Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Sports Anime: The Favorites, the Blahs, and What Defines Them

Time for a master post about my favorite anime genre! I already wrote about how sports anime first earned my favor, so I won't repeat myself. You can check out old posts on the topic if you want. This post will deal with current favorites, as well as those that are, well, blah, and how I tend to judge them. If you haven't tried any good sports anime, I hope you'll check out a few of the titles I mention in this post.

New Prince of Tennis fits under blah, but boy, it was good to see
Echizen and the rest again. And he looks good in more modern
visuals (from ep. 1).

Obviously, not all sports anime are created equal. After watching about 15 of them (including currently airing titles), I know what I look for in sports anime. Some, like Kuroko's Basketball, win my favor through decent character development, great suspense, and smooth animation. Others, like Area no Kishi, fall flat. Still, I've become just enough of a fan girl to welcome all new sports anime into my watching list, with only a few qualifications:

1. It must not be ecchi or otherwise distractingly offensive. Thus, Wanna be the Strongest in the World never made it near my watching list. I'm pretty sure the creators of that show were more concerned with anatomy than pro wrestling, anyway.

2. If it's a sequel series, and the earlier seasons aren't legally available online, I probably won't watch it. Sorry, Haijime no Ippo Rising.

3. It must be available on one of my preferred viewing sites. My entertainment budget is small: Crunchyroll subscription + the occasional book/movie/etc. And anime isn't the only thing on my birthday list.

4. If sports only take a small role in the anime, it must win my attention through other avenues. Suzuka, for example, got my attention a few years ago because of the track element, but lost my attention after a few episodes. I can't remember much about it, except that it was only available dubbed on Hulu.

5. I trust my fellow Anime-Planet users. If they only give an anime 1-2 stars on average, I probably won't try it--even if it's a sports anime.

Once a sports anime gets on my watching list, it won't easily get kicked off. For example, Area no Kishi, or Knight in the Area, continues to sit on the list, over two years after it started airing. I still have four more episodes to go. At an average rate of one episode a month, I should be done by the end of summer. The only character I care for at all in the show is the main one, Kakeru. It's not his fault that I've lost interest in his story or that some of his friends annoy me. Unfortunately, my affection for Kakeru comes mostly from my sense of duty.

When I don't care much about the characters in a sports anime, we have a serious problem. Even one very good character can save a show from hitting the bottom of my list. Dear Boys, for example, has Aikawa. For those of you who don't know, Aikawa is a little like Kuroko in size and personality, but with more presence on the court (and much less presence in my heart). Aikawa makes me smile as I remember his show, which otherwise bored me.

So, what makes a sports anime good? I've started a list of traits shared by anime I enjoy.

1. As already mentioned, good character development is vital. Usually, as in The Prince of Tennis and Kuroko's Basketball, many of the main character's teammates and opponents are as fully developed as he is. In fact, I almost know more about some of Kuroko's friends than I do about him. But, sometimes, as in Initial D, one character is enough to gain my love.

2. Similarly, the characters must play off each other well. Imagine Ace of the Diamond (Daiya no Ace) without the catchers, Miyuki and Kris, prodding the pitchers into shape. It wouldn't be nearly the show we've come to love.

3. Animation is key. Yes, I realize this applies to any animated production. But the way basketball players move in Kuroko's Basketball enchants me. I love watching how Kagami and the rest handle the ball with flowing agility and elegance. Same goes for the newer anime, Haikyuu!!, which comes from the same studio. Even if I didn't care about the characters, I'd enjoy watching them play.

As a side note, I've enjoyed Ping Pong: The Animation this season, even though it's rather ugly at first glance. The animation is very different than anything else I'm watching... but I like some of the angles and action sequences anyway.

4. I enjoy good pacing and edge-of-my-seat suspense. When shows get this part right, I'm worked up like a football fan during Superbowl. When shows get it wrong, I imagine it's like when your favorite football team is have a really lackluster, bad game. For example, New Prince of Tennis tried to capitalize on the character development from the first 170 or so episodes. But this new, 13 episode series fell completely flat in the pacing and suspense department. An important match was squished into a single episode. If I didn't already love the characters, I'm not sure I'd have enjoyed it at all.

