Outside World: Captain Tsubasa

The Premier League might have started this weekend, but this piece’s subject only has football as a mere theme. It’s a world away from real football, even in its origins as an anime, and certainly as a game which it would get released in. It’s Captain Tsubasa, and I have quite a lot to owe to it…

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Captain Tsubasa is centered around its titular character, Tsubasa Ozora. Like most things in Japan, it was originally a manga which then got made into an anime series, the original weighing in at 128 episodes long. There have been plenty of sequels since, and films, the latest being Captain Tsubasa: Road to 2002, which was firstly a cut-down remake of the original series, and then its own series. In total there have been 4 films, 14 OVAs and 227 TV episodes. The original manga and its own various sequels have sold over 70 million copies in Japan. It’s been broadcast over much of Asia, South America and Europe. It’s inspired and influenced some of today’s top players to play football, as well as the film Shaolin SoccerThere’s even statues of its most legendary characters in Katsushika, home of the anime’s creator.

And, of course, the success of the series has brought with it several video game adaptations. They’ve been many and varied over the years but the most prominent, the original and the best were Tecmo’s games. They ended up making seven of them, numbers 1 through 5 plus instalments for the Game Boy and Mega CD. They aren’t football games as you know them. They’re more like RPGs which happen to have the rules of football apply to them. But it’s not just mundane football stuff they do. The moves some characters off are flashy and mostly implausible, although Hull City seemed to crack the Twin Overhead Kick in their opening game so maybe they’re not completely impossible.

But yes. All your players run off Guts to make moves and their own stats to move down the pitch. Their own special moves cost Guts to make – the more Guts, the stronger a move is, but you can run out of Guts as well. The AI has no such limitations with Guts, however… It’s tough to figure out at first, but if you put in the time you’ll know what you’re doing soon enough. Certainly I can put in a good shift with these games myself now.

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Captain Tsubasa 1, for the NES, was the rawest, and the first, although I actually discovered it first as its Americanized version, with different characters filling in for the Tsubasa characters, as Tecmo Cup Soccer Game. Tecmo already had a foothold in the US with games like Tecmo Super Bowl so they went and made it like that as well. But it was originally a Captain Tsubasa game, and it mimicked the original series, whereby you face the national high school championship as Tsubasa’s Nankatsu team, before taking all the best players you faced into the World Youth tournament with Japan, against other nations. Its final match, Japan v Germany, is still a tough nut to crack. Difficulty is something Captain Tsubasa games really get right. It knows exactly how to swing between easy and brutal.

Nothing proved that as well as the most famous entry to the series, Captain Tsubasa 2 for the NES. This had a compelling story, and a largely original one too, although it mimicked Tsubasa’s move to Brazil and Sao Paulo very well, as well as the final match against Brazil. That was another hugely difficult match, but perhaps most difficult of all was playing as Sao Paulo (basically just Tsubasa) against the full Japan team, minus Tsubasa and SGGK Wakabayashi. That might still be the hardest match in a Captain Tsubasa game. But the game itself was just terrific. It introduced great characters, great special moves, the story was magnificent, and it all just felt so right. It’s the one most people remember.

Captain Tsubasa 3 moved the series to the SNES, and it was very much more of the same. It only introduced one new character of note, but it got you more involved with other characters, who had moved abroad themselves (you got to play as Misaki Taro’s Nankatsu in CT2, with all the Japanese team still playing in their national championship). And you get to go with Japan straight away, facing plenty of fun games right up to the final with Germany, another one of the hardest matches in Captain Tsubasa. Karl Heinz Schneider and Deuter Muller do not mess around in that game.

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The deepest, perhaps most involving game in the series was Captain Tsubasa 4, which brought 4 split scenarios into the mix and a massive number of matches, plus a great deal of characters to play as in All-Star Mode – first conceived in CT3. Many of those characters were all new, too, but somehow the game never quite achieved the charm of CT2 or 3 before it. Most pointed to some dodgy art throughout, plus the pace of the game had noticeably slowed over time. Also, the new characters were less notable than the past, and the multiple scenarios didn’t help to alleviate this. Still, if there’s another contender for hardest match in the series, Sao Paulo v Milan from CT4 is it. That match really can feel like men against boys at times.

Captain Tsubasa 5 was Tecmo’s last crack at a SNES game, and they reinvented much of the series in doing it. They redid the gameplay up massively, albeit keeping most of the original concepts. Now, rather than having just one player on screen at a time, you got a whole field where everything happened. However, many of the characters from the previous three games were gone, with only the Japanese characters and the most notable opponents still around. This time though, the new characters were much better off, both story-wise and in terms of the game itself. And the massive shake-up to the gameplay paid great dividends. CT5 is easily the most action-packed game in the series, and at times it can be mad, mental, and mind-boggling, often all at the same time. Captain Tsubasa 5 is always great to have one bash on, and as well as the main story being plenty of fun and a nice challenge in itself, you also got to play in scenarios with other prominent characters. Some of those scenarios packed even more challenging games than the norm.

