|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="">3>
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- Very fun, but too over the top to recommend to anyone who doesn't already love Prince of Tennis or other school sports anime.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.