In the novel Reaper Manthe late, great Terry Pratchett remarked that “Five exclamation marks [are] the sure sign of an insane mind.” While Futsal Boys!!!!! isn’t alone in its enthusiasm for its own title, it also isn’t up to the task of living up to it, either in terms of sports-related lunacy or its love of its subject matter – the series is clearly modeling itself after other, more successful sports titles and making that fact just a little too obvious as it strives to capture its audience and makes more than a few missteps along the way.
The most obvious influence on the series would appear to be volleyball series Haikyu!!. That’s not just because it’s about an underdog team playing a ball sport, but rather because the character dynamics are set up to mimic those which were so successful in Haikyu!!. We have the incredibly excited newcomer, Haru, to fill the Hinata role, grumpy egotistical former star player Sakaki as Kageyama, a bouncy duo, a stoic(ish) captain, and even a third-year player who spends most of the games on the bench so that the perky, talented first years can play. While these character types certainly aren’t unique to Haikyu!!that series is among the most recent to make them a roaring success, and the fact that they’re all so easily recognizable in Futsal Boys!!!!! isn’t a great sign – especially since the series doesn’t give itself the time to develop them into characters beyond their tropes and as a result lacks any real sense of tension or urgency.
Mostly this is an issue of allocation. With only twelve episodes, the series is mostly invested in coming to a conclusion where we’ve seen the Koyo team improve but unwilling to spend the time to make us care that they’ve become better players. It isn’t enough to harp on Sakaki’s unwillingness to pass the ball to anyone; we need to understand why this is an issue long before we do, and the same could be said of most of the team. Captain Toi’s preferred group dynamic isn’t even mentioned before the final episode, and Taiga’s anxiety issues are barely covered before they’re once again shoved into the background. Likewise the fact that Haru was studying break dancing (and was really pretty good at it) is barely incorporated into the story, despite the fact that in the first game we see him play he whips out a move that helps him to score a goal. While that one specific move does come back every so often, it’s still underutilized, as is his apparently very transferrable skill in general. Why bother to give him that piece of background if it’s not going to be used on the regular, especially if it’s established early on that using it isn’t cheating? Similarly, the issue of Haru’s father being a futsal star is barely touched on, which is perhaps the oddest of all of the series’ omissions. Shouldn’t the other players find this more interesting or significant? Granted, “Yamato” isn’t exactly a unique last name, but it’s still strikingly odd that his past gets barely any screentime.
What does get most of the series’ attention is the vast number of pretty high school boys with oddball uniforms. Koyo plays against several teams in official matches, one of which has a truly unfortunate uniform that combines pastel pink with white tiger stripes (even worse when we consider that most of the Adelbert Gakuen boys have pastel hair), and we meet at least two others , one while at a training camp and the other in passing. The former is made up entirely of professional entertainers and seems to serve very little purpose besides making sure that “hot idols” is ticked off the checklist of “stuff that appeals to girls,” while the latter is the premier high school team in our heroes ‘ region. In fact, their star player is the guy whose moves inspired Haru, but a couple of low-key meetings and a failed grudge match between the two of them doesn’t quite merit their presence in the story, which could have moved along with Yamato’s idol remaining an off-screen aspiration. That, at least, would have kept their “escaped from a marching band” school uniforms from assaulting our eyes.
This brings us to the series’ main fault: it feels very much as if it’s just going down a list of things that have done well in shows with male casts that appeal to female viewers in the past without actually realizing what made those shows work. In my own experience, what is primarily appealing about shows like Haikyu!! or IDOLiSH7 is not the fact that they’re populated with pretty boys, but the character development and interactions. They could just as easily star garden slugs and be as good, because the ways that the various players evolve as characters is the draw. The team format simply allows for those interactions and developments to happen, and simply being a collection of attractive characters isn’t enough to move things along. While Futsal Boys!!!!! does make a token effort in that direction, specifically with the Taiga/Ryu friendship and the Haru/Sakaki rivalry, it doesn’t spend the time to make them stand out in the otherwise crowded series. Yes, it’s fun to see them play a game and win, but that’s not enough to carry an entire story, and just throwing in bits and pieces that have worked in other titles isn’t going to make this one particularly memorable.
It’s a shame, because futsal (a soccer/football variant developed in Uruguay) isn’t a sport that gets a lot of anime airtime and there are elements of this series that are appealing. It also isn’t helped by the fact that the art often has perspective issues and that post-action shots are often just a frame or two too long. The voice acting is also fine, although I feel as if there are more effort noises than are typical; possibly this is because the music is a bit underwhelming, making them stand out more. This just isn’t as good a story as it could have been, bogged down by trying to throw in too many elements of other, more successful shows and not spending the time to develop any one of them. If you’re desperate for a sports show that incorporates futsal, well, maybe check out DAYS instead. Otherwise, this will do in a pinch.