Top Striker isn’t very good, yet it has its charms.
It often feels like a weird hybrid of World Masterpiece Theatre and a sports anime. A big part of this is due to it being a Nippon Animation production, but the design by Nobuhiro Okasako comes across as an odd choice. While, to my knowledge, he didn’t design any WMT shows he did do some design work on Adventures of Pepero the Andes Boy which we could kindly describe as a WMT peer. Given that he did the anime character design for the first Captain Tsubasa show, you’d think that he’d have been a good fit.
The difference is that in Tsubasa, Youichi Takahashi’s original designs still shine through in the anime whereas Top Striker is an original work. The irony is that if you put the giant heads of Top Striker‘s kid characters on the bodies of the adult Tsubasa characters, you might get something closer to a normal human being’s proportions.
As it is though, whatever good there is in the layout of some of the football scenes, it often feels like the character designs are scuppering it with their enormous bonces.
The show also feels like it was a year late, being about a Japanese kid playing football in Italy, yet arriving on screens a year after Italia 90. Did Italia 90 kick start some sort of Japanese interest in Italy that made this show a good idea?
Storywise the first episode feels like it was generated by a checklist. Orphan? Check! Disapproving Aunt? Check! Kindly maid? Check! Avuncular older gentleman? Check! And so on. If you grew up in the 70s and 80s you’re likely to have seen this umpteen times before, both in and outside of anime. I suspect the same is true if you grew up in any decade after the Victorian era. That’s orphantainment!
The reason it still charms is it all that cliched stuff isn’t horribly written, and there’s tiny little touches that make you think they put a little more thought in than they probably needed to. For instance when the show’s avuncular older gentleman, Mr Bertini is due to meet the disapproving Aunt for the first time, we see he’s slicked his hair down to a ridiculous extent in some attempt to pull himself up to the aunt’s social standing. It’s a simple little character piece that tells us more about Mr Bertini just through the drawings on the screen.
Another neat trick it pulls is when we flashback to the town doctor’s earlier career as an ace striker, the show tries to give that scene a pseudo-sixties anime feel both with making the flashback black and white and to some degree in the way the action is shown. There’s just enough charm in the character work and the football scenes to get across the romance of football (and Italy) despite the technical shortcomings and the cliched plot.
It’s still not enough to make me want to watch more, but I can see why they thought people might have wanted to watch it in 1991. While it didn’t make it’s way to the UK, it did air on Franch, Italian and Spanish television. Next time, we will take a look at a the show that Top Striker replaced. And that show did make to the UK airwaves.
Oh, and I almost forgot, a small child’s life is literally saved by the power of football in this first episode. In that someone kicks a football to stop something killing a child. And then an impromptu town celebration breaks out. That helped charm me too. I am a sucker for sports stories where the sports skills can be used to solve EVERYTHING. I blame Sport Billy.