Ashita e Kick-off (Japanese title: 明日へキックオフ) was originally serialized in Weekly Shonen King magazine way back in August 2nd 1976 (Issue 35 of that year) – October 3rd 1977 (Issue 44 of that year) and later collected into a single volume which was then published on May 1st, 1977 by Hit Comics. Ashita e Kick Off was written by Asaki Takamori (under the pen name of Ikki Kajiwara) and illustrated by Toshio Maeda when he was merely 23 years old. Takamori was a highly respected manga writer at the time with titles like “Kyojin no Hoshi” and “Ashita no Joe” already under his belt so Ashita e Kick Off was also destined to become a sports manga – this time focusing on American Football. To this day, Ashita e Kick Off is one of the only works in Maeda’s career that doesn’t feature any sex scenes whatsoever.
The story is set in an idyllic coastal town in Yokohama. On top of a hill overlooking the bay, lies an upper class private school called Hakuyō High. The students of Hakuyō High School are rich kids from very affluent families who don’t seem to have a care in the world as they go about their everyday school lives. At the bottom of the hill however, lies a junior high school. This rundown public school is called Isoshita Junior High and is home to many of the town’s delinquents. No thanks to it’s geographical location, Isoshita Junior High is almost perpetually in the shade due to being overshadowed by Hakuyō High and the hill itself. Not only is Isoshita Junior High unable to enjoy much sunlight but it also has no view of the sea either. Though the students of either school are hardly to blame for the topography of the town, the polar opposites in atmosphere between the two schools has instilled a huge amount of resentment among the students of Isoshita to the point where picking fights with the rich kids of Hakuyō is an almost daily occurrence.
Enter Tetsuya Hikage. Hikage is the leader of a bunch of ragtag delinquents who like to pass the time by causing trouble around school. Hikage’s gang however, likes nothing more than picking on the Hakuyō students that pass through on their way to and from school. On the last school day before the summer break, Hikage once again picks on a bunch of Hakuyō kids after school. The Captains of the Hakuyō Boxing and Judo clubs rush to their fellow student’s aid but even their fighting prowess isn’t enough to take down Hikage. Just as the Isoshita gang begin to gloat in their victory, the Hakuyō American Football team arrive on the scene. Hikage’s most loyal friend, Tatsukuma “Acne Gorilla” Ushiyama, throws his size and weight into the fray by challenging one of the football players head on. In mere seconds, the football player sends Ushiyama flying from a powerful tackle. The entire team follows his lead and Hikage’s gang are beaten senseless with Hikage himself being literally trampled on by the entire team and their cocky captain, Jōji Kozuki. Looking back over his shoulder with a smug grin, Kozuki tells Hikage that it’s a fools errand to engage in pointless fisticuffs and that if he wants to get revenge like a man, he should take his rage and lay it on the line in a football match. The Hakuyō team march off as they leave Hikage laying in the dirt feeling humiliated after suffering his first ever defeat.
Once Hikage calms down, Kozuki’s words of provocation run endlessly through his mind. He decides to accept his challenge and, with the help of Ushiyama, vows to create Isoshita’s first ever American Football team and beat Hakuyō at their own game. By the end of the day they gather enough members and resolve to spend their entire summer vacation learning the rules of the game and training. The next day, they pool all their pocket change together and manage to scrape up enough cash to buy an American football. As they leave the store with their new ball, Kozuki rolls up in a fancy car with a beautiful young lady called Mizue Shiratori who claims to be the manager of Hakuyō’s football team. Like Kozuki, she too is incredibly rich and buys several balls and kits in front of Hikage and his team. The following day Mizue drops by Isoshita Junior High and watches Hikage and his team train. Noticing that everybody is just scrapping, she realizes that they don’t really understand the rules of the game so she invites them over to her penthouse to watch a real NFL game for learning purposes. Having grasped the fundamentals from watching the video, Hikage and his team go to leave the penthouse when Mizue attempts to give them all helmets and kits as a gift. Hikage, refusing to swallow his pride and accept gifts from the “enemy”, declares that his team will buy their own equipment and storms out.
Hikage and his team are hopelessly broke so they all take up part-time jobs to raise enough funds for their equipment. After a couple of weeks, they only raise enough cash to buy one full kit. Unbeknown to them, Mizue donates an entire team’s worth of kit to the store with the express wish that the owner doesn’t say where the kits came from and that he sells the entire lot to Hikage’s team for whatever they can afford. Delighted at their luck, Hikage and his team are finally kitted out and ready to continue their training. During the first week back at school, Hikage announces that they are to play their first game against neighboring Minato Junior High. When match day comes around, the entire population of Isoshita gathers at the game to cheer on Hikage and his men. Despite starting strongly and taking the lead after the first two quarters, Minato Junior High wise up to the fact that Isoshita are effectively a one man team, and proceed to heavily mark Hikage. With the team unable to use their star player, they are unable to turn the tide against Minato Junior High and eventually lose the game in pathetic fashion. With the team utterly deflated the volume closes with a single image of Hikage with his fist clenched and tears rolling down his cheeks and the words “To be continued” at the foot of the page.
…..But it never was.
Actually, this isn’t exactly true. Ashita e Kick-off ran until October 3rd 1977 (Issue 44) but the chapters collected for Volume 1 of the manga only went up to October 18th 1976 (Issue 46 of the same year) meaning that only the first 2 months of the serialization were ever collected into book form. This is staggering when you consider that the story continued for an entire year beyond the cliffhanger presented to us at the end of volume 1. For some reason however, the publishers decided against collecting the remaining chapters and releasing subsequent volumes meaning that the manga was destined to be carved into the annals of manga history as “unfinished”. One can only hope that somebody, somewhere, has every issue of Weekly Shonen King from that year stored away in their attic because that’s the only way we’ll ever see what happened next. In fact, I’m quite sure that even Toshio Maeda himself can’t remember what happened as it’s so long ago now!
Due to it’s age and limited print run, “Ashita e Kick-off” is now an extremely difficult book to track down. The only chance anybody has of reading this lost gem is by checking Japanese auction sites regularly with all fingers and toes crossed and even then you’re gonna be waiting a long time. Who knows, maybe someday it’ll get reprinted or translated but I wouldn’t hold your breath…