The other two games they made were, for the Game Boy, Captain Tsubasa VS, which was as limited as you might expect from a Game Boy game, but still not bad for its standards, given that it was based off Captain Tsubasa 2. And then there was the Mega CD version, which was an absolute gift for the purists. In the CD game, you play all the way as Nankatsu, right from the start of the series’ story up to the final match with Hyuga’s Toho (no, not the Toho you’re thinking of). It was much like old-school Tsubasa with one player at a time, but the movement was much more accurate than the one-bit at a time movements in the main Tsubasa series. The guts were still present if toned down a bit, and it’s a thoroughly enjoyable game in any case. Also, for the Genesis came another Americanized version of Captain Tsubasa, Tecmo Cup Football Game, although this was its own exclusive game, bearing only the same gameplay and elements as Captain Tsubasa, and no relation to it nor the aforementioned Tecmo Cup Soccer Game.

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After that, several other companies had a crack at more Captain Tsubasa games – but the gameplay has been noticeably different since. Bandai tried one with Captain Tsubasa J for the SNES, based on the titular series that was going on at the time, but despite having good music the gameplay wasn’t up to scratch. But much later on they also had a rather better crack at it on the PS2, another notably different game, based on the story of the original series from the national high school tournament onwards. That wasn’t half bad, actually, even if it was far too easy. The last real attempt at a Tsubasa game came from Konami, with their New Kick Off title for the DS. It tried to fuse all three of the first four Tsubasa games, Captain Tsubasa 5 and Captain Tsubasa PS2 together (the story was the same as Tsubasa PS2, plus other character’s storylines), and it all ended up being a little messy in the end, to be honest.

Obviously, Captain Tsubasa was never short of characters in any case. I’ve never had a proper favourite, but from each of the games there have been some proper legends. Series-wide greats include as the likes of Tsubasa, Hyuga, Misaki, Misugi, Matsuyama and Ishizaki, Wakabayashi, Wakashimazu, Schneider, Pierre, Diaz, Carlos Santana, Artur Coimbra, Muller, Gertize, Hernandez…and more came yet. Fanberg from CT4 and 5 was highly memorable, as was KAZU from the same game – based off real-life footballer Kazuyoshi Miura. And Captain Tsubasa 5 brought in a few more for the end of the Tecmo era, most notably Alxion and Siniori.

And for the entire era, music has forever been a strong point. Some themes have become recurring ones over time, with Toho’s theme showing up in CT1, 2 and 4. All of the games have their great themes, even CTJ with its wide and varied selection, a great achievement given how few games you actually play in its story.

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But that’s not all. You might know the rather jokey rule that Touhou has a crossover with everything. Of course, it doesn’t really – I know plenty of series it hasn’t crossed over with yet. But you’d think that sport would be a difficult one to pull off…not so, and Captain Tsubasa was the beneficiary of it. The first I actually heard of the crossover was when I saw ‘Touhou Soccer’ remixes, on YouTube, of the music. However, as I mentioned, Hyuga’s high school team is called Toho. So I just thought it was a reference to that. But somehow, four years later, by complete accident, I came across a video of the actual game, Touhou Soccer. When I saw it was based off Captain Tsubasa, and saw the characters playing out the match, I laughed my arse off. I’d watched enough anime by now, including Tsubasa’s anime itself, to appreciate the humour of madly dressed up ‘anime’ girls playing football, and pulling off moves that were implausible by Captain Tsubasa’s standards, and impossible by real life’s standards. I mean, I doubt you’d get away with pulling off Mima’s Twilight Spark at the Britannia Stadium.

I got hooked and, while I didn’t care about any of the characters at the time, natural curiosity eventually led me to find out just who some of them were. And…well, four years later, here I am with a Touhou-based blog. And it’s all Captain Tsubasa’s fault.*

As I was already in the know on Captain Tsubasa, I picked up Touhou Soccer instantly. And, sure enough, I went and wrote a comprehensive guide on it, done originally for Redditaisai 2016. I highly implore you give it a try some day, despite it being nearly a decade old now. Even if you don’t play one of the games it’s based on, hopefully it’ll make you understand some of what I’m on about in this piece. After playing it, Rinnosuke will never be the same again. And, if there are any prospective programmers wanting to make a new Touhou Soccer, with characters actually from after PoFV…I’m your man.

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Captain Tsubasa is a series I’ve been into for quite some time now, and I thoroughly enjoy it. Quite apart from it kicking into my natural love of football, I highly enjoy the characters and what they do to a normal game of football, and the games are always so much fun to sit down and play, even now. It’s a magnificent series, and maybe if the games had got out of Japan, everyone else would know about them too. Also, it’s probably the actual reason I have this blog.

My favourite Captain Tsubasa music

 

*Actually there are more things that by proxy got me into Touhou via Captain Tsubasa, but let’s not go too deep here.

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