The anime-manga pool has a surprising lack of soccer related series. Being a soccer fan, I am so relieved. Prior to this, I watched Captain Tsubasa and Days. CT was aimed at a much younger demographic and it could not interest me (no insult intended; i know its an og series with immense credibility). Days is plain pathetic and wrong.
Ao Ashi is a fresh breath in the sports genre. It is not bound by the highschool sports club cliche. That is far too overused. This series is all about club soccer with direct ties to the sports scene.
A young middle schooler, Ashito, whose skills in soccer outshine everyone in his small, no name town is noticed by a renowned coach, who grew up in the area. The coach, Fukuda, is impressed by his raw talents and invites him to a tryout in Tokyo. Ashito is a diehard lover of football and Fukuda gives him a glimpse of his dream; the dream to push Japanese football to the international level and with sufficient preparation, dominate the international leagues. The excited Ashito enters a whole new chapter of life, the chapter of hope, possibilities, struggle and fame.
The artwork is extremely good. We get a clean view of everything and the mangaka has a very nice way of portraying the action. We understand how the game is going on. The clear passes, the impact of charges, the tackles, the missed shots, everything stand out beautifully. The character designs are unique with different hairstyles, plenty of expressions and costumes.
The characters have been the best thing so far. Our hero is clearly inspired by Tsubasa. He used to carry his team back in his town and despite being somewhat selfish, he is painfully self aware. He has the skill of judging everyone's positions and knows his way in the field. He's a treasure trove of potential but has a lot of quirks holding him back. We get to see his incredible mental fortitude and his eagerness to keep playing. Despair, skills, injuries, nothing will stop him from pushing harder. The coach is a decorated player with incredible achievements. Due to a terrible injury, he had to retire prematurely and is now, steadily progressing towards his dream. We get the female lead, a very meticulous and resourceful girl who knows a lot about the sport and helps out greatly. For some reason, she takes a liking to Ashito. Then we get the huge amount of players, some of them shining in a surprisingly small amount of time.
Overall, the 29 chapters we fully packed with so many events. Faced paced yet never rushing, this manga has my full attention.