Fans were expected to flock this weekend to meet one of Japan’s greatest soccer heroes, half a world away from the action in Brazil.
Captain Tsubasa, a fictional cartoon character, is getting his own exhibition in the capital as his real-life colleagues prepare to take on Ivory Coast in their opening game at the World Cup.
But his creator said it feels like the line-drawn character is taking the pitch for real because of his similarity to Japan and Manchester United superstar forward Shinji Kagawa.
“They both play the same position, and they are both great at passing,” Yoichi Takahashi said. “Both are quite short, but they have technique and speed.
“I think, yes, he is finally taking part in the World Cup.”
The Captain Tsubasa strip was launched in a weekly magazine for boys in 1981, when football was still a minority sport in baseball-hooked Japan.
Over the years, Captain Tsubasa — whose name means “Captain Wings” — became a professional player in Brazil and moved to Barcelona. His fortunes rose alongside those of the game in Japan, where the J. League was launched in 1993. The national team reached the last 16 during the 2010 World Cup.
The series has appeared around the world in cartoon books, animated films and video games, read and watched avidly also by the likes of Lionel Messi of Barcelona and Argentina and Fernando Torres of Chelsea and Spain on their way to superstar status.
It is entitled “Holly e Benji” in Italy, “Campeones: Oliver y Benji” in Spain and “Super Campeones” in Latin America. North American viewers know him as “Flash Kicker.”
A 52-part animated series on the character began airing in Iraq in 2006 and was dubbed into Arabic. In that part of the world, the star is known as Captain Majed.
The exhibition in Tokyo, which runs until July 6, includes animated films and a series of drawings, including one done specially for the World Cup in Brazil.