An absolute whirlwind of a final episode and I enjoyed every second of it! I really can’t believe that this season is officially over, but I’m still holding out hope for a season 2 announcement. Please Production I.G. and all the producers, I’m on my hands and knees. We cannot just end it here, there is still so much of Aoi’s story to tell. 

If you asked me what my favorite part of this episode was, I most certainly do not have an answer for you.  There was so much that happened, I honestly had to keep checking the time stamp to make sure that they didn’t bless us with a 45 minute finale rather than the standard 24 minute episode. They packed so much into this episode, but it didn’t feel like a “Oh snap, uh… we gotta wrap everything up as soon as week can” type ending. The pacing was still consistent with the rest of the anime and still left me excited for more!

There’s a lot to talk about from this episode, so we’ll start back with the Musashino match. I really have enjoyed how much Aoi has grown in just this one match. An hour ago (in match time) they were getting absolutely overrun by Kaneda and the other team, and now they’ve become an unstoppable force because of Aoi’s growth. And it feels even better when we remember where Aoi came from. He was a hot-headed forward who cared about nothing more than scoring. Now, he has the experience as a full-back seeing the rest of the field. He’s learned more about the basics of soccer and is learning that he can still be responsible for a goal without actually being the one to make the shot. He is making use of his team and that just makes them all the more powerful! I love that this match was played against Kaneda because we get to see the fundamental difference between the two. Both initially were forwards who only cared about scoring. They both operated under the “Just give me the ball and I will score” mentality. They have both taken that mindset in different directions. Kaneda is strictly the score getter and he doesn’t do much else beyond that. He is the player that just bulldozes to get the goal, there isn’t as much strategy like Esperion would use. Aoi, on the other hand, has learned to play a large game of chess in his head. He’s taking into account what is happening on the field and using it to his advantage. Sometimes he creates an opportunity for someone else to make the goal, other times the ball gets back to him and he gets the score. The key difference comes down to that vision. Aoi, because he can see so much more of the field and understand what different players want or need (or for the opponent, what they don’t want), he can orchestrate absolutely killer plays. Kaneda on the other hand, because he only ever says “Give me the ball” has a much more limited scope of how to play the game. He’s not considering his teammates, just what is around him and the guy that he distinctly doesn’t like. But that being said! I really did like that Kaneda and Musashino’s captain had a little bit of reflection on this attitude! It definitely gave us a good perspective on how non-Esperion players view going pro!

Ultimately though, Musashino is shaken up, allowing Esperion to take home the most satisfying victory. But even more than that, Togashi, Ohtomo, Kuroda, and Aoi get to move up to the A team! I’m surprised that they are moving up now (although, this is the second time for Kuroda), but I am very proud of all of them! I think it is well-deserved for all of them for what they displayed during this game. My personal favorite part of the promotion was Aoi approaching Coach Nozomi about it though. Nozomi seemed like a very intimidating and scary coach at the beginning – he was also not someone that anyone was looking forward to learning from (mainly because he was not Fukuda or a well known player). Yet, he truly did care about every single one of his players and their development. I’m glad he got the thank you he deserved! He’s a character that grew on me. Perhaps his time in Aoi’s life may be done, but I would love to see his support more in the future. Aoi, make sure you follow his advice and hold on to the A team spot for dear life. 

And ‘lastly’ we have everything that happened with Hana in this episode. Hana is easily my best girl of the series, so I get super excited whenever she shows up! I’m glad that Aoi and her got to have a moment before the season ended because there was some funky stuff going on between them. That being said…. after everything that happened in this episode, there’s probably a lot on the mind for both of them. Aoi’s excitement seems to fully blossom when he is able to tell her about his promotion and he’s able to articulate his joy when she comes to cheer for him. On the flipside, Hana has to come to terms with how she feels about Aoi and the similarities to Fukuda. And then of course… the forehead kiss in the rain. It was cute! And just another reason why I really want another season! I want to know what happens between them! Gah! Please just one more episode !!

For the final episode, I think Ao Ashi really wrapped everything up nicely while still leaving a decent amount of loose ends. Although I want more, I am pleasantly satisfied if this is where they must leave me. The Musashino match ended in a satisfying victory, Aoi is promoted up to A team, and there’s still some things that can happen between him and Hana. It’s a nice place to put a bookmark; a truly great place for a season to end. Hopefully another season will be announced for 2023, but until then I’ll probably pick up the manga because this truly has been a wonderful experience. I’m looking forward to the future!!



Final Impressions:

I took a chance on Ao Ashi and it did not disappoint. I remember watching the first PV and reading the synopsis and thinking to myself “Oh, okay. This is pretty standard and there isn’t a whole lot that stands out”, but it looked pretty polished and I had seen positive reactions from those who read the manga. It had a lot of potential but I didn’t expect much.

