Holly and Benji, the anime that made football history

Holly and Benji, the anime that made football history
It was October 10, 1983 when the first episode of Captain Tsubasa was broadcast in Japan (in Italy Holly and Benji - Two champions), the anime based on the manga of the same name by Yoichi Takahashi: it was the beginning of a global success that still today , almost forty years later, fascinates millions of fans all over the world.

Those who grew up in the 80s on bread and cartoons certainly remember with great joy the afternoons spent watching the episodes of a then brand new cartoon, entitled Holly and Benji - Two champions, and then rush into the courtyard, the park or the pitches to impersonate the two protagonists, while laughing at the absurdities of that cartoon, so exciting but at the same time so little credible. However, the impact of this animated series is not limited to the memory of these children, now adults, as some might think: the saga of the two young champions has been resumed over and over again, giving life to an ecosystem of animation, comics, video games. and gadgets that seem endless.

Take to the skies

It all begins in 1980 when Yōichi Takahashi, a 20-year-old manga author, sees a self-contained story published in Weekly Shōnen Jump, a historic Japanese comic magazine . The plot concerns the challenge between two middle school kids who play in rival soccer teams: Tsubasa (who would become Oliver Hutton in Italy) is a striker, Genzo (Benjamin Price) a goalkeeper. The success of that story is immediate and the following year starts the serialization of a wide-ranging manga, entitled Captain Tsubasa.

The story unfolds over three narrative arcs: the first tells of the meeting between the protagonists, the formation of the first teams and the vicissitudes of the elementary school tournament. Originally it was expected that the conclusion of this first part would coincide with the departure of Holly / Tsubasa for Brazil, but the confirmation of the setting created by the author and the fans of the Japanese opponents convinced the author to continue the events in the country of rising sun. The second narrative arc is set three years later, during the third middle school championship: also in this case the original project underwent a modification in the race and the epilogue that saw Holly / Tsubasa win over the historic opponent Mark Lenders / Kojiro Hyuga was replaced with a more moderate ex aequo. The last part of this first series chronicles the first meeting of the Japanese U-16 national team and their trip to a youth tournament in France. The series, published from 1981 to 1988 (but arrived in Italy much later, only in 2000) consisted of thirty-seven volumes; this year Edizioni Star Comics has released a new edition in prestigious volumes of 350 pages.

The success of the manga is enormous and the serialization in anime is started only a year after the release of the first issue : thus was born the historic series Holly and Benji - Two champions, aired in Japan between 1983 and 1986 and landed in Italy in 1986. Made up of 128 episodes, it transposes the story of the first twenty-five volumes of the manga into animation, that is those are the narrative arcs of the elementary school tournament and the middle school tournament, concluded with the final between Mark Lenders' Toho and Holly's New Team. The temporal overlap between the production of the cartoon and the comic led to the use of different expedients to "slow down" the cartoon, from the creation of filler episodes (which then also created problems of continuity, introducing inconsistencies with subsequent narratives) and deliberately "slowed down" actions that gave birth to the famous endless races on kilometer fields and the famous endless dialogues that we all know well.

The phoenix has flown

Takahashi then concludes his work and decides to devote himself to new ideas, churning out other sports-themed manga. The attention towards Holly and Benji does not end and a new animated series is produced, entitled Holly and Benji: challenge to the world: this thirteen-episode OAV is in perfect continuity with the previous series and covers the third narrative arc of the first. manga, narrating the story of the Japanese under sixteen national team at the Parisian youth championship. This is the international debut of the young champions and also marks the beginning of the process of entering the professional world.

Let the show begin!

The author decides to pick up a pencil again and nib only six years later: the sport of football is the object of great interest in Japan (thanks to the success of the manga), the Japanese professional league has recently been founded and the national team has just won the Asian Cup. This is how Captain Tsubasa World Youth sees the light: composed of eighteen volumes, published between 1994 and 1997 (in Italy published in continuity with the first series starting from 2003), tells the challenges that the Japanese national team must overcome to win the tournament U-20 World Cup.

