What Blue Lock's Ego Gets Right
Do you know those wholesome anime where it’s not about victory but the friendships made along the way? Yeah - this isn’t that. When I first got Blue Lock the manga in my Manga Spice Cafe sub box, I thought I was in for another encouraging and wholesome sports manga like Whistle! But - this is a far cry from that.
Blue Lock happens when you combine a battle royale with soccer and the results, while not deadly, are just as cutthroat.
To make matters that much worse, the themes of this manga and its new anime feel antithetical to anything possibly Christian. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to make this connection. But then I realized that if we shift the focus just a smidge, this illustrates something incredible about who Jesus is, was, and is to be.
So what could a story about being the best striker around have to do with Jesus from Nazareth? Let’s talk about it.
Welcome to Checkpoint Church - where nerds, geeks, and gamers come together to talk about faith, games, and placing 299 out of 300. I’m your Nerd Pastor Nate. If you like these weekly deep-dives, be sure to sub and hit that bell to find out when our next one drops.
Matthew 16:13-19 (NRSVue)
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist but others Elijah and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
So, what is Blue Lock?
Japanese manga series written by Muneyuki Kaneshiro and illustrated by Yusuke Nomura. An anime television series adaptation by Eight Bit premiered in October 2022.
But beyond what it is literally, it’s a BONKERS story.
There will be spoilers for the show's plot, but you won’t get much spoiled without actually watching the best bits go down on the show itself.
We start with the news that Japan came in 16th at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. As a reaction, the team administrators use an unorthodox method of scouting a striker who will take them above and beyond.
They hire this guy (Ego)
Now, he may look like the turtley-est member of the turtle club, but his specialty is quite different. Appropriately named Ego Jinpachi, he believes that the only thing that will set a striker up as a winner is just that - the winning part. If the striker doesn’t want to win more than play as a team, be a good person, and follow the rules, then they will never be worth anything.
This bizarre modus operandi leads to Blue Lock, but more on that in a second.
We next get to meet Yoichi Isagi - Isagi is an up-and-coming all-star who just can’t seem to find the right team or flow. He will most certainly fade into mediocrity, being passed from one less-than-stellar team to another.
That is until he gets a letter that he has been invited to Blue Lock.
When he arrives, he is surrounded by 300 of the other best high school soccer stars in a vast auditorium. It is here that Ego informs the 300 of the plan - they will enter a cutthroat zero-sum tournament. Only the #1 player at the end of Blue Lock will be declared the winner, and that winner will play as the lead striker the following year for Japan.
The remaining 299? Well, they will all be permanently banned from being considered for the team.
The stakes couldn’t be much higher professionally - 1 will have their career made drastically earlier than they could have dreamed, and 299 will have their dreams forever ripped away.
After a moment's hesitation from some of the 300, Ego manages to rouse them into a state animalistic competition, and all 300 grab their jerseys and enter the halls of Blue Lock - the state-of-the-art training facility that will house them for the remaining of the process.
They are all partnered up into standard soccer teams, where they will then participate in a series of scrimmages, challenges, and eccentric training exercises to work their way up the food chain to the #1 slot.
Our MC Isagi gets assigned to Team Z. His number is 299… out of 300. Second to last. It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock n roll.
This show is worth your time, and - if even one part of that description interests you, I encourage you to check it out. I’ve been reading the manga since it began the translation, and these characters are compelling, the betrayals are brutal, and the hill that Isagi strives to climb is impossibly steep.
But why is it at all relevant to the place of a sermon?
This is the second week in a row I’ve had some nervousness putting the themes of the topic into any words of the Bible. I mean, it’s the Bible! It couldn’t be much more explicit about the sin of pride. Humility practically eeks out of the pages.
Well, maybe that’s true. But maybe not. We aren’t called to be prideful of ourselves but are indeed called to boast about someone.
And that brings us to our passage for today.
We have a conversation between Jesus and the apostles. He’s a bit into his ministry, and word has gotten out about him.
So Jesus asks, “what’s the word? What is the rumor mill churning about me?”
Some disciples say, “Well, some say you’re John the Baptist.”
And then some say, “Well, there are others who say, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”
Jesus then turns to them as a group and asks, “Okay. Okay. That’s a start. But who do YOU say that I am?”
