1/11

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It’s like this.

1/11 (1/11 じゅういちぶんのいち, 1/11 Juuichi Bun no Ichi, lit. “1/11 One out of Eleven”) is a manga by Nakamura Takatoshi “about soccer”. It’s a “sports manga” that features many interconnected short stories — one-shots akin to Nickelodeon‘s format but 100% consistent — in which soccer plays anywhere from “no actual part at all” to “a major role” as characters go through major emotional arcs. Sometimes the focus is the chapter’s narrator, sometimes the focus is someone the narrator is observing/close to, and sometimes it’s both. The one absolute constant, to my knowledge, is the presence of “protagonist” Andou Sora. He isn’t the focus of every chapter, sometimes basically just being a bit character, but the series starts with him and is technically about his journey and the lives he encounters going through it. He has no narrative perspective beyond chapter 1, but nonetheless you could call him the protagonist.

This may sound like a weird series, but it’s very easy to understand going through it. I picked it up several years ago while it was first being translated then was remiss as it was dropped since 2013. It was picked up again very recently, so I’ve decided to give it a review. I like this series quite a bit. It’s moving in various ways, exploring quite a few issues people might have in their lives and usually using soccer to get that message across. This isn’t an ordinary sports series by any stretch of the imagination — we don’t often learn about the sport of soccer, we aren’t really given detailed games from start to finish, and there are quite a few chapters that basically aren’t concerned with soccer in the slightest. It works, though, and well. I wouldn’t highly recommend 1/11, but it’s more like I wouldn’t yet highly recommend it. I’ll explain why later.

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The premise is that young Andou dreams of becoming a professional soccer player on the world’s best team. To start, he enters a high school that…doesn’t actually have a soccer club — it’s a school that’s mainly focused on getting kids into university. Still, he isn’t deterred in the slightest and starts recruiting for a soccer club by himself. He achieves this goal soon enough, his new members sometimes being the focus of a chapter. In chapter 4, we learn that Andou achieves a major part of his dream, becoming a professional soccer player. Yep, just like that. The chapter previous and the chapter itself are not about Andou and his becoming a pro player, we just know that one day he will. 1/11 is told mostly out of chronological order, freely examining anywhere from the time when Andou was a high schooler to his days as a pro. Anywhere in-between, we get tales of other characters.

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This is somewhat where the title comes into play. 1/11 refers to the idea that any player on a soccer team is one out of eleven other players. The title refers to both the individual and the whole, so it’s basically like saying this manga is about a lot of different people coming together — which it is! Pictured above is one such person: Kanzaki Masaomi. Kanzaki is the main character of chapter 4, which happens to be my favorite chapter of the series so far. At the point in time this chapter takes place, Andou is a newcomer to a professional team — Kanzaki’s team. Kanzaki, on the other hand, is an ooold player. He’s been on the team for ten years, but he’s not like some wise and experienced figure to Andou. In fact, he hasn’t played a single professional game in his entire career. He’s a solid “second” goalkeeper, and through various circumstances he’s never become a starting player. Since Goalkeepers almost never need to be subbed out (it’s a “low risk of injury” position), he’s always been on the bench.

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This chapter is about his first chance to play as a starting member. It’s sudden and unexpected, but Kanzaki’s no slouch: he’s been waiting for this. His wife and son are at the game, watching and cheering him on (or at least, his wife is — his son is a strange kid), and he’s not about to disappoint. This game is intense, and its aftermath is heartening.

Of course, I won’t tell you what happens, but I’ll try to explain why I love this chapter. For one thing, this is the first chapter to harshly break away from what seemed to be the format of the series, suddenly jumping forward in time several years and revealing to the reader that Andou will basically achieve his dream some day. This sets us up to know the series will be unrestrained by time and thus we’ll be seeing many different kinds of stories (not just stories about school kids and their problems). Furthermore, this gives an interesting sense of fullness. Knowing Andou is definitely going to do what he set out to do makes him more convincing in any other chapter where he firmly and confidently declares his dream.

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The protagonist of the chapter is also a big surprise. Kanzaki is nearly 30-years-old: he’s a full-blown adult. Adults have adult problems which are rather different from the problems kids will have, and we do get into that with Kanzaki. For example, Kanzaki was recruited onto a professional team when he was young and his wife was pregnant, and although he was a good goalkeeper, he had to consider whether or not he was good enough for the pro leagues such that it would make sense from a practical standpoint  Would this be a good idea, given he had a child on the way? Was it financially viable? That kind of thing — something kids don’t have to think about when asked “will you play soccer?”