The parallel between Japan facing the professional world of football and the protagonists of the manga is evident. 1994 is a particularly rich year for fans of the saga: a new (third) animated series is also released, entitled Che champions Holly and Benji !!! The anime is divided into two parts: the first is made up of thirty-four episodes and again tells the first story arc; the second takes a leap forward and brings the first seven volumes of the new manga Capitan Tsubasa World Youth into animation. Just as the manga was concluded quickly due to friction between author and publisher, the anime also had an unfortunate story, ending up suspended for lack of budget and thus not completing the transposition of the manga.

The start of a miracle

In 2000, on the occasion of the upcoming soccer world cup in Japan and South Korea, Takahashi takes up the work again and decides to tell the story that leads the protagonists, now adults, to the world cup in the new series Captain Tsubasa Road to 2002. The stories told are all international in scope and tell of the professional experiences of our favorites (Holly plays in the Spanish league, Benji in the German one and Mark Lenders in the Italian one): the maturation of the characters is also reflected in a change in the narrative style, more tactic-centered and more realistic. The manga consists of fifteen volumes, published between 2000 and 2004, placing itself exactly at the crossover of the world championships.

At the same time, the fourth anime series, Holly & Benji Forever, was born: composed of fifty-two episodes, it was broadcast in Japan between 2001 and 2002 (in Italy between 2004 and 2005). The first thirty-one episodes are the remake of the first two series (Holly and Benji - Two champions and Holly and Benji: challenge to the world), while the following episodes transpose the manga just released Capitan Tsubasa Road to 2002, thus completely omitting the volumes of World Youth never covered by the previous series.

An unexpected joy

Takahashi decides not to stop and immediately continues with a new series, in direct continuity with the previous one: Captain Tsubasa Golden 23 (2005- 2008, twelve volumes). The story is divided into two narrative lines: on the one hand the professional commitment of the protagonists, on the other the preparation for qualification for the Olympics.

After a pause of several years, the publication of Capitan Tsubasa has begun Rising Sun, which continues the story of the previous series by showing the golden generation of Japanese football involved in the Madrid Olympics. The series consists of eleven volumes and is still ongoing.

Neither Captain Tsubasa Golden 23, nor Captain Tsubasa Rising Sun have had an anime conversion; moreover, neither of the two manga, as well as Capitan Tsubasa Road to 2002, was published in Italy (and in general in the West), due to legal problems regarding the use of names, logos, badges of real players, teams and sponsors.

Tenacity… above all tenacity!

It's not over yet: there is indeed a last anime series, simply titled Captain Tsubasa, and it's a manga reboot. Composed of fifty-two episodes (aired between 2018 and 2019 in Japan; in Italy only the first twenty-eight episodes were broadcast, covering the narrative arc of the elementary school tournament) it tells the original story of the first series, but set in nowadays.

The main feature of this new edition is that the author has requested the preservation of the original names in the foreign adaptations. This choice has produced no small commotion among the nostalgic and the news has been spread on many newspapers. A very clear discontinuity is therefore created with the cartoon story (the manga, at least in Italy, had already been published keeping the original names).

A story within a story

Holly and Benji is certainly a story that has had a lot of influence in popular culture and the fact that almost forty years after its debut the series has been rebooted is not a coincidence.

Holly and Benji counts among its fans also many professional footballers who have repeatedly expressed their appreciation for this work: in 2011 Del Piero dedicated a thought, as part of the world day on childhood, to this anime (also showing a table by the author, where a character from the manga inspired by him is portrayed); Andres Iniesta attended the inauguration ceremony of a metro station dedicated to the cartoon on the occasion of the launch of the latest series. Many other players have expressed their opinion on the work, highlighting the influence it has had in their professional growth; so it happens that kids who grew up watching the cartoon on television, have now found themselves co-stars of the new series, where they see themselves represented playing alongside their virtual idols.

