One of the best parts about sports anime is interest in actual sports is never required. This is particularly true with Blue Lock, an anime that puts a spin on soccer so outlandish it makes the practically superpowered athletics of Kuroko’s Basketball look grounded. An adaptation of Muneyuki Kaneshiro and Yusuke Nomura’s award-winning manga, Blue Lock dares ask the question, “What if being an asshole is the true key to success?”
After the Japanese national team once again fails to go far at the World Cup, the football union hires the completely unhinged Jinpachi Ego to do whatever it takes for the team to win it all at the next tournament. Ego diagnoses Japan’s problem as too much teamwork; they lack the egocentric striker they need to make the self-serving, scoring plays demonstrated by top players like Pelé, Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ego’s solution? Recruit the country’s top high school strikers to participate in a Squid Game-like training program called Blue Lock. The cutthroat competition sees 300 players face off against one another in solo and team competitions. But rather than fight for their lives, they’re fighting for their careers: The top five players will play as forwards for the under-20 team at the World Cup, but anyone who loses at Blue Lock will be banned from ever playing for Team Japan. To these young strikers, that might as well mean death, and they treat Blue Lock as seriously as if it did.
The show does an excellent job fleshing out its ensemble of characters, rotating through spotlight episodes that reveal their past experiences and how they color their movement through the competition. But at the heart of the story is Yoichi Isagi, one of the lowest-ranked players, who’s haunted by the decision to pass instead of shoot in his last game before joining the program. Once at Blue Lock, Isagi becomes determined to leave that version of himself behind and develop the ego required to be the best striker in the world.
Though the Blue Lock program’s foundation is fostering selfishness, soccer is a team sport, so competitors are forced to find ways to work together while still putting their personal desires above all else. These needs are in constant conflict with each other, and this friction only grows as the bonds between Isagi and the other players deepen. In fact, Isagi is only able to find his stride in Blue Lock thanks to the kindness of Bachira, an outstanding dribbler assigned to the same team. Bachira is nothing like Isagi — confident where Isagi is insecure, kooky where Isagi is serious, and relaxed where Isagi is endlessly on edge. But Bachira sees something in Isagi, and helps to draw out his unique power.
Everyone in Blue Lock has a “weapon” they must hone if they want to reach the top. Once each player discovers their weapon — be it dribbling, speed, or in Isagi’s case, spatial awareness — they must figure out their perfect formula for scoring goals and how to create a “chemical reaction” with their teammates to utilize their weapons to the fullest. The show regularly pauses the action to explore this intricate problem-solving, often showing puzzle pieces falling into place to create a portrait of Isagi’s calculating mind. You know a player’s found a winning formula when they awaken the monster within, a leveling up that’s illustrated by the character’s pupils spiralizing and power visibly emanating from their body — sometimes even taking the shape of a looming beast.
This visualization of a character’s inner world isn’t just a vehicle for dynamic animation, but proves key to Blue Lock’s story. To win in Blue Lock, you don’t just defeat your opponents, you “devour” them — using their weapons to your benefit, or even stealing them for yourself. But this is not as simple as becoming faster, stronger, or more precise. A player is only able to reach the next level by attaining a deeper understanding of themself.
Throughout the season, Isagi struggles with insecurities and the fear of putting his own needs first. But he understands that unless he can identify what’s holding him back — physically, mentally, and emotionally — he’ll never survive Blue Lock. Through Isagi’s journey of self(ish)-actualization, he begins to thrive — unlocking a ruthlessness he’d previously repressed, but also reshaping his identity to fit within Ego’s mold.
There’s a compelling tension in Blue Lock between the belief that one must fully succumb to their own ego to succeed, and the question of whether success without enjoyment is worthwhile. In classic sports anime like Kuroko’s Basketball, the young hero isn’t the most talented player, but he defeats the celebrated Generation of Miracles thanks to his prioritization of teamwork and love of the game. By the end of that series, even the callously individualistic Generation of Miracles comes to recognize Kuroko was right all along: Being the best means nothing without a love of basketball and support of your team.
In this way, Blue Lock subverts expectations of sports anime, with the premise founded on the belief one should actualize their own potential at the expense of others. It’s a concept Isagi and others struggle to come to grips with, as it becomes increasingly difficult for the self-serving drive to expand one’s personal limits to exist alongside valuation of friendships or teamwork. Even as Isagi, Bachira, and the others work hard in the hopes of reaching the end together, they understand the inevitable: At one point or another, they’ll not only have to kill one another’s dreams, but reduce their friends into fuel to propel their own rise. The question of who each player will have become by the end of this journey — and the cost of this transformation — is where the show’s real stakes lie.
These moral quandaries and the characters’ bittersweet metamorphoses are what drives an emotional investment in this world. But the show also just rules. Every aspect of Blue Lock is cranked up to 11. The animation goes hard; the kids go harder. This is not just about a bunch of young soccer players chasing a career. It’s about 300 high school students trying to destroy one another’s dreams while trapped in a pentagonal facility as part of an immoral experiment sponsored by the Japanese government! They play traditional soccer matches, sure. But they also must best the hologram goalie, Blue Lock Man, who is able to deflect balls using advanced microchip technology, and survive a high-stakes game of tag where your closest friend might kick a ball full-speed at your face in the hopes of killing your one ambition in life.
There’s a reason Michael B. Jordan called Blue Lock “dope as fuck.” And with the entire first season now streaming on Crunchyroll, there’s never been a better time to discover that truth for yourself.