Category Archives: Sports

The conflict and goals are based around a sport.

Wave!! Let’s Go Surfing!! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Wave!! Surfing Yappe!!

 

Similar: Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club

Haikyuu!!

Yuri on Ice

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Sports

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Has a corgi

Negatives:

  • Instant pro
  • Overused slow-mo
  • CG surfing
  • Shallow relationships
  • Teaches nothing about surfing

(Request an anime for review here.)

An anime about surfing – I haven’t seen one before, so why not give it a shot?

.

.

.

Well, this was the wrong place to start.

Wave!! Let’s Go Surfing!! is the dullest sports anime I’ve ever seen. It commits almost every narrative sin, though not in that gouge-your-eyes-out manner of the typical bad anime.

The story opens with a flashforward of a surfing competition in progress, introducing us to a half-dozen surfers with the same slow motion shot of each mid-trick atop a wave, and then does nothing with these characters. Is this the worst opening scene of anime? I’d have to go back through the hundreds that I’ve seen to be sure, but it may just be. These characters don’t enter the narrative for a few episodes. You’ll likely forget you’ve seen them before. There’s no story, no personality, and not even a spectacle in this scene thanks to that rubbish slow-mo effect (expect to see it a lot). It’s hard to describe how limp this scene is.

The story proper start when protagonist Masaki goes for a run on the beach at dawn, where he sees Sho, a handsome surfer who mesmerises him with his talent. Masaki suddenly wants to become a surfer.

Let’s pause for another stupefying moment. They establish Masaki runs on the beach regularly, a location popular with surfers, and he never had an interest before? His best friend is a pro surfer, for heaven’s sake, and yet he never showed interest (the friend even points this out). And it’s not as if Sho does something particular to inspire such obsession. This all leads to a weird infatuation on Masaki’s part – very homoerotic, though I’m not sure if intentional. Could be bad characterisation.

Anyway, we move on. So Masaki gets his first surfing lesson from Sho.

Alright, let’s pause again. He instantly succeeds like a pro. I don’t mean he learns in a week. No, he stands up on the board and rides a wave perfectly on his first attempt. I burst out laughing! The writer tries to excuse this by first have Sho and the friend say that it could take months of practice just to stand on the board, never mind surf a wave. Ah, that classic “If I point it out myself, then no one can criticise me for it” move. It only makes this more pathetic because it shows that the writer knew the reality yet chose to bend it beyond belief.

But we move on.

Next thing you know, Masaki the wunderkind of surfing goes out in a storm to catch a wave even though he know it will likely kill him. He does this because…? So he start to drown, but then Sho dives in out of nowhere and rescues him.

Sorry, let’s pause. How is Sho capable of this in what looks like hurricane conditions? The reason for having him specifically come to the rescue is to setup a twist for later, yet it’s dumb as hell. Everyone glosses over the fact that Masaki just about committed suicide as well.

We continue.

Now it’s Sho’s turn to hit the waves in a storm for whatever reason, even after having told Masaki not to, and in the most shocking twist with the impact of a drop of water in a desert, he dies. I actually missed this moment when it happened. I got up to make some lunch and left the series running, only to come back and not realise the guy had died until an episode later. I had to rewind. Watching the event didn’t improve the effect any.

Honestly, I was simply bored from start to finish with Wave. After Sho’s death, there is less story and even less effort with the surfing, if you can somehow imagine that. Now that I think about it, I don’t believe there is a single good surfing scene throughout. Each is ruined by this slow-mo shot, almost freeze frame, when a rider executes a trick. It does this every time. And when it isn’t slow-mo, it’s poorly animated CG characters. Then there’s the music. Are any of these instruments real? It wouldn’t surprise me to learn all music (outside of OP and ED) comes from a stock library of digital notes. Even the music is boring!

Don’t watch this anime. Sure, it’s inoffensive and won’t infuriate even the most short-tempered viewer, but by Poseidon is this dull.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Skip it. I can’t imagine Wave holding interest for even a surfing fan.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: 

Lacks ConflictPoor PacingShallow

Yuri!!! on Ice – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Yuri!!! on Ice

 

Similar: Free!

