Cartoonist's World Cup draw

If only Captain Tsubasa had been playing … but Hongkongers can still see manga star in action

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 June, 2014, 3:41am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 June, 2014, 3:41am

The soccer manga artist whose work has spilled over into the real world - inspiring players like Spain's Fernando Torres to take up the sport - was in Hong Kong yesterday, bemoaning Japan and South Korea's early exit from the World Cup.

It's been 33 years since Yoichi Takahashi started the Captain Tsubasa series, following its star Tsubasa Ozora from primary school to professional football - he was last seen playing for Barcelona, no less.

During that time, football in Asia has also been on the rise, with its players appearing in top leagues around the world. Japan and South Korea both qualified for this year's World Cup in Brazil - but joined teams like England, Spain and Italy in going out during the initial group stage. Takahashi, however, thinks victory for an Asian country in a future World Cup is not far off.

"A small change can make a big difference in a soccer match," said Takahashi. "Technically they are getting close and have a chance."

Of the remaining teams this year, his bet is on Brazil emerging the ultimate victor, given its home advantage and talent.

The 54-year-old Japanese cartoonist was in the city for an exhibition of his drawings at Hysan Place, Causeway Bay, that runs until Wednesday. Its hard to miss - just look for the five-metre high statues of Tsubasa and other characters.

When he was growing up in Tokyo, baseball was more popular than football. The excitement of watching the 1978 World Cup in Argentina - a year when Iran was the only Asian representative - prompted Takahashi to give the sport a try in the manga world.

"Football is something you play with a lot of freedom and flexibility. There isn't a standard for how you should handle it, and the mere passing of the ball sparks excitement," Takahashi said yesterday.

Takahashi said characters had come and gone during the Captain Tsubasa series and strategies had changed, but the stories always carried the same underlying message. "Fundamentally, it's the same: it is about working hard and making your dream come true," he said.

"It's the same for me - I never think about stopping drawing the manga. I will continue to realise my dream, like Tsubasa."

He said he was happy and honoured that his comics had inspired Japanese and overseas players, like Torres. But it worked both ways, he noted. He had used people and places from the real world of football - including Torres - for inspiration.

That's not to underestimate the role of imagination. When asked about how he thought up players' amazing moves in his manga matches, Takahashi said it was through a combination of shapes and movements. "I always imagine something interesting. Sometimes I get ideas from other sports," he said.