Sports Anime Is Really about Character Development

This is the trigger, but I gave this topic a lot of thought over the years.

And it still is kind of the same thing.


The problem about sports anime is that isn’t about sports most of the time. I think it might mean I should give ESPN’s oft-praised 30-for-30 a try, because as they say in American sportscasting, it’s still about telling a story. I think the problem with sports anime is not the stories they tell, but how deeply the sports play a role in the story. How does it integrate thematically? I keep coming back to Cross Games (because it’s the most moving sports anime I probably have watched, and it’s also the only Adachi thing I saw to completion) because it’s a great story that probably has nothing to do with baseball, yet it’s about baseball. It is entirely engaging for me as someone who knows about high school baseball in Japan, but it is totally boring as someone who enjoys following the MLB. In that sense, it’s a story that engages me as a person and as someone who knows about the whole koushien religion but not someone who enjoys watching baseball.

I want to also point out One Outs, a show I dropped about 2 episodes in, because it is ridiculous and honestly I’d rather go sit down and watch that Million Dollar arms movie first. What I want to see is more like, Moneyball. Because one is actually a book about baseball and the other is just gambling. It isn’t to say the cat-and-mouse game depicted in One Outs is not a part of baseball, but it’s characterized in such a way that becomes a very different thing to enjoy; I wouldn’t so much if I didn’t enjoy that gambling aspect. I would say if I was a bigger fan of the sports I might enjoy One Outs on technicalities of how it portrays the sport in such an out-of-box way.

Baseball fans are blessed because Japan loves this sport, so there are probably more baseball manga and anime than most other sports. It’s also easy for me to draw from to make my points because of that. And because Oofuri exists. That is the kind of sports anime I love, because it uses baseball to tell the story, even if ultimately it’s the same human narratives you find in Adachi’s works. It’s just also the same kind of narratives you find on a pre-game show on ESPN. What drives it isn’t the ships or the feelings of the players, but what the sport does to you, how it changes the way you think and see things. This is kind of also why I am sticking with Ace of the Diamond.

Over time I also found an increasing reason to justify why Ro-Kyu-Bu is a great sports anime (as far as sports anime goes–in my opinion very few are any good for fans of sports), and that is precisely why. The story in Ro-Kyu-bu is about a bunch of kids, through their pursuit in basketball, actually learn something about life, and they apply it to their sport. For those people who follow developing pro basketball programs, you know this is actually exactly how it works even at the highest level. And the fact that one of the lolis has a post game just tickles me.

To that point, this is also why I’m not talking about, say, K-ON or Hanayamata (or GaruPan or Love Live or many other similarly formatted stories) in this blog post, because they don’t even enter the picture even if it may be natural to graft on a Go To Koushien trope in the plot for any of those. There needs be some  kind of texture, at least, from the “sports” thing. For me K-ON was actually the closest out of the bunch because it totally channels a form of what music means to people. And because music is such a big topic and experience, it’s hard to box that in the whole sports context. Another one that I see people harp on is Chihayafuru, which feels like a koushien thing through and through and does the sports aspect right, but competitive karuta is as sports as Concentration. It’s about the novelty of the thing, not the thing itself.

And it’s also the distinction between just showing it and explaining it. K-ON is a story that just show you what music is, and what it does to people (eg., not always good!). Oofuri on the flip side is a story that explains everything to you, both directly and through how the story progress, how people relate to each other, and how they develop.

This is actually my biggest critique to GaruPan–by all means it’s a solid sports drama, but it only has one major character development point, which is Miho’s backstory and how she reconciles it with her sister. Seems like a lot of time spent to do very little, at least in that sense.

Also, part of this is just the way how the concept of say, team play and competitiveness, play into character development as showcased through sports. To me that is bull caca in that we’re still telling the same old story told everywhere and does nothing about the sport. If execution is where it counts, then it becomes just a matter of executing the thing on the sports. The catch here is that people come to anime narratives for exactly that–the intercharacter drama, the growth and maturity of individuals, the beauty of friendship, what have you. But who isn’t into this stuff? The sports component is like the moe component, in that it becomes a database element. All too often the sport is merely a subject of respect and not so much a subject of love and passion. It’s not the focus of the story. It’s not thematically thorough.

So yeah, more real sports anime please.

3 Responses to “Sports Anime Is Really about Character Development”

  • Digibro

    Baby Steps is a great series that manages to be very much about the sport (by far the most screen time is dedicated to it being played, and people explaining what’s going on). Actually presents mostly realistic portrayals of the game and characters. Plus lots of character development, all revolving around the game. I’d say it works equally as a “tennis anime” and a “sports anime.” (Proof of concept: ghostlightning is a tennis fanboy and find Baby Steps to be one of the best sports series in anime/manga for this reason.)

    • omo

      I haven’t watched it but that sounds like what I was told by others as well.

      I also avoided completely talking about Ping Pong so…

  • bednorz_

    Go finish One Outs. It’s mind-blowing, you won’t regret it.

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