Few sports manga match the intensity found in Blue Lock. Muneyuki Kaneshiro and Yusuke Nomura’s soccer series has consistently delivered high stakes and thrilling action where every single game’s outcome feels tense and pivotal. Vol. 4 marks the beginning of Team Z’s final match in the round robin tournament, and it’s one they must win if they don’t want to be expelled from the titular Blue Lock program. As always there’s a lot riding on the line, and the characters are forced to confront their own limitations in the midst of heated gameplay. Does this volume successfully meet the high bar set by previous installments?
Arguably the most impressive aspect of this volume is its incorporation of character development into the action. The two aren’t separated via characters having to ponder extensively in practice before making breakthroughs on the field. Rather, the members of Team Z continually examine and exceed their own limits in the heat of the moment. There’s no disruption to the flow of the game due to internal monologuing; the speed and amount of thought bubbles match what would actually be physically possible in given situations. The action reads believably as the players endeavor to hone their skills when it’s most important to do so.
It’s not as simple as each character having just one specialty they can lean into, either. The protagonists must analyze said specialties during pivotal moments in order to truly understand what makes them tick. What bad habits do they have that get in the way of success? What circumstances most reliably result in scoring, and what can they do to trigger said circumstances? Improvement in the sport isn’t just dictated by narrative convenience or practicing for some requisite amount of time. The reader gets to witness specific “A-ha!” moments where the players discard faulty assumptions as a means of forging new paths for themselves, and it’s very satisfying.
This approach to the concept of athletic improvement is further emphasized in a scene where program head Jinpachi Ego discusses his views on talent as a matter of learning. Ultimately, the typical explanations involving practice and hard work are still relevant, but only when coupled with an ability to undergo actual self-examination and change. This is hardly a revolutionary idea, but the creators’ execution of the concept is exemplary. This is a series with a strongly held philosophy toward its subject and characters, where every detail feels well-thought-out and polished in its execution.
This polish extends to Nomura’s art as well. It’s impressed in every volume thus far, and that streak doesn’t get broken here. The thin, fluid linework lends itself effectively to the fast-paced nature of the game, and the deep inks are pleasing to look at while also helping to ground the drama. Overall there’s a great visual push and pull between the players’ quick, athletic movements and the limits of their physical abilities. Additionally Nomura does a great job depicting various auras to convey particularly intense plays or hyped-up players. The depictions of players seemingly having energy radiate off of them once they’re fully in the zone help enhance the tone and convey the level of talent on the field. Plus, we still get some nice visual comedy here and there mostly via the characters’ facial expressions.
Blue Lock Vol. 4 is one of the most satisfying installments yet in a series that has been consistently excellent. The pacing is flawless and the action serves as a vehicle for character development rather than being hindered by it. All the characters’ philosophies continue to develop as they grow as players, and their learning processes are fun to watch unfold. Additionally, the visuals continue to be bold and effectively lead one’s eye across the action at breakneck speed without ever suffering from clarity issues. This is a book that takes the great foundation prior volumes built up and just keeps building up all the higher.
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