So, this wasn’t quite what I thought it was going to be.
The description on the back of the manga describes the story of Sayonara, Football as being about two girls, who were on rival soccer teams in middle school, but end up on the same team in high school and need to learn how to work together
Sounds great, but that’s not what this manga is about. At least, not yet.
Nozomi loves soccer and joins the boys team at her middle school when she isn’t able to gather enough members to form a girls team. Despite her hard work and high level of technical skill, her coach refuses to let her play in any of the team’s official games, claiming that, as a girl, she wouldn’t be able to compete with the greater physical capabilities of the boys. Nozomi feels frustrated and insulted, but things really come to a head when she runs into her old pal, Namek. Nozomi used to boss Namek around when they played together in grade school, but now he’s shot up in height, is the star of his school’s soccer team and treats Nozomi completely differently, looking down on her abilities and calling her reckless for playing on a team with boys. Nozomi isn’t about to let that slide! Now she’s determined to play in her team’s upcoming match against Namek’s school, whatever it takes!
So here we have the set up for a classic battle of the sexes, not a story of two rivals learning to work together on a new team. I looked into it a bit and it looks like Sayonara, Football is a prequel to Naoshi Arakawa’s other series: Farewell, My Dear Cramer. That’s the manga that’s about the girl’s high school soccer team, but it looks like Kodansha is publishing both titles under one name. The Sayonara, Football manga ends at volume 2 and the series will begin using the subtitle, Farewell My Dear Cramer, starting with volume 3, when that storyline kicks off.
So, while not quite what I was expecting, Sayonara, Football has a juicy premise that I really enjoyed exploring, as it hit on some issues that I found relevant to real life situations that I’ve witnessed.
I’ve never been very into sports and the physical activities that I do enjoy, like swimming, are mostly solitary pursuits. So, I’ve never played on any kind of a sports team, but I do have female friends who are more physically inclined than I and they have gone through similar realizations to the one that Nozomi is facing in this manga. The boys that Nozomi used to be able to compete with on an equal playing field are now starting to grow taller and put on muscle at a rate that Nozomi can’t keep up with. She is at a physical disadvantage to most of them, in terms of pure physical strength, at least, and that gap is only going to get wider as they grow older. One of my afore mentioned friends is really into karate and she struggled with this very problem when she was younger. It took her awhile to accept that she just wasn’t going to be able to match most men when it comes to brute strength. Nozomi seems to have more or less come to terms with this knowledge, she knows it’s pointless to try and deny the facts.
However, that doesn’t mean that her coach is in the right or that Namek has a point. My friend didn’t give up on practicing karate with men and Nozomi doesn’t give up on playing soccer with her male friends.
Instead of focusing on her limitations, Nozomi focuses her energies on the areas where she can improve and I appreciated that she never accepted defeat or gave into the flawed logic of those around her. There is more to soccer then just physical capabilities and not every player on a team needs to be a big bruiser. In addition to being skilled, Nozomi has great instincts and she’s able to think strategically and react quickly on the field. These abilities could make her a great asset to her team, if she was properly utilized. The narrow-mindedness of her coach and her teammate’s misguided protectiveness are what’s getting in the way of her being a valuable player, not the fact that she’s a girl, and, after watching Nozomi throw herself into training, I’m now greatly invested in seeing her prove herself on the field and then, hopefully, rub Namek’s face in her victory!
The one thing in this manga that I’m kind of annoyed with is that there have been some hints that Nozomi’s obsession with Namek might be, at least partially, motivated by romantic interest. This is such a tired trope and I hope that this doesn’t turn out to be the case, as I’d much rather see her motivated to gain his respect because he’s a) her old friend and b) someone she admires as a soccer player. Nozomi’s two childhood friends/teammates are also, apparently, both crushing on her, which seems like an unnecessary plot complication. I do enjoy the the cute flash back sequences with Nozomi and Namek as kids (especially since Namek used to have just the dumbest hair style), so I think it would be nice if they became friends again, but I’m hoping the story’s focus will remain on Nozomi’s personal journey and that the plot won’t get entangled in romantic drama.
Sayonara, Football is a relatable and gripping manga. Even without knowing much about soccer, I was able to get caught up in the matches and I want to see Nozomi’s stubbornness and passion pay off. I’m a little leery that the romantic subplots might take focus away from the soccer games and Nozomi’s struggle to be taken seriously, but I was nonetheless entertained by this story and am looking forward to volume two.
Final Score: 7.5 out of 10
For more information, visit Kodansha USA’s website.
What did you think of this manga? Are there any soccer fans out there who read this? I’d be interested to hear your take on it, so let me know your thoughts in the comments.