parody.
On the whole, Blue Lock Vol. 3 is an engrossing volume that successfully fleshes out Isagi and his teammates. Attention is paid both to players’ unique physical talents as well as to their internal lives, with real world struggles made all the more pressing by the manga’s eccentric premise. There are also a lot of unexpected but charming choices made in terms of plot reveals and character design. The art impresses as well with the only weak point being a poor attempt at fan service. All in all this remains a must-read series for sports manga fans.
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