Whenever I’m in my room after dinner, playing games, writing, reading or doing something else, I’ll often go downstairs to get a coffee and chat with my dad for a bit. He’s sitting there alone most evenings, since my parents are divorced. Obviously he doesn’t mind, he’s got his snacks, his bejeweled knock-off games and most importantly, his soccer matches. Now he doesn’t only watch soccer. I’ve seen him watch many different sports from darts to volleyball to tennis and many more. But it is often soccer. I’m the polar opposite. I don’t really like watching sports that much and I think out of all the sports available, soccer is definitely one of the least interesting ones to me. Different strokes for different folks, I suppose. A while ago I tried watching the soccer anime Days and I just wasn’t impressed by it either. Until recently I figured I’d do perfectly well in life without ever watching another soccer anime. But this season sees the soccer focused anime Ao Ashi and after the latest episode I’m very happy about having picked it up. Let’s talk about the episode, what works so well about it and what it did to hit all the right emotional points in the story. Spoilers ahead for Ao Ashi episodes one through five, but none of the spoilers are anything major.
In case you haven’t seen anything about Ao Ashi yet, which is fair, it’s very good but I wouldn’t call it a standout anime by any means, let’s give a quick rundown of the show’s plot. Aoi Ashito (hence the name) is a young soccer player. He’s just having fun playing with his school friends. He’s very good but a pretty selfish player. Never seen that before in an anime, have we? He’s not a dick though, his teammates all like him, it’s just that his playstyle is very selfish. When a coach from a Tokyo youth team is in town by coincidence, he sees Aoi play and is impressed. He then invites the young lad to a tryout event where he spends the next episodes training and showing off his skills. His brother paid for the trip there since he’s from a poor family that does their best to provide but can’t afford trips like this. The episode starts from him reading his acceptance letter to the club.
I don’t believe we know where Aoi’s dad is in the story, but his mom is the one raising him and she’s obviously very protective of her son and worries this will create distance. I feel like this is a logical reaction but there’s also definitely a sense of pride there. The episode begins with Hana being adorable. She’s made a meal plan for Aoi that she’s included in the letter that he was sent. His brother even comments on how thorough it is and how impressed he is with it. I love these dorky kids already, they just seem like great kids and that’s what I want from a show like this. Haikyuu gives me similar vibes, where the kids behave like actual dumb kids. I love kuroko no basket with all my heart but those kids take themselves way too seriously sometimes. Aoi and his brother talk a little bit with Hana about their mom, and she overhears part of the conversation, but pretends she didn’t. She hears Aoi confess that one of the reasons he wants to go pro is to make his mom’s life easier. I’m too emotional lately because just rewatching this scene is making me tear up again. His mom interrupts him before he says much more and then yells at Hana a bunch. Poor Hana. She still diligently answers any questions that Aoi’s mom has and at some point she drops the very important foreshadowing line.
It’s not a particularly new plot point, but it is a good one. His mom is too poor to buy him new cleats. He’s been bullied because of it and he’s definitely self conscious about it. It’s portrayed in the story that this question isn’t a big deal and Aoi certainly doesn’t notice it, but to the viewer it’s a great indication of what’s about to come their way. Aoi has other things in mind so we cut him some slack here.
I do think that it’s very “anime” of his mom to completely avoid talking properly with her son. I’m not a parent, so maybe this is more realistic than I give it credit, but who knows. We cut to Aoi and his teacher informing his class that Aoi’s leaving for Tokyo. His class is shocked as he didn’t warn them at all and Aoi is pretending to be a big boy, like any kid moving to the big city would. He then says a quick goodbye to them and leaves for the station with his brother.
Obviously his friends wouldn’t just let him leave like that. I believe Ace of Diamond had a similar send off scene but it’s late right now and I don’t want to go back and check. Forgive me if I’m wrong. Sawamura was definitely a small town boy as well though. We quickly cut back to the teacher telling the soccer club boys to go follow him like any good teacher should. Some of his other friends join in and they all rush to the station to get there first. Somehow Ashito manages to stay strong through all of this and he takes pictures with all his friends before leaving on the train. Then his brother hands him a gift package from his mother which contains a letter and a box. He’s told to open it on the train to Tokyo. I love how he’s kind of worried because his mother is normally the very direct type. At least in his perception she is, most adults are more complicated (in some ways) than they seem to kids. It’s hard to see someone’s inner thoughts from the outside. He opens and reads the letter.
The letter is nice on its own and contains some cash. There’s an apology from his mother for not seeing him off and not properly talking to him. She admits to being selfish but aren’t we all? She’s working hard to pay for his life in Tokyo. Man I’m tearing up again, she’s giving him her savings to follow his dream. This is parenting done right, I love her so much. She also admits to overhearing Ashito’s conversation with Hana on the phone.
I’m a sucker for well crafted emotional beats in a story. I wasn’t when I was younger, but at some point I unlocked the ability to empathize with fictional characters. It’s honestly still a mystery to me, I used to be so dead inside, what went wrong? Now whenever I watch a scene like this, especially when my own mood is already not amazing, I just cry my eyes out. But I love it so much. There’s a reason Arlong Park is still the best One Piece arc. Nothing makes me resonate more with a story than when it makes me cry. This could be for a sad moment, a happy moment, or even just a profound moment. The music, the scenery, the send-off from his teammates. Everything just works so well together as we watch Ashito leave his hometown. The letter is amazing and whoever wrote these scenes should be damn proud of themselves. And everyone who worked in adapting it so well should share in that pride. Maybe I’m overreacting, but in a season that has such amazing anime airing I think it’s important to also acknowledge the amazing moments taking place in the other shows this season. Ao Ashi gets full marks for this one.