Is this the era of the sports anime? Without doing the research, it really feels like it, more so than at any other point in recent history, and what’s more, most of it’s really quite good! I’ve already written about Ping Pong the Animation, but in short, I love(d) it. Then again, I always knew I would, but Haikyuu!! was a different case. In the past year alone, I’ve watched Ping Pong the Animation, Hajime no Ippo: Rising, Yowamushi Pedal and Kuroko’s Basketball (both seasons,) so you could say that I’m primed for a sports anime burn out. I keep waiting for a show to push me into that abyss and thought that Haikyuu!! would be the one, but spoiler: it wasn’t. Haikyuu!! is really flipping good.
Her hand bloodied and blistered, she bandages it up, ties it to her racket and keeps going. Giving up isn’t an option. This is her moment! Her chance! Her dream! This is Aim for the Ace!.
Hiromi Oka has spent her youth idolising Reika Ryūzaki, known otherwise as the beautiful Madame Butterfly (Ochōfujin,) a formidable, undefeated tennis player. But Hiromi has trained hard for this match, sacrificed her love, even, to reach this point, and now she’s here, a little bit of blood and pain isn’t like to stop her.
This is a show about football (out of respect to Bateszi I’ll avoid using the word soccer…). The featured team, East Tokyo United (ETU), is dysfunctional. ETU’s fans are running away, the team keeps losing managers and players and worst of all, they just can’t win. At this point in the summary, anyone who has watched a feel-good sports movie knows the premise: a team of misfits need to come together and miraculously win the J-League!
Something about the transience of adolescence never fails to inspire. More often than not we wake up, 20, fully grown, and confused as to how we got there. For this reason, mangaka like Kamio Youko are a particularly rare breed. Time and time again, she manages to lushly recreate both the frame of mind and the emotional state of adolescence for her readers. Matsuri Special, her latest manga in a successful career is no exception.
When writing about Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, I noted that I think it’s great because it has moments of exciting, fluid animation. I realise that’s a fairly superficial thing to say, but I think it’s true, too, and now, as if to immediately contradict myself, I’m going to write about Cross Game.
This doesn’t have great animation, but it’s probably going to be one of my favourite series of 2009, because a delightful story is always delightful, regardless of medium, and because I’m really into these characters. This has nothing to do with being swept up by some soapy drama or romance or whatever, rather, I like it because it’s understated.
Cross Game is a quiet series, so quiet you can hear the wind breezing through fallen leaves and hear the snow crunching underfoot. At its centre is Kou and Aoba; there is no blurting out of their feelings or forced confessions of love, everything remains unsaid, unrealised, with just a moment of hesitation here and a shy glance there.
Their feelings are protected, hidden even from themselves. They have a determination about them, yet seem introspective; they remember things, tiny, stupid, important, vital things, like we all do, before clamming up again. It’s sweet to watch them blunder through uncomfortable situations, but reassuring, too. I think we’ve all been there, spent a lot of time observing people and watched as the days draw into night. Life can be so understated, and such is Cross Game, it’s so quiet.
I wasn’t aware Mitsuru Adachi (mangaka) even existed until the spring season of this very year, but all that changed after I’d seen the first two episodes of Cross Game. I realised I’d missed out on a lot of great anime of his and, to fill the gap in-between episodes of Cross Game, I started watching Touch too.
It’s a bit weird following both these series at the same time. At first, I was having trouble telling them apart. Despite the near 25 years separating their broadcasts, they are so similar. Both revolve around high school baseball, both place a stronger emphasis on emotion than action and both are noted for the tragedies that change the lives of their main characters.
You may scoff at the formulaic concept of sports drama, may think that you can ignore anime like this because you’re not into boxing, but I’ll retort by suggesting that that is a lazy way of thinking. Like every great sports anime, Hajime no Ippo is fuelled by great characters. It is overflowing with feeling. Please don’t ignore it.
Last weekend, I caught a screening ofThe Wrestler and it was as great as everyone has been saying, particularly Mickey Rourke, who, in the words of my friend, contributes a “massively gutted” performance. However, I’ve always enjoyed sports drama.
And the keyword here is drama; skill, relationships, tragedy, emotion and glory. The sports element may as well be random; just pick any one from wrestling, table-tennis, baseball or boxing, it’s not as though I know anything about these sports in the first place, and it’s not as though I have to, either.
Because sports drama is all about people – watching them rise to glory or, as in Rourke‘s case, sink in to obscurity. These hardy souls are battling with themselves as much as against their opponents; they are infatuated with pipe-dreams, always striving for success and clinging to every last shred of hope.
This brings me to Hajime no Ippo (also known as ‘Fighting Spirit‘). The new season is finally underway in Japan, resurrected after 7 years in anime purgatory. It is the story of Ippo Makunouchi; a young, hopeful boxer working his way up through the ranks of Japan’s obscure boxing scene. On his road to glory, Ippo meets friends and enemies alike, with his nervous smile and kind nature in-tow. Friends like Ichiro Miyata; the person Ippo admires the most.
Miyata is an elegant fighter, the golden boy of Japanese boxing, but forever haunted by the indignity of seeing his champion father destroyed in the ring many years before. He fights as if to prove his father’s doubters wrong, to regain the pride that his family lost all those years ago.
Another of Ippo’s fiercest rivals is Takeshi Sendo, also known as the “Naniwa Tiger.” His never-say-die attitude was influenced by his father’s own, a brave firefighter who died in a blaze trying to rescue others. Sendo’s two matches with Ippo could be described as the best of the first series, both are traumatic and brutal encounters between two men with so much at sake. As much as boxing is a physical sport, these are duels of emotion, with every punch being felt ten-fold by the viewer, if only because we understand just how much victory means to both men.
So, you may scoff at the formulaic concept of sports drama, may think that you can ignore anime like this because you’re not into boxing, but I’ll retort by suggesting that that is a lazy way of thinking. Like every great sports anime, Hajime no Ippo is fuelled by great characters. It is overflowing with feeling. Please don’t ignore it.