Whistle! is a football manga written by a female author who was inspired by the Japan qualification of 1998 world cup.

Japan is a pretty interesting place for football because its standard is actually very high for such a young football nation.

J-league, their professional football league, played their first league match during 1993. Before that, their source of national team players are all from amateur teams. Since then, they have produce talents who flourish in Europe such as the retired Hidetoshi Nakata and the recent Shinji Kagawa who will be going to Manchester United next season.

Whistle! does a very good job in introducing the basic structure of Japanese football and lay down enough baits to get you interested in J-League even though its main characters are all actually middle school kids.

Beside being a good introduction to J-League, Whistle! is also pretty deceptive because it starts off like your hot blooded underdog story but changed its tone halfway through.

Unlike other sports manga, you can sense from its earlier chapters that the author is actually trying to do something different and ambitious because she actually want the manga to be realistic and deviate from the norm. For example, during the middle school competition, our protagonist team faced an ultra defensive team which relies heavily on counter attacks.  Normally, other manga will make this ultra defensive team the bad guy who “cheat” with boring cowardly football but Whistle! totally embrace them and shine them in a good light by praising their tactics.

Although in the end, the ultra defensive loses because they got too hot blooded with their attacking because they don’t want to win by an own goal but the manga still put a limelight onto to their defensive tactics by praising their defensive hard work and not rubbish it away just because defending is too coward or not hot blooded enough.

Not only that, it also touches on sexism in football and how difficult it is for girls to play football in Japan. This is rather interesting because even though Captain Tsubasa and Major also touches on this issue, in the end, they are still about girls playing men sports from a male perspective instead of a female’s one so the balance is tipped.

Then during the middle of the manga, it finally peels off the skin of its disguise as a hotblooded underdog story because the protagonist loses the middle school tournament without showing you the detail and the whole underdog middle school overcoming the best team got rubbished away just like that.

During the transition of underdog story to ambitious manga , it’s reveled that the protagonist’s father is actually a professional football player hence explain his talent. Then he went on and join a semi-pro team who competes for national football while leaving all his mediocre and hardworking middle school friends behind because fuck underdogs story and fuck your friends if they hinder your dream.

I stopped reading after the semi pro team go on and have a friendly match with a Korean team while touching on some sensitive Japan and Korea issues. It’s rather ambitious and daring for a manga to chart territories like these and I lauded the author intention of trying to deviate from the norm but I have to admit that I kinda lost interest after the protagonist turned semi-pro.

By turning semi-pro, the manga have no choice but to dump all his once mediocre teammates who were well developed for 10 volumes away and introduce a new bunch of unlikable and underdeveloped elite footballers. It also undermine the underdog elements which I adore because they are the elite team now.

Even though the manga always try to put an emphasize that the protagonist is still rather weak, it fails because everyone can see that he is actually pretty good. The manga also turn into a character focus series by trying to characterize a bunch of new and and unrelated-able elite football players and stopped with the details of the hard work by the protagonist.

Not only that, instead of focusing on the interesting struggle of  a team of underdogs, we are now only focusing on one character with their struggle of maintaining their place in the semi pro team. Now the stake of 15 people turned into a stake of one person. This kinda suck because it’s anti climatic and the protagonist isn’t actually that like-able.

You would let the protagonist off during the early volumes because he was so genuinely hardworking and there are other likable characters for you to enjoy.

In the end, it loses its spirit and passion of traditional sport series which I was looking for when I first start the series. Being semi pro is just not as exciting as the brutal and cruel elimination middle school tournament.

Realistically speaking, the chances of being semi pro is slimmer than winning a middle school tournament but from a manga point of view, the protagonist will not face with too huge of a obstacle to continue his semi pro route so you are being forced into reading a manga where the outcome of a match isn’t really that important anymore and the burden of regrets of maybe this being your final match with your best friends is lost since there will be plenty of chances next time in a professional setting.

It reminds me on how Major season 3 is the best season because so much is at stake due to it being the final chance for all these hardworking passionate mediocre students to make something out of their mundane high school life . Then it went down hill after Goro went pro because the matches aren’t exciting anymore and we suddenly lose the passion of other teammates because just like whistle, the stake of the team has narrowed down to Goro and Goro only.

Finally, I want to talk about  Whistle!’s fascination with the 3-5-2 formation. No one uses 3-5-2 in this day and age where the flanks are flooded with 2 wingers and 2 fullbacks. That’s because the wingbacks in the 3-5-2 formation would always face a 2 on 1 situation so they have to lay in deep to defend the attacking winger and fullback while not being able to push up so to prevent overwhelming 2 0n 0 attacks from the flank.

However, Whistle! was drawn in 1998 where fullbacks are real defenders and not pseudo wingers and teams in the 90s won trophies left and right with variation of 3-5-2 so it’s understandable why the author will think that 3-5-2 is the best formation. No one can predict the prevalent of attacking fullbacks in 1998 so you can’t really fault the author because she was actually right during the time. In fact, I am impressed with her football knowledge and it really shows how much she knows.

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