Welcome to the Ballroom

Ping Pong the Animation

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Sports

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Ice skating executed to 100%
  • Beautiful animation sometimes
  • Good comedy
  • That opening song

Negatives:

  • Too light on relationship drama
  • Not enough episodes for the content
  • Funnily enough, too much ice skating

(Request an anime for review here.)

Yuri on Ice was a much-hyped anime at its time of airing in late 2016. I’m late to the party, as always, though I am free of the hype. Was it all style and no substance?

At its heart, Yuri on Ice is a love letter to ice-skating. This letter conveys itself through the perspective of Yuri, a Japanese ice skater on the verge of retirement. A secret recording of him performing a routine by world champion Victor goes viral, catching the eye of the champion himself. Victor drops everything to come to Japan and become Yuri’s coach, much to the surprise of the skating world. He promises to turn him into a champion! Meanwhile in Russia, another Yuri makes it his mission to defeat Japanese Yuri and get Victor’s coaching for himself.

If one has heard anything of Yuri on Ice, it would be the gay relationship and the animation. I’ll leave the animation for later. First, the relationship. It is nowhere near as big of a deal in the series as I was expecting after all that buzz. And I mean that in a negative way. The manner in which people swooned over it gave an impression of this being a gay romance first and a sports anime second.

The reverse is true.

The relationship remains present throughout the 12-episode run yet feels set in the background for the most part. There is a distinct lack of drama, tension, and stakes. For instance, Victor is so successful and has such pull that he can do whatever he wants. Nothing puts a limiter on his time with Yuri, such as a prior commitment or family obligation that only gives him three months to make Yuri successful. If Yuri doesn’t show progress, Victor has to leave. You know, anything similar to that. The other angle they could take is Victor’s personality. He is the sort to do whatever he wants, change his mind on a whim – his decision to drop everything and move to Japan to train Yuri took seconds to make. I expected conflict would arise once the “honeymoon” period of his new coaching job faded and he looked for another distraction. I want something like Major, where the relationship has to go through hurdles, make sacrifices for the career, and take the foreground where needed. The pressure on Yuri to succeed before retirement carries the drama like that one guy who does all the work on a team project.

Their relationship is fine but uninteresting. If this were a straight couple, no one would care. That said, at least it commits to the relationship. No yaoi bait here. I like these characters and I want to see more of them as people rather than sportsmen.

Yuri on Ice instead focuses on the ice-skating. Expect a lot of ice-skating for a 12-episode season. Almost every performance plays in full, not matter how unimportant the competitor. Don’t get me wrong, the performances are great, bursting with love and passion for the sport. The studio hired a professional skater to choreograph and record each individual routine even if repeated, as the sound of the skates on ice differs every time. Different venues affect sound as well. The passion is undeniable. You just don’t need to show all of them from start to finish when much of that screen time needs to go to character development instead.

Yuri and Victor already don’t have enough personal story; now imagine the competitors. The tournaments introduce a dozen or so skaters from around the world. We know almost nothing about them until it’s their turn to perform, which dumps an entire life story in minutes along with the full performance. Once the sequence is over, they retreat to the background until their next turn. Only Russian Yuri has even close to the screen time he deserves.

The sport aspect is important for a sports anime – goes without saying. However, characters matter more. Great characters can make any sport engaging. The mark of a great competitive story is the ability to make me cheer for the opposition. When I don’t want either side to lose, you have me. It’s hard to care for competitors’ performances when we know little about them. In any other sports anime, they would be part of the core that makes the competitions more engaging through drama, rematches, backstory, and their past or future ties to the protagonist. This is especially notable when their performance score is lower than Yuri’s score. Why did you show their full performance if they didn’t matter?

This leads to another problem. The series does a poor job of explaining to the ice-skating uninitiated how scoring works. It tells us that harder moves are worth more points. Yes, that is obvious. What’s the difference though? How much more valuable is a quadruple toe loop than a triple? Is it more points to go for a quad loop with an imperfect landing or a perfect triple? There are times when one person does more mistakes than another yet earns a higher score. I’m sure it’s all valid, as it would be in a real competition. Just tell me how it works!

