Those of you who are long time followers of this blog and my work may recall hearing about a show called Inside the Koma that I was working on last year. Inside the Koma was a character focus series designed to talk about particularly great underrated characters in manga. I started working on my first episode last year, but well, I hate editing. I finished half the video then never touched it again mostly because I worry how sane I can stay when I have to pan zoom EVERY SINGLE PAGE. Anyway, I think it might be interesting to bring this series back because honestly I love manga and I love talking about underappreciated characters.
So what are the requirements for Inside the Koma? Simple: the character must be from a manga, and they have to be a part of the side cast, so I would talk about Shikamaru and not Naruto. In addition this series only focuses on the manga aspects of the character. Maybe this character had an entire filler arc dedicated to them in the anime, but I’m not going to include that in my analysis. Anyway, this is the final article in my three article test series, so once again I ask that you comment if you enjoy the series to let me know if you’d still like me to continue writing it. So let’s start off this series with the topic character from my original video: Eyeshield 21’s Manabu Yukimitsu.
I know that a Japanese series about American football sounds utterly ridiculous, but honestly Eyeshield 21 is one of the greatest manga I’ve read in sheer entertainment value. Sure, liking football is a bit of a requirement, but the series does a great job explaining the rules and making the sport feel like a legitimate war. The action is complemented nicely by an excellent cast of characters full of unique personalities and traits and honestly I could have picked a variety of characters from Eyeshield 21. Kid, Sakuraba, Juumonji, Unsui, Habashira, Panther, Marco, and Takami all would make excellent choices for this series, but in my opinion the best character in this varied and underappreciated cast is the backup Wide Receiver for the Deimon Devilbats Manabu Yukimitsu.
Yukimitsu, or Yuki as he’s also known, is a different style of character from the other ragtags that make up the Deimon Devilbats in that he’s not very good at football. Sure as the underdogs in the series it’s the point of the Devilbats to be inferior to their opponents, but for most of the cast they have a football-related redeeming quality like Sena’s speed or Monta’s catching abilities. Yuki doesn’t have any of those—not even close. He’s just a nerd who’s spent his life dreaming of playing sports with everyone else but never having the ability to do so. Joining the Devil Bats is his one chance to play a sport with everyone else before he has to devote himself fulltime to studying. His desire to play football allows him to go through the same hellish training as the rest of the Devil Bats, and that kind of tenacity is admirable.
What really makes Yuki so likable though is that he fails—a lot. He only passes the initial entrance exam because Hiruma was impressed by his conviction, but he never plays in any of the starting games even as the football team is forced to use scrubs from other teams to have a full roster. He travels to America with the rest of his team and participates in the Death March, a hellish training exercise of running from Texas to Las Vegas in 40 days. He completed the Death March alongside everyone else, and yet when the final team is announced for the Fall Tournament Yuki is the only player not chosen—instead being passed over in favor of alternatives from the basketball team. What makes Yuki so appealing is that such care is placed into his character. The manga-ka behind Eyeshield 21 could have easily ended Yukimitsu’s character arc right here by saying he trained hard enough to make it in, but he didn’t. No, instead we watch Yuki break into tears and promise that he won’t give up trying to become a starting player on the Deimon Devilbats. We need moments like this to make scenes later on become so much more satisfying.
Fortune does smile on Yuki as the Devilbats manage to just squeak into the Kanto Tournament giving Yuki another shot to play, and just before his team’s next game he is told that not only will he be allowed to play this upcoming Sunday, but he will be the key to defeating the Shinnryuji Nagas. The Nagas, mind you, are the current long time defending champions of the Kanto Tournament led by Quarterback/Linebacker Kongo Agon, a once in a decade genius with the ability to instantly react to changing situations. Kongo Agon and Cornerback Ikkyuu utterly dominated Deimon during the first half of the game and Yuki never stepped foot on the field, but after half time Yuki is asked to finally step on the field for the first time in his life.
