Ginga e Kickoff!! is highly underappreciated, a true hidden gem with fantastic character writing and a relatively down-to-earth story. Even if one isn't the biggest fan of sports anime (neither I nor my sister are, but we were swept up in this story and finished it very quickly!). It boasts no amazing, out of this world moves, the characters play pure soccer and it's a story grounded in reality with one or two amazing events that wouldn't be out of place in children's movie. After all, it IS aimed at children and it has a soothing atmosphere, a gentle score, and plenty of idealism.
But it's also excellent and truly enjoyable for an adult to watch too. Why? Because the character writing is fantastic. It is as much a show about being a child as it is aimed at children. The kids are in their last year of elementary, they're scared of being torn apart when they all go off to different middle schools based on their exams, they're scared of having no more time to play with the higher strains of education, this is their last chance and they want to make it count.
And do they ever! It ends, just like a beautiful dream, but with hope for the future.
The cast is diverse in many ways, the main team (Momoyama Predators) is a mixed team with two girls along with the boys. Shou himself is inspired by a professional female soccer player who trains him and Erika for a day and her lessons to them remain important for the rest of the series! Tagi is half-Arab, although this isn't explicitly stated in the anime version, it's clear in his design, with his darker skin and thick, curly brown hair!
Blind soccer is featured respectfully and legitimately, not as a pity party at all, and by practicing with blind soccer players using the same training methods, the kids hone their senses and polish their skills.
The characters deal with problems children do both on and off the field, like Erika deals with casual sexism and the ways growing up affects boys and girls differently. Tagi deals with hitting a growth spurt early, winding up gangly and tall for his age, losing confidence in his ability to play because his mind hasn't caught up with his new height. Reika deals with the stuffy expectations of being the heir to a rich family which expects her to live her life protected and ladylike at all times.
Coach Hanashima is a rather useless, shameless drunk when they first meet him and piece by piece, it's revealed he used to be a great player and even coached other kids before a tragic incident made him deathly afraid of robbing more children of their futures with his risk-taking. His story and character development is beautifully cathartic and ultimately uplifting.
The art style suits the wide-eyed, naive, enthusiasm of the main character and the youthful story, the animation is smooth and although there's some rough patches in the first few episodes (some anatomical hiccups here and there that look really strange and funny if you notice them), overall, it looks really good and crisp as you go along. The art style veers towards moe levels of cuteness about the face, but the kids' bodies are well drawn to portray the action.
There is some poignant drama too, so it's not all sunshine and butterflies, it's a balanced show, although it's certainly more on the optimistic side-- but in a good way, certainly not saccharine. Even the most painful stories that end well, never feel sugarcoated or cheap, because they're handled respectfully and fairly, there's no solutions that are magical band-aids-- instead, the happy endings are most often a case of everyone expecting the worse and being surprised by the beauty born out of persevering despite the difficulties.
Matches rarely take more than two episodes ( unless it's a tournament! ), the pacing is believable and the matches exciting even if one knows little about soccer. It really makes you want to get up and cheer them or move around or play yourself!
Overall, this is a very sweet, encouraging show with surprisingly well-written characters (both child and adult) and an engaging plotline, that should be enjoyable to both boys or girl, adults or children!