Before I conclude on a positive note, let me address a final negative. The animation is a mix of excellent and average. The first few routines and the OP are especially beautiful, but the quality drops as we progress until it picks up again towards the end. Studio MAAPA did touch up the animation post-release, so the most egregious scenes are fixed. The final version is never bad, though of course it would have been great to maintain top quality throughout. If only there was a way to cut down the number of sequences that needed such elaborate animation…

Yuri on Ice went by in two easy binge sessions (and I never skipped the OP). The likeable characters wrapped in good humour that isn’t copied from a template makes it a joy to watch.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Yuri on Ice is an easy one to recommend though whether you will stick with it varies on how much ice-skating you want to see.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Great OP or ED Sequence

Negative: None

Hikaru no Go – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hikaru no Go

 

Similar: Yu-Gi-Oh!

March Comes in Like a Lion

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Comedy Sports

Length: 75 episodes & 1 movie

 

Positives:

  • Go is interesting and portrayed well
  • Sai is a fun character

Negatives:

  • Low production values
  • Loses steam in the finale and remains incomplete

(Request an anime for review here.)

The East Asian game of Go has made many appearances throughout the medium of anime, yet I never had any idea what it was about. Unlike chess or shogi, where you get a sense of how the game works just by looking at the board, Go looks like a mess of black and white dots to the untrained eye. My greatest concern going into Hikaru no Go was the game itself. Being a shounen sports anime (the focus is on the sport), would I lose interest because I knew nothing about Go?

The story begins when Hikaru, a young boy, stumbles upon a Go board with a bloodstain in his grandfather’s attic. Weirdly, his friend can’t see the blood. Touching the board awakens the spirit of Sai, an ancient Go master wronged in his time by a cheater during a show match before the emperor. He only has one goal – to play Go! Unfortunately, Hikaru has no interest in the game. Fortunately, Sai is a ghost that only Hikaru sees and can pester him all day to play. Sai plays his first game in this era – by telling Hikaru what moves to make – against the Go prodigy Akira Touya of Hikaru’s age. Sai wins. From the outside, this looks as if a total novice beat the best junior player in his first game. Touya grows obsessed with this kid and the secret to his talent. Meanwhile, an interest in the game begins to blossom within Hikaru.

The first thing to draw attention with Hikaru no Go (apart from Hikaru’s ridiculous hair) if watching it today is the poor art. This is a budget kids’ anime, so you know what to expect. It’s almost enough to make non-Go enthusiasts turn off the series. Then you meet Sai. What a delightful character. As you would anticipate from a tagalong ghost sidekick, the writers played much of his character for laughs. He’d be pestering Hikaru about something only for Hikaru to shout at him, appearing to yell at the wind from a spectator’s point of view. His enthusiasm for the modern is great. His love of Go is even better. Since he can’t interact with anything, he relies on Hikaru to make the moves for him and is like a nagging child when Hikaru won’t play for him. He’s not annoying though.

Sai also plays the role of mentor, providing Hikaru – and the audience – a commentary on the game, like an analytical shoutcaster, while also teaching rules and strategies. It’s a natural way to convey such information without seeming like a stilted info dump. Other mentors enter the story to teach more about the game when Hikaru attends classes or seeks tutoring later on. All of this makes it easy for the unaware (like me) to understand the complexities of the game and follow the action. After each episode is a live action segment with a real Go teacher explaining the finer details of the sport to kids. Hikaru no Go take the game seriously.

I am a major strategy player across video and board games (one of the things I’m known for). However, I have never had much interest in chess and I assumed that Go was in the same vein. It couldn’t be more different. To give you a basic idea of Go, think of it as territory control meets 2-player Snake (the mobile game). Players each take turns placing pieces (called “stones”) with the objective of surrounding the opposing stones. Once you’ve “fenced off” a section of the board, any stones within that section are yours. The game seems so interesting to play.