These anime got it right:
From Kuroko's Basketball 2, episode 21. Kuroko continues to
prove that you shouldn't underestimate the scrawny kids, and
Production I.G. reminds me why it's the only studio on my A-P
<3 far.="" list="" so="" td="">

Kuroko's Basketball
- My Superbowl analogy applies five times over with this one. See my February post about it for an example. I can't wait for another season to air. I think we'll finally get to see Kuroko's old captain in action. He kinda scares me, more than a dude with pink hair should.

Ace of the Diamond
- Eijun, an earnest young pitcher, has contagious passion, and he's fun to watch with the pitchers. But I also like the honor paid to his sempai, both by him and by the creators. The upperclassmen on the team have admirable solidarity, and I'm glad we get to see that.

Giant Killing
- This one is about adults, and they definitely won't let the young'uns from other anime beat them with their passion... okay, yeah, it's time for me to re-watch this. It's been a very long time since I saw it. Looks like I haven't used this for a Rewind post yet, so I'll harvest screenshots when I start this up again.

Big Windup
- This one isn't fresh in my memory, but I'm still confident recommending it, and I wish the second season was online. Maybe I'll give in and buy it.

Prince of Tennis
- This introduced me to sports anime. It might be over-the-top for some people, but the characters and matches really are fun... and, again, it introduced me to the genre, which puts it just barely below Naruto in sentimental value.

Currently airing jewels (these haven't aired a full season yet, so are counted separately):

The volleyball captain informs Hinata and Kageyama that
they can't participate in the club until the can act like
teammates (ep. 2).
- From Production I.G., the same studio that brought us Kuroko's Basketball, we have an anime about... volleyball. Hey, that's something different. And very fun. The animation is as wonderful to watch as that in KuroBas. The characters delight me, especially Hinata Shouyou. He's cute. He could compete with my dog for cuteness, and since I'm very biased toward my pup, that's saying something. But he's also an interesting young player -- singleminded, trusting, and usually confident, although his nerves can get in the way. I like his dynamics with Kageyama.

Baby Steps
- Not as lovely to look at as Haikyuu!!, but it's the first good tennis anime to cross my radar since The Prince of Tennis. The main character, Eijun, has an analytical approach to tennis, a lot like Inui from PoT. But, unlike Inui, Eijun is a newbie at the beginning of the show. Also, his eyes got all sparkly in episode 7, and Inui was never innocent enough for the sparkly-eye thing.

Tsukimoto's friend, "Peco," playing in the first ep. I don't like
him, but his character fits well with the anime's style and themes.
Ping Pong: The Animation
- This is the oddball on my watching list. It's different in almost every way, starting with the visual style. Then there's the sport... who'd have thought you could make an interesting anime about
ping pong? The characters are different, too. Tsukimoto (aka Smile), never smiles. He lacks aspiration, even though he's an amazing ping pong player. The supporting cast is a bit off-klter, too. This anime will never be my favorite, but I enjoy its uniqueness. 

I enjoyed these, but they're not high on my recommendation list:
Cross Game
- I don't remember this one well enough to recommend it too highly, but it was very good. I enjoyed it even before I made a habit of watching tear-jerkers. Guess that means I'd like it even more now.

Eyeshield 21
- Very fun, but too over the top to recommend to anyone who doesn't already love Prince of Tennis or other school sports anime.

Initial D
- Okay, so I loved this, although I still haven't seen Fifth Stage (come on, Crunchyroll! Funimation! Somebody, please make this available!) But the animation isn't exactly pretty, and I guess it's not super fresh in my memory.

Bamboo Blade
- I don't remember this one very well. But I liked it, and it's about girls. No other sports anime on my list can make that second claim, although I recall girls playing a fairly large role (without being exploited for ridiculous fan service) in Cross Game.

This one is gaining more favor:
- I'm not a hug fan of Yowapeda (Yowamushi Pedal), but it's gaining on me. You'd think that I'd like it better, since it's a racing anime, and I loved Initial D. But it just hasn't clicked with me the same way. Still, it's earned its way out of the last list.

Meh and Blah:
Dear Boys 
- A bit boring, but decent. I enjoyed some of the episodes, especially near the end. But I felt that the negatives outweighed the positives, as I explained when I first finished it.

Area no Kishi
- Too much drama, too much annoying "comedy," and too much of that opening theme music stuck in my head. On the positive side, interesting moves and game play occasionally appear between beach episodes (I'm exaggerating, of course -- the majority of episodes aren't on the beach. They must make room for festival and hot springs episodes... okay, still a slight exaggeration). Yes, I plan to finish this. I'm too stubborn for my own good.


