Welcome to Aoshi, the hot-blooded soccer story about what feels like forty boys who share five hairstyles between them. That is, of course, entirely too glib a way to describe this series, but it’s also a defining piece of the character designs – with a few exceptions, there are more guys with the slick pompadour of the stereotypical yankee than you might expect for a sports show in 2022, especially given that its source manga began in 2015. While we’re lucky enough that most characters at least have different hair colors, it still feels like an odd conceit.
that aside, Aoshi is an interesting story. Like many in its genre, it follows a young, aspiring professional player who may have the raw talent but can’t quite back it up with the skills others expect him to have, and that’s both the draw and the detriment of the show. As a character, Ashito is brash and very much stuck in his own head, but he’s absolutely not irredeemable. Seen from our outside position as viewers, he’s actually endearingly devoted to learning and to making a soccer career work, both because he’s stubborn and because he desperately wants to help his mother financially. From rural Ehime, Ashito is all-too aware of how hard his mother works to make sure that he and his older brother are okay, and we can see how he’s internalized her financial worries in a way that none of his peers appear to have to . Finances almost keep him from tryouts and concerns about them never appearing to be far from his mind, and woe betide the guy who tries to get him by mentioning his family “wasting” their money to send him to Tokyo. His goal is at least half, if not more, because he’s invested in his family’s well-being and he sees soccer as his best chance to make a more comfortable life for his mother happen. Yes, it’s naïve of him to assume that he can make it to the pros, but he’s also absolutely willing to work for it, and while he might have a knee-jerk reaction to being told he’s wrong, he typically turns that around very quickly .
The problem comes in when other characters, specifically adults, are asked to help him. Ashito makes it clear that he wants to learn and that he’s invested in improving, and while he can be loud about it in a way that makes some of the adults uncomfortable, he’s certainly trying to advocate for himself. But most of the coaches don’t seem all that keen on actually coaching him, instead of making cryptic statements and ultimatums, neither of which seemed like a particularly excellent or effective method of teaching someone. If it was just a matter of Ashito honing skills he already had, that would be one thing, but he’s actively asking for instruction in philosophy that he never had the chance to learn. That’s not necessarily something you can just think about and pick up, and while in episodes eleven and twelve we certainly do see him starting to get there, that’s only because his teammates are stepping up to fill him in. While this could simply be a combination of “shounen hero convention” and “heterogeneous grouping education theory in coaching,” it means that we see our hero struggling more than he strictly has to, both socially and in the game he’s paying people to coach him in.
Most of the character development in these episodes is limited to Ashito himself and Hana, the younger sister of the man who scouts him. Hana and Ashito’s relationship is one of the most interesting in the show, with a lot of push-and-pull as she struggles to express herself and he tries to wrap his head around why she cares so much about his game in the first place. There are some hints that Hana once played herself, which makes the fact that she seems to have devoted her life to being the behind-the-scenes cheer squad for her brother and Ashito a little disappointing, but it’s still hard to argue that she’s not wholly invested in what she does; in fact, she’s the one who convinced Ashito’s mother to allow him to go in the first place. Most of the other players are reduced to one defining trait – the skirt-chaser, the jerk, the one who never opens his eyes, the one guy who looks forty – but that does seem to be changing slowly as Ashito becomes less of a perceived hindrance to them, and given that there are twenty-eight volumes of manga as of this writing, there’s still plenty of time for them to become more rounded characters, even if we don’t necessarily see it in the remaining twelve episodes.
Aoshi is, in some ways, the kind of frustrating that makes it hard to stop watching. Ashito is perhaps meant to be painted as his own worst enemy, and the fact that it comes across more as people refusing to help him learn is annoying. But the final few episodes of this set show that there’s a lot more to him than anyone is giving him credit for (except maybe those inexplicably talking crows in episode twelve, who seem to understand him), and hopefully that will make a change in the dynamic of the characters in the season’s second half. Seeing him triumph over his detractors will be worthwhile, and if the series can pull that off in the next twelve episodes, the more annoying and frustrating aspects of this may well have been worth it.