Then, there’s the pressure and stress he had of being a professional player but not living up to his family’s expectations because he never got put on the field. Whether or not he’s a good husband, whether or not he’s a good father, stuff like that weighs on his mind and affects his decisions. Also, ultimately, his chapter is more about what his family means to him than the sport of soccer, making it clear that even when this series is in the pro leagues it will still be more character-focused than sports-focused. And fuck, man, it really makes me wanna cry! It’s such a good chapter!

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Not even kidding, this is the face I’m making while thinking about Kanzaki’s chapter.

Let’s talk about tears.

The goals of each 1/11 chapter seem to be twofold, for the most part: one goal is to make you feel good, possibly rethink some things, and want to do better in your life/reach for your dreams; the other is to make you cry. In the first goal, it is almost entirely consistent in its resounding success — I forgot how motivating this series was. It really reinvigorates me and makes me realize that I can pull through and do what I want to do, even if it takes some effort — even if I need a helping hand. The series really does focus on so many different topics it makes you realize that despite how rough life can be, there is often hope in it. In that respect, I want to highly recommend the series, however

The crying! I worry about it! This series has ended at 9 volumes, and each volume contains about 3 chapters. Every single chapter so far has focused on someone entirely new and different. Naturally, we see old characters often (especially Andou), but those old characters have had their stories told and don’t really get any more focus beyond that. So, for every single chapter, it’s on the author to endear you to a new character, have their story told, and make you empathize or sympathize enough to make you want to cry. What I worry about is whether the author can do that. I’ve read 3 volumes of the series, one third of it, and it’s almost all great (some of it’s just good or not so good), so here I am thinking it’s not super likely that the author can write all good stories in this series. The likelihood is that the crying will get old, or you’ll detect a pattern and things will lose the brunt of their effect. Given the range of subject matter in the series (from playing soccer and what that means, to how songs affect you, to old flames, to family, to connecting with new step parents, and so on), this negative result is less likely, but on the other hand even within the first three volumes you can detect a kind of formula. We are introduced to a character, we get their problem, Andou shows up (to either be a major figure of support or…just to be there), over time their problem is resolved, (usually) a page is drawn that focuses on someone crying.

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Let me be absolutely clear: I am not admonishing this at all, and even though I can recognize a regular flow of events I have still found almost all the chapters I’ve read of 1/11 to be effective — very effective (my favorites being 4, 9, and 3). My judgement on it right now is that everyone should give it a read, because it’s really goddamn good, but my judgement could change based on later chapters. If Nakamura-sensei managed to mostly write good stories and bring it all together in a nice finish, then I’ll definitely highly recommend it. For now, I’m watching for more chapter translations. Tentatively, I’ll put the series in the “highly recommended” category.

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With that, I believe I’ve said almost all that needs to be said when recommending this series. One last thing, I guess, is the art. Clothes, bodies, environments and so on are pretty much all drawn with solid competency. Faces, however, range from “bad” to “fine”. Nakamura-sensei sometimes draws some, in my opinion, very poor faces, or draws faces very similarly. Thankfully, where it counts (for emotional, crying faces), he gets it quite right. All in all, I almost feel like commenting on the art is unnecessary, but I’ve gone and done it anyway. In the heat of soccer action, it usually looks cool and clear to understand, too.

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1/11 can be purchased through Bookwalker (guide), CDJapan, honto (guide), or ebookjapan. The first 9 chapters were translated by a group that dropped it, but I’m of course nonetheless thankful to them for picking it up in the first place. Recently, the series was picked up by another group who you can help out by checking out this recruitment page. I am thankful to them, too, of course! They’re looking for translators, it seems. On that note, 1/11 is naturally simple to read as a shounen manga series with helpful furigana, so you can pretty easily read it raw at a relatively low level of Japanese language skill. Whether the series loses its spark or not, I still think you should give at least the first three volumes a look.

Thanks for reading this review! Next time, I’ll be reviewing either something really rather lewd, or something not really lewd at all. Let’s see how that turns out.

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