If there is one persistent issue that plagues many sports anime series, it’s the reluctance of coaches to actually coach. That’s absolutely true of Aoashi, and it feels even more important to point out in its second cour, which sees protagonist Ashito suddenly removed from the position he’s played his entire soccer career (forward, an offensive position) to one that’s more or less the exact opposite, the defensive fullback. Not only is this physically difficult for him, since it necessitates a shift in the way he thinks about the game, but it’s also an emotional blow, because the position he’s always thought of as “his” and found his value in is no longer on the table. Add to this the paucity of information Fukuda gives him as a reason for the change and Ashito would be well within his rights to demand more answers or to simply refuse and move on to another team.
That he doesn’t is more of a testament to Ashito as a character than anything else. Hot-blooded shounen heroes get themselves into trouble often enough, but Ashito’s defining feature (apart from his passion for the game) is the alacrity with which he seeks out information. Does he want to be on defense? No, not at all. But he’s willing to do it if he can understand the move better, and once he processes Fukuda’s words, he begins to research what it is that he needs to know. Would it have been better if the adults had bothered to give him all of this information up front? Yes, it likely would have been. But seeing Ashito learn as he goes and make impressive connections between what he sees and what he ought to be trying for himself is a highlight of the show, no matter how frustrating it is that he was more or less left hanging by the people who should have done almost anything else.
But that personality of Ashito’s is one of his strengths, as we see in the final game of this cour. The Esperion Youth B Team is up against a team that has several of the players who failed the audition that Ashito passed, and at least one of them is furious about it. Blaming Ashito’s attitude for his own loss, the young man uses his own competitiveness to bull his way through any situation, and the fact that he’s still so angry at Ashito and the others indicates that he’s the sort of person who will blame anyone but himself for his own problems. This makes Ashito stand out even more in contrast, because while he’s raging and gearing himself up for a fight, Ashito is observing and implementing the moves and ideas he sees others use. While it takes until the last couple of episodes, we do finally truly see what Fukuda was aiming for when he switched Ashito’s position, because when he has the ability to see the entire field, Ashito can work wonders – both for himself and for his teammates.
That’s in some ways what saves Fukuda from the ignobility of going from ally to enemy, if I may be pardoned the overstatement. Back in episode one, we saw him choose to invite Ashito to the tryouts because he saw him practicing and playing, so the shift in his attitude could be viewed as out of the blue. But what it really turns out to be is the challenge Ashito needs to blossom, and while he still could have gone about it differently, it does seem to turn out all right in the end. It also works well to make Fukuda something of a foil to Date, the coach Ashito primarily works with, and girls Hana and Anri, all of whom are rather more encouraging. Hana in particular has an interesting role in this set of episodes as she struggles with her own emotions for Ashito. Although she never voices it, there’s a strong implication that she’s got a crush on him, brought home, of course, in the final episode where she confesses that she’d thought she’d grow up to marry her brother (we’ll chalk that one up to little kids not quite getting the concept) and the kiss on the forehead she gives Ashito. We know that she’s seen a lot of her brother (Fukuda) in him, and seeing her beloved sibling appear to upend Ashito’s career was difficult for her – as was the fact that Ashito didn’t seem to see her romantically, as we can see when she tries (and fails) to make him jealous when another player asks her to plan his menus. Hana almost has more to work through than Ashito himself, and the fact that she may be worried that she’s comparing him to her brother and that Anri also has a thing for him all combine to make her increasingly conflicted as the story goes on.
This balance of character development and soccer generally works very well in these episodes. There’s a bit more of the former, which is mostly fine, although I do wish we’d gotten to see the end of the game against Musashino. There’s thankfully not a return to the weird scene of the first cour where the crows were having a conversation over Ashito’s head, and the animation mostly manages to hold its own. The issue of many boys with few hairstyles between them persists, although one pompadour (or DA, for “duck’s ass,” as my uncle calls it) hairstyle goes away in favor of a buzz cut, which is hardly unique among the character designs. While the new opening theme is good, it’s not quite as catchy as the first, but it does suit the mood of the story.
Aoashi has its issues, but it still ends on a particularly strong note, with Ashito lacing up and taking the field with the big boys. It’s a good show when all is said and done, and we can only hope that someone licenses the manga or decides to animate more so that we can find out what happens next.