TL;DR – East Tokyo United is facing relegation in the Japan premier league. Enter ex-player and new head coach, Tatsumi Takeshi, who will look to turn around the club’s fortunes by unconventional means.
No, Giant Killing is not some spin-off on Attack on Titan. There are no cable slinging, rocket shooting soldiers looking to defend a multi-walled city from titan attacks. This is an anime about soccer.
All the elements that make a good sports anime are present and accounted for in Giant Killing.
- Team of underdogs? Check.
- A team that has a history of greatness but is now falling down the ladder into mediocrity? Check.
- Coach with unconventional approach to teaching? Check.
- Players with various egos that don’t get along? Check.
- Other players with no egos and no confidence? Check.
- Animated action that reflects the sport accurately? Kind of.
As a seinen anime, Giant Killing does a decent job in delivering thrills and humour that should propel anime fans of soccer through to the final episode. Keeping in mind this was released in 2010, the animation itself is decent but not as sophisticated as more recent animes like the great volleyball anime series Haikyuu!! or even the popular basketball anime Kuroko no Basket. Still, there’s enough here that brings a certain level of excitement that is essential for a sports anime.
Probably what is more unusual is the focus is largely on new coach, Takeshi, who goes about transforming East Tokyo United (ETU) into a competitive group capable of success. It is more about his journey than the team, and the methods and strategies he employs to turn the club back to winning ways.
The matches are entertaining and you wonder whether ETU will get a win or come away with a loss. In true anime fashion, the opposing team players are examined and given background that adds the necessary layers to make the match more interesting.
However, what Giant Killing lacks is that one or two characters that you want to cheer on no matter what. For ETU, I think it is meant to be Daisuke Tsubaki, a young player who has come up from the reserve team. He’s a very fast runner but lacks confidence. Coach Takeshi utilises Tsubaki in many of his strategies to cause the opponents problems during matches. However, Tsubaki is not a well-rounded character and lacks depth.
In Haikyuu!! it is Hinata and Kageyama that you fall in love with. Their characters are wonderfully distinct and they convey in their own ways the love for the game of volleyball. This is an important ingredient in sports anime. You need characters that are interesting on their own (without the sport) but make the sporting games all the more interesting when they are involved.
In Kuroko no Basket, it is Kuroko and Kagami that you cheer on and the anime is made stronger by the focus on the opposing players who once played with Kuroko.
In Slam Dunk it is Hanamichi and Rukawa that are the primary characters that are intriguing. Arguably, Slam Dunk has multiple characters that are all interesting with their own backgrounds and this elevates the story ten-fold. To me Slam Dunk is the basketball apex to Haikyuu!! is with volleyball.
Giant Killing has nothing of the depth of character compared to those listed above. You do get to know all the players of ETU and their strengths, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies (if only at a surface level). You also get to know key players they compete against. But in reality, it is only the character of Coach Takeshi that comes close to the complexity and multi-layers of characters in Slam Dunk, Kuroko no Basket and Haikyuu!!
So, in this regard, it falls short of scoring the necessary goals.
7 out of 10