The first episode alone just blew me away. I wouldn’t say that it was anything flashy, but the way in which they told the story hooked me from the get-go. They didn’t lay everything out for us at the beginning, but slowly gave us more information as things went on and I loved that it all wasn’t told strictly from the perspective of our main character. Recently, I convinced my roommate to watch the series and it has been such a treat to see how things set up in the first few episodes directly relate back to the final arc. I thoroughly appreciate this deliberate storytelling approach. Nothing is truly a surprise, but they still keep you on your toes. 

Let’s talk about the characters. There are two things that make a series stand out to me and those are: 1) Did I cry? and 2) Do they give the side characters personality and purpose? Ao Ashi actually accomplished both of these things, but let’s back up and start those side characters. It’s abundantly clear that this is Aoi’s story and he is the main character. But what usually bothers me in anime is that side characters only exist for the main character – they are only here for him to grow. And while there are characters who directly impact Aoi’s growth, they all have their own unique personalities, desires, and dreams. As a result, each of them develops over time. Early on in the series Tachibana had very little development. He, like Ohtomo, was just another guy that Aoi met at tryouts. He’s pretty good at soccer and just an all around nice person. But over time, we get to see his weaknesses and struggles as he approaches the Musashino arc. Like Aoi, he struggles on this new team and his skill level compared to everyone else and we get to watch him work through those challenges. Kuroda and Asari started out the series as antagonistic type characters, but as things go one they are fundamental to Aoi’s growth, but they are so much more than just paper thin side characters. They have depth and their own dreams that they want to pursue and they continue growing after they help Aoi learn something new. They aren’t one and dones. I’m fully invested in what happens to them in the future. Togashi aside from teaching the “kill it and kick it” really hasn’t been as closely tied to Aoi as some of the others may be. His path to become pro is much different and even though he is not a main character, we get to learn his history and how he has decided to grow. And it’s not just the characters that make me want to applaud the many characters in this series! Coach Nozomi and Hana were also absolutely standout characters. They don’t need to have all the screen time, but their presence in the show elevated the whole anime. 

And while I can gush about all these secondary characters for a very long time. I do want to talk about the protagonist, Aoi. He’s frustrating!! He’s annoying!! He makes me want to pull my hair out!! But I say all of this with love. There are many characters out there who have incredibly self-important attitudes coupled with main character immunity, but this series truly does work with that. Aoi comes to us at the very beginning declaring himself to be “[Famous Soccer Player] reincarnated! Even though they are still alive” and has an ego that takes up a whole room. And this ego sticks with him for a very long time and is hard to shake. I also don’t think it ever leaves him, but this energy is able to be redirected into just a genuine love for soccer. He’s a character that is actively growing. He messes up a lot. He makes people angry a lot. But he never loses his drive. For myself, I find that main characters that are too self-centered tend to get stuck in that rut of just being fully unlikeable. But Aoi, while frustrating, still makes me want to root for him. I want to root for him so all of these claims can become true. 

Of course you can have fantastic characters that are trapped in a truly bad story. Ao Ashi is not a bad story. It’s so well paced and really knows how to keep you invested. Personally, one of the things about sports anime that can get on my nerves is just how long a single match can take. In some series we get 15 minutes of re-cap + 5 minutes of characters narrating their thoughts which only gives us a couple minutes for the game to actually advance. And in some anime that works really well, in others it just allows things to drag. It’s important for us, as viewers, to get the perspective of the players, but if we are constantly stopping and starting we can lose interest in the game. I like that this anime brings us development both in and out of games. We need to run into Kaneda when going out to dinner, Hana needs to cook a meal for Aoi when he’s at his lowest, and we need a tearful train letter. It makes the world seem so much more rounded and the characters more fleshed out. And the plot keeps moving forward regardless of what is happening. They lose games! Aoi gets the cold shoulder! But things keep moving forward and it’s so nice to experience. Even though this has only been 24 episodes, he truly has come such a long way! I mean, straight from Middle School Selfish Scorer to Esperion Youth A Team Member. Hell yeah! We love growth. 

I absolutely cannot find all the right words that describe how much I enjoyed this series. This series has easily jumped into one of my top sports anime and this is only with one season. I am fully invested and am still holding out hope for another season. This anime is a true treat to watch, and I strongly recommend it to anyone looking for a solid sports anime. It has great rewatch value too! In starting this re-watch with my roommate there are so many things that stand out to me now that I may have overlooked during my initial watch. Please give this anime a chance.

Now comes the hardest part for me… giving a score. At the end of the day I would give Ao Ashi a score of 9/10, which is probably the highest score I’ve given during my time writing for AAB. It was an absolute treat to watch every week and I looked forward to each new episodes. There are still some portions that could always be improved, but this was such a genuine solid sports anime that may be hard to beat in the future. Thank you to everyone who has been following my coverage, I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the future!!


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