Not Always a Good “Sport”

sports-anime-review

So, you have been reading me for a while now, and you should know by this point that the genre in anime I detest the most is Giant Fighting Robot. However, the one that is in second place is sports anime.

This is not to say that all sports animes are terrible; I could name two right off the bat that were very interesting, in that I watched them all the way through: “Bamboo Blade” (Kendo) and “The Big Windup” (Baseball), but they went against the grain to tell their stories. (Another is “Suzuka”, but the track and field aspect is a means to an end and not the core of the show). It’s that some of the shows get so involved in presenting the sporting aspect of things, the plot suffers to the nth degree and one loses interest. If I want to watch basketball, I’ll watch basketball, not a basketball anime.

Here is the problem that I have with the approach to the sporting life story, as it falls into the same tropes and traps:

Our hero (or heroine; mustn’t be sexist) is just a-walkin’ down the street, singing “Doo wah diddy, diddy, dum diddy do” and is called upon to use some hidden talent that is reflective of the sport that we are angling towards. Once this ability is now out in the open, they are asked or blackmailed or coerced or driven into joining the particular club or team to really present his talent (or hers; mustn’t be sexist).

Now, this person is a diamond in the rough. They have a mild knowledge on how the sport really operates and they could be either pig-headed or totally naïve, but the can be molded into a force to be reckoned with. There is also a zeal and a drive that hasn’t been seen around these parts since the Carp last won the Japanese World Series (for those keeping score, that’s about 30 years).

However, the third-years on the team could not care half a whit about these newbies. They are so focused on staying on the first string or getting ready to graduate or needing to blast their abs that being a mentor and passing on the skills and knowledge that they have garnered in their years in the sport to those that would follow and maintain the traditions is beneath them. Hell, if the first-years were eaten by wild beasts, they would be more concerned about getting blood stains on their uniforms (soda water works great on that, but you have to get to it fast).

And the coach! No wonder the third-years are buttheads; the coach openly aids and abets in this elitism. He used to be very good at the sport, but some incident (an emotional hurt, a physical hurt, a date with John Hurt) deflected him (or her, mustn’t be sexist) from his path and now s/he coaches in the sport s/he loved. But, s/he, too, is too short-sighted to see what is in front of him/her. Or they feel that a steaming helping of tough love is what is called for. Thump!

So, our champion has to absorb a huge amount of verbal and physical abuse from people who view the tyros as a threat to them playing on the team or perhaps they are sadistic brutes and get off on turning the green peas into puree. Drag that tractor tire around the field one more time, worm!

It’s just that when I try to watch the shows and look at the first episode, I get turned off by the callous attitude. Now, one reason I am giving this rant is that I am currently watching five sport animes (and if I could find one on lacrosse, that’s on the list as well) that all came out at more or less the same time. But these are at least holding my interest, although the baseball one I am seeing is really close to getting tossed out (Ha! Ha!) for those very reasons I have outlined.

The story drives the situations, not the opposite. I want to like all the animes I see. I enjoy character-driven stories, even if it is a goofy set-up from the get-go. It’s just when the originality fades away as the show drags on that the flaws become glaring. Still, sports is a very good starting point for these tales, as you have to really dedicate yourself to be the best, but that doesn’t make it demonstratively different than someone who goes to cram school all the time to get into a great university. Again, it’s the story that drives things.

Now, do expect reviews on all five of the animes I am watching (or four, as I am still considering the baseball one) and, seriously, if anyone does have a good lacrosse one, let me know, eh?

  • http://anirecs.infinityanime.com/ Façade

    Although I usually am in total agreement with your posts, and yes there are some boring/cliche sports anime out there. I’ve found that genre to be goldmine of great anime.

    Personally I hate sports, don’t play em, don’t watch em nor do I follow them at all but.. put it into an anime… and the combination of the slight exaggeration that usually exists when it comes to human ability and the ‘back-plot’ creates a really great piece of work.

    One example would be ‘cross game’ (if you haven’t seen it I really REALLY suggest you give it a look)… While its a baseball anime, it also has a really good story (comparable to AnoHana) and half the time you feel like you’re watching a comedy/romance instead of the sports focused anime that it is.

    You can also try Chihayafuru (karuta, lighthearted and intense at the same time), Kuroko no Basket (basketball – riles you up so much, you would swear you were into basketball), Kenichi Shirahama (martial arts [cliche but i enjoyed the martial arts]) and Hajime no ippo (boxing [cliche as well but the producers did a reallly good job drawing you into each fight])…. (ps. I tried to list them in order of preference but each one is a great piece in its own regard)

    • The Droid

      Ahh……..but I never considered “Kenichi” a sports anime. True, there was a lot of martial arts, but that was done as a means to protect himself from bullies. Would you consider “Dragon Ball Z” a sports anime?

      The thing with sports anime is that there is a sport (football, baseball, boxing) and our hero (or heroine; musn’t be sexist) immerses themselves into it to be better at that sport or for the love of the game. Any one will tell you that Kenichi did not love getting hammered like a tough steak.

      As with everything, it is how it is handled and when the sports reviews come out, you’ll see what I mean. And is there a good lacrosse anime out there?

      • Stratocast83

        Hey just happen to come across your discussion here. I feel we’re your coming from on the sport anime but there are at least two anime you should give a try. One of the is called Major (Baseball) and the other is Eyeshield 21 (football) they’re both really good and while the football one is a little bit cliche, (he has some hidden ability) the story is really good, the characters are memorable, and the creators do a really good job drawing you into the games they are to say the least, nail biting especially towards the end of the series. Give them a shot

        • http://anirecs.infinityanime.com Façade

          I’ve been considering Major…. Think you gave me the last push I needed to finally get on with it

  • Kylar

    I’ve watched my fair share of sport anime (e.g. Cross Game, Major, One Outs, Ookiku Furikabutte, Haikyuu!!). Sport anime depends on many tropes, but I have never seen an anime using those tropes. Usually, it’s about a kid that loves a particular sports but could never play much in middle school for various reasons (e.g., no team, injuries, everyone blames him for losing). The anime focuses on his growth as an uber player and as his team progresses towards championships. Rivalries are created and friendships are made. The senior team members are often good people. The coach is either talented or an inexperienced faculty member. I agree that there is a lot of exposition in sports anime, but I don’t find that it detracts from the experience.

  • The Droid

    “Ace of the Diamond” certainly starts out like that. I would give another example, but since I get turned off my sports anime pretty quickly (they fail the two-show test), I cannot remember the titles. This is not to say they’re aren’t good sports animes out there, as I’ll fling in “Free” into the mix and even something like “Stella Jogakuin Koutou-ka C³-bu” or “Girls und Panzer”, albeit an odd caliber of sports (airguns and tanks, respectively), but you need more than just breaking the game down into second by second action to the point of stultifying boredom.