There are still some great sports anime I'd like to see, including the long-running baseball anime Major. Fifteen shows (and several hundred episodes) don't make me a genre expert... they just make me a bit of a fan.

Stay tuned for more in-depth posts about sports anime. I have a couple ideas that may appear throughout coming weeks. And comment if I didn't mention one of your favorite sports anime - especially if it's available somewhere like Crunchyroll or Hulu, so I can watch it. If it's not, maybe you can make a good enough case to move a DVD set to the top of my birthday list. Maybe.


  1. The best sports anime I've watched so far was Cross Game. It is actually the only series that had more than 26 episodes that was interesting enough to made me want to continue watching.

    No other sports anime I've seen starts the way Cross Game did. And while interestingly it was the only G rated anime I've watched, and I still remember the announcement not to sit too close to a TV screen in a well lit room that the episode always started with indicating it's rating, it was surprisingly mature while dealing with theme of loss, hell it was more mature than most of the R rated anime I've seen till now and the characters were very realistic. I also enjoyed how realistically the sport was presented, which I can't say about a lot of anime coming out now.

    But considering that Haikyuu!! will probably sell very well I have to wonder what kind of sports anime they will do next. We already have Ping pong, volleyball, sumo and tennis this season. I for one would love a ski jumping and hockey anime for the winter season. Get on it Production I.G

    I've watched most of the anime from this season and have to say that they only anime I've found interesting were: One week friends and Mekakucity Actors, I also wonder how many shows would be left if I removed all the mecha, ecchi and moe shows.

    Have you checked out the summer anime schedule? Is there any anime you're waiting for?

    1. Yup, it's definitely time for me to watch Cross Game again. I agree on the maturity of it, and I know I'm in a better place to appreciate it now than I was just a few years ago.

      Ski jumping and hockey anime... those would both be cool! Even though I love sports anime, I'm not a huge sports person, so most of what I know about football and tennis comes from anime. I'd love to learn more about skiing and hockey, too. And if Production I.G. did it... I can see the beautiful jumps now. ^_^

      I haven't tried One Week Friends yet, though I intend to, but Mekakucity Actors has been good from the episode or two I've seen. Between sports anime and long running commitments like Naruto, my viewing schedule gets full quickly. (Plus, I have to watch all the interesting anime I didn't have time for during the school year!)

      I haven't checked out the summer anime yet. I would check them out now, but I have to get offline as soon as I post this. So, instead of me doing the research myself... are you looking forward to any anime this summer? Is there something I should keep my eye out for?

  2. To be honest... I'm not sure. I don't really pick any specific shows from the season chart, I usually just watch 2 episodes of every anime and then I stick with what I find to be interesting unless it's made by studio Shaft cause I adore their style but they aren't making any full anime series next season. I have however a few anime I definitely plan to fully watch:

    Sword Art Online II, even despite the huge flaws that first season had, it was very entertaining for me although the second half completely ruined the show as I thought Aincrad was wonderful setting. Although my hopes for second season are very low.

    One anime I'm pretty sure I'll like is Glasslip from P.A. Works. The character designs are pretty similar to Nagi no Asukara and it's gonna be a slice of life probably the likes of Tari Tari, True Tears and Nagi no Asukara. It's about a girl whose dream is to become a glass artisan and that sounds very interesting as I can't wait to find out more about that art form. Also hoping for a beautiful animation and soundtrack as most of P.A. Works slice of life shows usually tend not to disappoint in that regard.

    Aldnoah Zero seems to have an amazing staff. From Kalafina and Yuki Kajiura performing the theme song and composers from Guilty Crown and Shingeki no Kyojin that had amazing soundtrack. Also writer from Madoka Magica which makes me want to check it out even more. The only problem I have is that it's mecha but I hope it won't disappoint.

    Ao Haru Ride from production I.G. sounds like a cute romance series like Sukitte Ii na Yo or Kimi ni Todoke, also manga is rated very high.
    Also I'm very happy that there are a lot of good looking mystery horror/thriller anime as I love those and this season didn't really have any.
    And there's also the new Sailor Moon anime. I haven't seen any of the old Sailor Moon but I've heard so much good stuff about it.

    Speaking of sports anime the summer season seems to be lacking those as the only one I see on the chart is second season of Free but I'll be skipping this since I haven't seen the first season.
    I think the only things that would get me very excited would be the announcement of a third season of Spice and Wolf or the anime based on my favourite manga 'Girl Friends' but that will probably never happen.

