Art by Yusuke Murata, helmets by the Eagles Japanese comic has a Birds touch.

Posted: January 29, 2006

So you think you've heard every bizarre Eagles story this season? Wrap your helmet around this: A comic book in Japan, which has sold more than nine million copies, is partially inspired by the Eagles.

Eyeshield 21, illustrated in Japanese manga-style, features a high school kid who plays a somewhat fantastical version of American football. Sena Kobayakawa is a wimpy boy who, after a lifetime of running away from bullies, turns out to have blazing speed and awesome moves. He joins his school team, the Demon Bats, anonymously, known only by his uniform No. 21 and the eyeshield on his helmet.

Along the way, he is tormented by team captain Hiruma and helped by gigantic center Kurita, "who inexplicably has a head shaped like a chestnut," according to the comic.

An ongoing series of Eyeshield 21 comic books is being translated and brought to the United States by San Francisco publisher Viz Media, which has an interview with the comic's creators in the current issue of Shonen Jump magazine, its monthly anthology of Japanese manga. Writer Riichiro Inagaki says Marshall Faulk inspired the Sena character. Artist Yusuke Murata says the helmets of the team in the comic are inspired by the Eagles.

NFL teams play an annual American Bowl game in Toyko, and the league sponsors NFL flag-football tournaments in Japanese schools, but there's no major-league football in Japan.

Shonen Jump, sold on more eclectic U.S. newsstands, will feature an episode from Eyeshield 21 in its June issue. Andy Nakatani, an American editor for the translations, says the comic isn't as far-out as some popular manga, such as Yu-gi-Oh! and Shaman King, that feature monsters and magic. Sure, occasionally a player will pull out a machine gun and open fire, or a vicious dog will chase players doing the 40-yard dash. But that's only in fantasy sequences.

"Things happen but they don't really happen," Nakatani explains. "It kind of sits between reality and the unreal world."

Yep, sounds like the 2005 Eagles.

Contact staff writer Don Steinberg at 215-493-6256 or dsteinberg@phillynews.com.

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