Sports And Modern Visual Culture

I am probably not considered a serious sports fan, and I am definitely not a sports anime fan. However I probably watch more sports than the average person who watch as much anime as I do, today. The usual things I interact with in this context are things like, I have to care about Linsaity. I have to try to score tickets when Chien-Ming Wang pitches in Citi Field later this year, or even just hoping Kuroda keeps his spot on the Yanks roster so I have a shot catching one of his games. I often tune in to SportsCenter. I have a few sports blogs that I follow. I also try to take the folks out to a day at the ballpark once a year, as I have done in a ritualistic, annual-tradition kind of way; this usually takes some divine intervention to line up everyone’s schedule in order to catch a game I really want to see.

And that is a common snapshot as to how sports is in America (at least in this part of America). I mean for people who grew up throwing pigskins, or running up and down the stadium (to your seat or to your position on the field), or from baseline to net, or arguing about being offside, or whatever that is you do, it’s in our DNA. Or at least for some of us. To me, I find this being the biggest gap between what passes for sports manga and anime and what passes for sports in America.

I know Japan produces their own cult and crowd and their top tier international athletes and teams. I have great interests in seeing Yu Darvish pitch this year (another possible game to catch). But when I watch Adachi’s Cross Game I feel nothing like this at all. Don’t take me wrong, I feel something–just something entirely different. Something that has nothing to do with sports.

And it’s not really anything of a surprise and I am saying nothing new. Sports is about us–each of us individually; it’s personal. For example, I follow and identify with Jeremy Lin not only because of my heritage, not only because he plays for the local team (and having to fight the crowd he draws on my daily commutes), and definitely not because every Chinese person I know, here and around the globe, seems to know who this scrubby ABC kid is. Well, all of that, and much more. It’s gotten to the point where I can see him being the embodiment of the spirit of people like him–Chinese American boys who grew up with those typical Asian-American, stereotyped environs, living the only way they know how. And often that is via them hoops and a smooth motion to the rim, picking apart the D from the perimeter and some timely field goals to keep them close. He is who I am, in a way.

[It’s totally surreal talking to my folks about how Melo is a ball hog (this was a couple weeks ago). Or what they call him in China.]

When I crack open the pages of my favorite sports manga (Ookiku Furikabutte by the way) all I see is a bunch of adorable kids trying to play ball the best way they can, bringing with them who they are, the issues they face, the lives that they’re living. But that’s not me–that’s some Japanese high schoolers. Granted I can probably relate to that too, but that is one culture too many thousands of miles away from this one. Moreover, it has little to do with the way in which I associate with the sport of baseball. It’s hard to cheer for the not-home team; rather it’s much easier to cheer for a bunch of shipped crybabies, or an indomitable, can-do spirit. I can relate to the average Japanese high schooler more on what anime or game they enjoy than anything about sports, or the whole rigmarole of a Japanese sports club in a school setting, or even what drives them to excel in those sports beyond what defines human achievements universally. But it’s no fun when I have to resort to the lowest common denominator!

(In Oofuri, I also see an extreme amount of respect–perhaps only the Japanese is capable of this much respect–towards the sport itself. That is why it’s my favorite sports anime/manga/thing.)

And I think that remains the biggest reason, I am going to guess, why sports anime and sports manga will continue to fail in the US. It has nothing to do with how there are sports geeks (news flash: there are geeks in every category of everything, since time immortal). It has everything to do with the way we live and identify ourselves. (I also think this is why Slam Dunk is probably the most popular sports anime/manga franchise internationally, for good reasons.) As much as human beings can always empathize these widely appealing, dramatic postures in the greatest sports stories in anime and manga, I can appreciate them only as just a human being, not as a sports fanatic. In some way I think I relate to Space Bro’s reference to Zidane’s headbutt than anything from any other sports anime sports thing, ever.

I’ve only gave you my example, but different people identify with different sports and athletes differently, so you should ask them (or read about them in Tom’s well-linked list) to get some more examples. Everyone’s got his or her story; I’m just not sure how anime or manga fit in there (even if it can).

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