There have been countless sports anime over the years but BLUE LOCK may be the first in decades to break a time-honed formula. Most of the anime in this genre fit a similar pattern; a main character with some sort of special quality grows together with a team, moving through a variety of tournaments and training arcs toward competitive success. The central themes are almost always selflessness, sportsmanship, teamwork, and everything we expect from the quintessential true athlete. BLUE LOCK immediately tosses all of that aside and focuses on themes that, admittedly, are probably closer to a lot of players’ hearts: egoism, becoming the absolute best, dominating the competition, and being unquestionably strong.
If anything, the anime’s protagonist and core characters are often more like typical anime villains. The series focuses on a special program from the Japanese Football Association that pits three hundred high school strikers against one another to produce the ultimate striker. Those who are knocked out of the program are banned from ever playing for Japan — and within the very first episode, multiple characters who fit the ideal described above have their dreams mercilessly shattered by our core character group. At Anime NYC, we got the chance to speak with Kazuki Ura, who voices protagonist Yoichi Isagi, and Ryoya Arisawa, the show’s producer, about the work to make this anime so uniquely spectacular.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Creating BLUE LOCK
Q: BLUE LOCK is super unique among sports anime, especially in pursuing themes of egoism and self-centeredness as opposed to just playing for a team. How did you work to capture that feeling in the anime’s appearance and vocal sounds?
Ura: Dealing with ego is rather unique in anime so I had to delve into the character more and make it different from other anime. Even just the sound of my voice; with other anime, the typical voice is a made-up, cute one and needs to sound good. With BLUE LOCK, I stopped worrying about sounding good and really dove into the character so that I could feel what they were going through and that gets reflected in my voice.
Arisawa: Anime takes a whole team to make, so we were united in that way. But I think it’s also a way to express yourself as a person. I think it’s a way to bring everyone’s feelings together. We had the same goal: to be the best. We weren’t shy about saying it. We told each other that we were going to make the best anime we could. In that way, I think it’s rare for other anime to be that explicit about it, to be so concerned about winning. That was the unique thing about making this series.
Q: How much did the two of you turn to real-life soccer players to work through episodes and how you might choose to talk?
Ura: I watched a lot of players play. If you don’t understand the movement—what they’re going through bodily—then you can’t express the voice of the player. The manga author explained who each play is modeled after, so I would pick those players and watch their performance and their play in the game so that I could get information from that.
Arisawa: In making anime, we use motion capture to capture the actual movement of the soccer player, but the animation staff also watch famous soccer plays as a reference. The creative team went to the stadium at the actual game to see how that played out, especially the atmosphere of the stadium when the audience gets excited and hyped up and loud about it. It’s a soccer game even without the audience there, but I’m still aware of the excitement. We wanted to capture those moments and reflect that in animation.
I’m picturing the creative team at a soccer game with everyone else cheering, and the team just with notepads, scribbling down notes.
Both: It was exactly like that
Character and Kinship
What was your favorite scene to perform as Isagi?
Ura: I would have to say the first episode when Isagi cries on the riverside. He loses the game and he cries, but because he loses, he is able to have a strong desire to want to win. Looking back, I feel that in my life, I experienced a series of losses, losing, in terms of my career and my life. I was able to relate to him in that way. Myself and the character linked up in that moment.
Do you feel any kind of strong kinship with any particular character in BLUE LOCK? (Besides Isagi)
Ura: I would have to say Okuhito Iemon. He’s very Japanese-like. He can’t say no when he gets asked, and I can relate to that.
He’s very kind and generous, almost to the point that he’s kind of weak-willed. I feel like I am a little bit that way, so I relate to him a lot.
Arisawa: In terms of kinship, the relatability, I would have to say Anri. She’s the producer of Blue Lock and she started the whole thing. She got Ego into the project and in between the director and the sponsors she’s trying to make everything happen. She’s doing exactly what I do for the series. She’s so young, so I kind of relate to her.
Onward to BLUE LOCK Season 2
Are you looking forward to anything in particular for BLUE LOCK Season 2?
Ura: In the second season, Isagi gets to play against stronger foes—more and more of them so that’s something to look forward to. Speaking as a voice actor, I get to play with veteran voice actors. There’s not much I can divulge at the moment, but that’s something to look forward to.
Arisawa: We have lots of new characters coming out to look forward to. But in terms of the arc, it has been about how Isagi gets stronger with his training—more about introversive growth. With the second season, it’s about proving to the world how strong he’s become. And very similarly for the series itself; the visual element of it is improving and for us it’s like showing the world how amazing the series is, so there’s a similarity there.
We’d like to thank both Kazuki Ura and Ryoya Arisawa for taking the time to speak to us about such a fantastic series. A movie for the series, called BLUE LOCK – EPISODE Nagi, is set to premiere on April 19, 2024, and a second season was announced earlier this year. Until then, we’ll have to stay excited for more BLUE LOCK.
© Muneyuki Kaneshiro, Yusuke Nomura, Kodansha/”Blue Lock” Production Committee