    Is there some manga you've red that you wished was made into anime or is there maybe a second season of something you'll very much like to see?

    And aside from that what anime do you think had the best OST? Do you have your favorite composer/singer?
    (sorry for my bad English, hope you understood :) )

    1. There's more SAO coming? I didn't realize that. I wasn't a huge fan of the first series, but I plan to rewatch some of it anyway. A lot of people loved that show, and it's hard to talk with them about it when I only remember the bad parts. :)

      Glassip sounds interesting; it's probably one that I'll debate trying after seeing what other people think. Same with Ao Haru Ride.

      I loved the music in both Guilty Crown and Shingeki no Kyojin! That's definitely a good enough reason to try it out.

      I'll look into the mystery horror/thriller anime as they come; I loved Another back in 2012.

      I think the old Sailor Moon anime is on Hulu now, so I should watch a few episodes. I'd like to know what everyone is talking about. Then, I can consider the new one.

      No sports anime besides Free? Guess that it's a perfect time to re-watch Cross Game, then. I haven't seen the first season of Free, either. I may give it another try, but it's lower on my priority list.

      I'm looking forward to a third season of Kuroko's Basketball (of course) and Chihayafuru. And I really want more Servant x Service. Beyond that, nothing comes immediately to mind.

      Confession: I'm terrible at keeping track of soundtracks, singers, etc. Sometimes, I notice music I really like (ex: Clannad, Guilty Crown, Shingeki no Kyojin, Working!!). But it's really hard for me to remember the details. If I tried, it would take the type of studying I do for school.

      And your English is wonderful! Seriously. Not perfect, but most people don't write "correctly" on the Internet anyway, so I assumed it was your primary language. What's your primary language, if you don't mind me asking?

  3. I hope that SAO II will have less of those worthless filler episodes it had during most of the anime. I seriously thought they would show them trying to pass all 100 floors throughout most of the anime but it seemed to set on Kirito meets a different girl each week type of episodes in the first part before finally continuing with Asuna way too late. While I hated the second part for having much worse premise I thought the pacing was much, much better.

    Good thing you reminded me of Chihayafuru, I really have to finish watching the second season. I loved first one and watched a couple of second but I seemed to have taken a bit too longer brake than I should. I always seem to do this foolish thing of watching a good anime and then waiting before all episodes are out after watching a couple, and then new shows come out and I watch those, and forget about the anime.

    I was actually surprised how realistic it was, I went to watch a real karuta match on youtuve and they really hit those cards that fast, that was pretty amazing.

    And thank you. I'm from Poland, a wonderful European country where we have like 1 official anime release per year... subbed. (usually a studio Ghibli film). Thankfully Crunchyroll started streaming its shows to Poland last year but it's still a small fraction of what they have available in the US which is very sad, but that made me want to learn English even more than before so I could understand all of it subbed. And before I even discovered anime I've watched a lot of american tv shows and played a lot of rpgs that I learned most of my vocabulary from. (cause after elementary school throughout what is the Polish equivalent of college all they taught us was terms we already learned couple years before.)

    But even though it is very hard to obtain anime merchandise here, anime is very popular (although mostly cause of polish illegal streaming sites that get a couple hundred thousands of hits in a month) with dozen of major conventions of few thousand people attending throughout the year and a big cosplay community.

    It irritates me how word 'anime' is highlighted by the English spell checker o my browser. Interestingly it is not highlighted by the Polish one.

    Anyway, it was very nice talking to you, you have a very interesting blog, I'll definitely come back here once in a while.

    1. I've learned that I can't neglect anime too long, because I often won't go back to the neglected show for months or years, if ever. I use Anime-Planet to keep track of what I watch, so I never forget about what I watch. But, unless I plan to watch every new episode of a show, it's best for me not to watch even the first ep until after it's all out.

      I'd wondered if subs added to your English-learning. :) That's one drawback to so much being available in English: I don't have very many reasons to study another language. Thus, I've forgotten a lot of Spanish, and I know I probably won't pursue Japanese, although I've learned a few words.

      I taught my computer that "anime" is a real word, so it doesn't underline it. I think it will enter mainstream dictionaries soon.

      Thank you so much for your comments! I've enjoyed talking with you, too, and I hope to see you come by again... hopefully I'll recognize you, "Anonymous." :)

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