The fans have never spared themselves in the ironic criticism of the work, especially regarding the various absurdities: from the fact that heart-sick players (Jullian Ross, in the original Jun Musugi) could take the field and play, to the unlikely aerial acrobatics of the Derrick brothers, without forgetting the non-existence of the referees. The most famous aspect, universally the subject of mockery is the infinite and spherical soccer field; this element has also been included in several memes as an ineluctable proof against the terrifying theories.

All these unreal elements have not, however, overshadowed the main themes dealt with by the work: football is a means to talk about a wide range of values, sometimes even taken to the extreme. The main theme is certainly that of the value of the team and friendship: while enhancing the individual skills of the different characters, the matches are won by the teams that are able to play better together. The theme is treated by presenting teams without strong individuality as fearsome opponents, or by showing great champions who fail to play with their teammates and are therefore defeated.

In particular, a path is presented that shows these individualistic characters as the the result of a complex, often tragic story (accidents, dehumanized parents) but which repent thanks to the confrontation with the protagonist Holly / Tsubasa. A second theme that is very recurrent and intimately linked to the first is that relating to the concept of sacrifice: the simple concepts of commitment and perseverance are not in fact sufficient, and often the protagonists are willing to put their own health or life on the line even though to achieve their goal and not abandon their peers. This aspect is exasperated by the violent representation of the matches, which often seem like real open-air battles on the verge of hand-to-hand combat (hence the aforementioned criticism of the absence of referees).

Not just anime

Holly and Benji is a global phenomenon and, as such, could not fail to boast a large stock of titles for practically all platforms that existed.

The first dates back to 1988 (1992 in Europe) on NES, simply titled Captain Tsubasa: it was an RPG that covered the story of the second and third story arc of the first manga series; the game was extensively modified and distorted in the western version, eliminating the references to the cartoon, so much so that it became in effect a generic football game.

In the following years the market was literally flooded with titles inspired by the 'work by Yōichi Takahashi: in the 90s alone there were nine titles for SNES, Gameboy, Mega Drive and Playstation. The long wave continues in the early years of the new millennium, with another six games in six years. The phenomenon dies out after 2006, with only two titles after many years (in 2010 Captain Tsubasa: New Kick Off for Nintendo DS and in 2017 Captain Tsubasa: Dream Team, on smartphone).

2020 However, we reserve an important news, as a real important title for PC, PS4 and Switch is released: Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions. The video game has been well received by selling five hundred thousand copies all over the world in the space of about a month.

Finally, fans will not bea> able to do without action figures: the market is very active and we have reported several new articles within the last year; in addition to the classic figure of Holly / Tsubasa, the sculptors have indulged in the creation of many other statues, such as those of the Derrick twins engaged in the infernal catapult and above all the super luxury (and super expensive) action figure for collectors by Mark Lenders in the shooting of the tiger.

The game isn't over yet

Thirty-seven years have passed since Holly / Tsubasa first appeared in the homes of the boys, first in Japan, then in the rest of the world. He has left an indelible mark with manga, has known popularity and created a planetary following with anime, has enjoyed video games. But above all it has inspired many young people by spreading positive virtues, underlining the value of commitment, seriousness, (extreme) sacrifice, friendship and team play. He contributed to entertain many young people and to create the important careers of some champions. But precisely because the values ​​expressed are timeless, even today it continues to be in step with the times, a positive symbol of Japan recognized all over the world; so here it is inserted (together with other symbolic characters, such as Super Mario, Doraemon or Hello Kitty) in the promotional video of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 (now 2021).

The new animated series, certainly of high quality , it's a clear message: Tsubasa / Holly has no plans to retire; positively inspired millions of young people in the 80s and 90s and is now ready to repeat the feat also for the younger generations of the new millennium.



For lovers of classic series you can find the DVDs of the elementary school, middle school and the fourth complete series, Holly and Benji two champions. If you want to see the reboot, you will find the first (episodes 1-14) and the second (episodes 15-28) box set on Amazon.



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