He does so, and after two consecutive failed plays Yuki finally gets the chance he’s been waiting for. See Yuki might not be physically gifted with super speed or great height, but he has spent his entire life studying which has allowed him to dissect defenses and spot holes in their coverage: the Option Route. Yuki takes off and Hiruma throws him a deep ball towards the endzone, but Agon and Ikkyuu take notice and break off to cover Yuki. As the ball closes in Agon and Ikkyuu start joking about how easy it will be to defeat Yukimitsu, and Yuki starts to believe he doesn’t have a chance against players of this magnitude. However just before he gives up all hope he realizes that the reason he’s never been good at sports is because he’s never really tried, and now that he has the opportunity he won’t fail. Yuki goes all out and just manages to catch the touchdown pass that finally puts Deimon on the board and he pulls it off via sheer determination.
Seeing scenes like this are all the more satisfying because we had to endure Yuki’s tragic failures beforehand. This chapter was almost a hundred chapters after the previous scene of Yuki crying meaning that this was nearly two years in development. What makes this scene so impactful is that for years we’ve wanted to see Yuki get his chance to succeed, and when it does it’s in a glorious and magnificent fashion. It’s in the biggest game of the Devilbat’s career while they’re at the lowest they’ve ever been against the greatest opponents they’ve ever had to face. It sets up a dramatic comeback and a great end to a thrilling match, but more than that it finally lets us get the satisfaction we want. So Crowning Moment of Awesome, right? Well yes, but this actually isn’t Yuki’s finest moment.
No, that comes during the next game against Deimon’s rivals the Oujou White Knights. The Deimon/Oujou game may very well be the greatest arc in manga I’ve ever read and it’s full of fantastic character development for players on both sides of the ball, but for the most part Yuki is a non-factor in this match. In fact just about half way through the game Yuki collapses in exhaustion and has to sit the rest of the game out and watch from the sidelines as all of his friends fight to keep their dreams alive. Time is winding down and Oujou is down by a single touchdown when suddenly Sena gets hit and starts to get a nose bleed. The refs force him to sit out until the bleeding stops, thus forcing Hiruma to pick a replacement. He has three alternate players to pick from, but in the end he chooses Yukimitsu to be the 11th man with the simple reason of “tenacity”. So what happens on this final play?
Shin, the perfect football player, takes the ball directly, absolutely trucks Yukimitsu, and then drags three players with him into the endzone for a touchdown as time expires. Or, at least that was the plan. Instead a single second remains on the clock completely contrary to Oujou’s predictions. Why? Well the answer is Yuki. While he wasn’t able to stop Shin from scoring the touchdown, Yuki did realize that Shin’s plan was to stall crossing the endzone until time expired. Thus, before the last second could pass Yuki instead pushed Shin through the goal line preserving one second on the clock for Deimon to make their comeback.
The intelligence and foresight needed to pull off a play of that magnitude was immense, and Shin realized it, so as teammates helped carry an exhausted Yukimitsu off the field he congratulates him on his splendid play. This is Yuki’s finest moment because it captures his character perfectly. See, it wasn’t super speed or great strength that helped Yuki stop Oujou’s plans, it was an undying tenacity to keep Deimon’s hopes alive. Even better the acknowledgement comes from Shin who is notorious for his brutal honesty when it comes to critiquing players. This may the best scene in Eyeshield 21 because the drama surrounding it immense, but without a doubt it’s Yuki’s finest moment. Sure he has another scene during the Teikoku match where he makes a big catch, but it’s not handled quite as well and honestly comes off a bit too comical. The Oujou match makes Yuki look brilliant and it’s one of the finest examples of character development I can cite.
See, this is how you create a sympathetic loser. Yuki’s a good kid, but inept and without any real talents. He fails so often, but his losses only serve to make us more eager to see him succeed. His failures are treated with respect and thus it glorifies his victories even more and the execution of his two greatest plays are flawless as they both start big comebacks for Deimon during their two biggest matches. If I were to write a character in a manga, I’d want them to be like Yuki. Sure, writing a convincing loss is difficult, and having one of your heroes constantly fail can be distressing, but Yuki proves that it can all be worth it in the end if you execute it correctly. March on you beautiful bald-headed bastard.
Until next time, Namaste!