It was on the morning of August 1st, 2018 that the readers of Weekly Shonen Magazine were first introduced to the world of Muneyuki Kaneshiro’s Blue Lock; and they loved it. The story follows a group of teenage boys who are invited to a training regime known as the Blue Lock Program, where a former player trains the teens in an effort to create the world’s best egotist striker. The manga quickly became popular among the magazine’s fanbase, soon becoming the 16th best-selling manga in 2021; it has over 10 million copies in circulation as of the fall of 2022. The manga has also received accolades from critics, winning the prestigious Kodansha Manga Award in the Shonen category, an achievement which netted its creators 1,000,000 yen.
Kaneshiro could not have achieved this success on his own, however. While he writes the story, the pages are brought to life by Kaneshiro’s illustrator, Yusuke Nomura. Nomura’s art has been the talk of many manga fans, who cite the exciting action and great character designs as some of their favorite parts of the manga. But Kaneshiro and Nomura haven’t just caught the attention of the magazine’s target audience of teenage males. During the 2022 World Cup, hosted in Qatar, the Japanese team shocked the world by coming onto the pitch wearing jerseys that heavily resembled those worn by the players in Blue Lock. As it turns out, it was not a coincidence. The team had collaborated with Nomura and his team to create the jerseys, and fans loved it. The striking blue and white colors coupled with the sleek logo placement gave the team an aesthetic feel that could be enjoyed by both fans of the manga and those who never heard of the comic. The anime was released in October of 2022, providing both the team and the designers with enough time to build the hype behind the collaboration before Japan’s opening match against Germany in November.
Going into the match, the Germans were heavily favored to win. The general consensus on various betting sites was that Japan had one to seven odds of winning, making them the undisputed underdogs. As the match seemed to be in the expected direction with Germany leading 1-0 going into the second half, Japan shocked the competition by scoring a goal in the 75th minute, then scoring again a mere eight minutes later to win the game. This upset sent shockwaves through both the soccer and animanga (anime and manga) communities. While fans marveled at the last-minute upset by Japan, readers of Blue Lock quickly began drawing comparisons between the Japanese team and the manga. They claimed that the player’s victory was the result of the Blue Lock Project, even going so far as to bring up clips from the match and compare them to similar clips from the show. There was one event in particular that truly caught the eyes of Blue Lock fans: Japanese player Takumi Asano's game-winning goal. Pinned by a German player, Asano was forced further away from the goal, and it didn't look like he had any room to score. Usually, a player in his same predicament would pass to a teammate, but no., Asano kicked the ball straight into the upper right corner, finding nothing but net. Such a manner of play was familiar to readers of Blue Lock, who found the goal to be reminiscent of the highly aggressive playing style so lauded in the manga.
Despite Japan’s 1-0 loss in the following match against Costa Rica, the Blue Lock Project couldn’t be stopped. Just four days later, the Japanese were able to beat Spain, a team even more heavily favored than Germany. Japan were given one to eight odds of winning, making fans nervous that the Blue Lock Project was just a hoax. Though their fears looked like they would come to fruition as Spain led by one at the end of the first half, Japan’s two goals scored in the 48th and 51st minute put them ahead, allowing the team to seize yet another victory. The triumph over Spain solidified the fanfare surrounding the team as the internet leaned more and more into the idea of the “real-life Blue Lock Project.”
Though Japan was ultimately knocked out of the World Cup in their match against Croatia, the hype and novelty of seeing a professional team decked out in gear from a fan-favorite manga will stick around for a while. Who knows? Maybe in 2026, the players will return with an addition to their roster: a striker, claiming to be “the world's greatest egotist”. As of now, however, only time can tell.