Japan’s most popular symbol of the beautiful game continues with his newfound love of gambling.

Since its launch in 1981, the Captain Tsubasa manga/anime franchise has been synonymous with soccer. The story follows protagonist Tsubasa Ozora from his days as a soccer-loving elementary school student all the way to becoming a star at the highest levels of professional and Olympic play, and several pro soccer players in Japan have said that there were inspired by the series in their youth.

But recently, Captain Tsubasa has become a symbol of something else: gambling. Two months ago, fans across Japan scratched their heads as the earnest, clean-living Tsubasa became the latest anime character to endorse pachinko, and now he’s back to promote another way to try to earn money without working.

The Japan Derby, Japan’s most prestigious horse race, is coming up on May 27, and Tsubasa has made it known that his earnest wish is for people to attend, watch, or bet on the race. To deliver this message, there’s a free-to-play mobile game, found here, titled Hissatsu Shoot Derby, in which Tsubasa and his pals ride horses and you bet on who will win (wagering golden soccer balls bearing the logo of the Japan Racing Association).

There’s also a five-part manga mini-series (which is free to read online here), in which Tsubasa, while training overseas, meets another soccer player who tells him “If you learn about horse racing, you’ll become a better soccer player.” Tsubasa takes the advice to heart, rushing back to Japan and telling his teammates they have to learn about horse racing too, before collapsing from exhaustion after staying up all night reading about past Japan Derby results.

▼ Tsubasa, sprawled out at the top right of the panel.

Following Tsubasa’s instructions, an assistant gathers materials explaining how to read racing forms and place bets, and, through a convoluted series of events, this helps Tsubasa’s struggling team win an important match against a team whose lineup includes the very same player who suggested Tsubasa learn about horse racing. He’s not even upset, smiling after the game and saying “Thank you, Tsubasa. We lost, but I’m still glad I told you about horse racing, because horse racing is something we can all enjoy together.”

If that seems like an odd thing for a pro soccer player to say, things get even weirder when Tsubasa is asked to address the crowd following his team’s victory, and makes it clear that he doesn’t see soccer as the superior sport, enthusiastically telling everyone in the stadium “Horse racing is just as fun as soccer! On May 27, head to the Japan Derby with your friends!”

It’s a surprising philosophy from Japan’s most popular fictional footballer, but we suppose as far as vices go, it’s not quite as bad as the ones some other children’s characters have.

Source: Captain Tsubasa Debry via Golden Times
Top image: Captain Tsubasa Derby
Insert images: Captain Tsubasa Derby (1, 2, 3)