Scripture doesn’t tell us this, but I like to imagine a hush falling over the group. The disciples answer the question incorrectly plenty. They get confused about Jesus’ role constantly. The air is tense.
Suddenly, Simon Peter has a go at it.
“Well, Jesus, You are the Messiah! You’re the very Son of the living God.”
I imagine Jesus as a hugger, so I feel he embraces Peter and then grasps his shoulder, “Simon, Son of Jonah - you get it! But not because of your brain; it’s because the spirit within you revealed this truth. And you, Peter, will be the church's rock, and you will seal the gates from the fire of Hades. You will get keys to the kingdom.”
What’s happening here? Why is this such a big deal?
Jesus has essential work to do during his brief time living as flesh and blood amongst humanity. He has come to get things done. And he is taking this time to help these disciples get the big picture. He is teaching the disciples about the law, and the prophets are all about it. He is instructing them to go and do likewise, to be perfect as my father in heaven and I are perfect.
And over and over again, they fall short in their humanity. They argue over who will sit on Jesus’ left or right. They ask Jesus question after question, which shows they don’t get what they’re working towards. After all, Thomas would doubt until after Jesus had done the thing and showed the scars. They didn’t get it.
But here’s Peter - and he gets the correct answer, but maybe not all of it. He doesn’t get what the role of the Messiah requires, but he’s at least on the right track. He has his eyes affixed to Jesus and knows what they are working towards.
The more time I’ve been able to spend considering the position of the world’s greatest egoist, Ego Jinpachi, the more I’ve realized that I might agree with where this story is headed.
I’m not sure I agree with the extreme measures by any means. I’m no fan of corporal strategies in general. I shower both my children in incentives like I’m the Santa Claus of the day.
But, of course, the truth behind his methodology is that it probably will create the perfect striker because it will be the one who has been so focused on the goal that they have overcome 299 of the best of the best.
Ultimately, that eliminates any doubt from their psyche - the exact problem that our golden boy Isagi has run into. He doesn’t have the confidence to believe in the goal that deeply. To know his role on the team and that role is the one who scores. Not the teammate or supporter - the one who wins the game.
In that way, Ego is training these soccer stars towards a self-definition: he’s forcing them to sit face-to-face with their doubts and shouting in their ears: who do you say you are!?
His means are questionable, but Ego is forcing them toward what it takes to discover the self within the self. He intends to do what takes a lifetime before the next world cup.
The disciples could have used this kind of fast-forward button. They spent three years witnessing the works of Jesus and still didn’t have it click. Even Peter, the one blessed here, denies Christ three times in fear before his crucifixion.
The disciples were working towards the truth but couldn’t commit to acknowledging the self within the self of Jesus. He wasn’t just a leader, prophet, or forebearer - he was THE Christ.
So what does any of this mean for us today? How can we apply these doubtful feelings and halfway understandings to our Christian lives?
Well, a great place to start is answering Jesus’ question for yourself - who do you say that Jesus is? You aren't quite there if he’s just a great guy. You haven’t gotten the weight of the scenario. Your eye isn’t on the prize.
As you watch through Blue Lock, consider how Isagi develops in ways like and unlike Christ - are his teammates following him better than the disciples following Jesus? Better than you’re following Jesus?
What if humbling ourselves means lifting Jesus so high that he becomes the star player on our team? How can we exemplify and raise the loving, welcoming embrace of Jesus rather than ourselves?
Pride in one’s self isn’t a good thing. It precedes the fall and all that. But Jesus is worth finding pride in. Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is the Son of the Living God. Jesus did come, did die, did rise again. Jesus is the savior, redeemer, and everything we could hope for.
The Body of Christ is what we’re called to, but none of us are called to be Jesus - it’s all for something greater than ourselves. Consider how we might just be one big soccer team passing every shot we can toward Jesus, the striker sealing up that match-winning goal.
If you’re still trying to figure out how to find where Jesus even is before making the pass, that’s what we’re doing each and every day at Checkpoint. We’re tackling hard questions like these through these nerdy sermons and discussions.
So, whether you’re an up-and-comer (Isagi) or named Ego, know that you’re always welcome here at Checkpoint Church.
God loves you.
We love you.