It was a smart move to make the first game between Hikaru (a.k.a. Sai) and Touya, giving the audience a taste of high-level play and the depth inherent in Go. This match engages you from the start. Then the story has time to rewind Hikaru back to the basics as he learns to play without Sai’s help. That reminds me of my major concern following the Sai-Touya match. I was worried that we would have a Yu-Gi-Oh situation, where the protagonist relies on an ancient spirit to win for him. In other words, cheat. I am happy to report that Hikaru no Go does no such thing. When Sai plays, it’s clearly a Sai game against other high-level players. Hikaru, on the other hand, pairs up with players around his level. He does have the advantage of an excellent private tutor, but he wins matches on his own merit. The only times Hikaru “cheats” are against nasty opponents, such as scammers.

The story spans a few years and goes in depth with the world of Go – tournaments, ranking, practice, etiquette, and so on. Should you watch a few episodes and not find Go engaging, I recommend dropping the anime. It’s not worth it otherwise. If you stick around, you should know that Hikaru no Go is incomplete, the anime ending shortly after a significant turn and from what I hear, the manga is incomplete and shelved. It’s a shame. Regardless, I enjoyed most of my time with Hikaru no Go.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Even if you’ve never heard of go, give Hikaru no Go a shot. It is beginner friendly and the strategy makes for great duels.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: 

Incomplete

Major – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Major

 

Related: Major 2nd (next generation series)

Similar: Cross Game

Ace of Diamond

Big Windup

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Drama Romance Sports

Length: 154 episodes (6 seasons) & 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Excellent baseball
  • Complex protagonist with a full career arc
  • Great life lessons
  • Breaks clichés

Negatives:

  • Each season has production values five years out of date
  • Season 3, ahem, fumbles the ball

(Request an anime for review here.)

In general, there are three types of sports anime. The first, and most common, is the “shounen” sports anime almost always set in high school and covers those last three years of youth (some will limit themselves to the final year to heighten the stakes with one last chance at the championship before adulthood kills). Most of the popular sports titles fall under this type, featuring the likes of Haikyu, Ace of Diamond, and Slam Dunk, and is the easiest to write but must have engaging matches to retain viewers. Second is the “drama” sports anime, where the focus is on characters and personal conflict with the sport as a backdrop. In fact, the choice of sport is interchangeable. March Comes in Like a Lion (need to review season 2) and Ping Pong the Animation are exemplars of the genre. Lastly, we have the “career” sports anime, which as the name suggests tracks the protagonist’s rise from a nobody into a star of the professional scene. This type has a balance between drama and sport. We will be looking at the third option today with the six seasons of Major.

We start this career journey in pre-school following Goro Honda, son of professional Japanese baseball player Shigeharu Honda. With his mother dead from a sudden illness a few years ago, Goro only has his father left and adores him. He idolises him as a father and a player. Just as the family is set to expand with the engagement between Shigeharu and Momoko, Goro’s pre-school teacher, his father takes a fastball to the head from American transfer, Joe Gibson. All seems fine at first, but brain injuries don’t play fair. Goro loses his second parent. His almost stepmother and ex-pre-school teacher takes him in.

Here’s the thing about Goro. He’s good at baseball. Excellent. He has baseball in his veins. Major will take us from casual games to little league to high school and onto major leagues. Rejection, failure, fear, and injury are but a few of the things he will experience along the way. There is good too – triumph, pride, satisfaction, love. When people describe Major as a career anime, they don’t exaggerate.

The brilliance of Major isn’t solely in the breadth of its story. None of this would matter if not for the execution that grips from first episode to last. The first season alone of Major is better than anything you will find in Ace of Diamond, Cross Game, or Big Windup. I don’t know which element to elaborate on first. There’s so much to talk about! I went into these four anime with no expectations and ended up with the full gamut of baseball anime.

Looking at my notes, the first point I made sure to record (other than story events) was the relationship between father and son – how real it felt, full of turmoil and love. The author understood the struggles of a working single father and the frustrations of a lonely child. The father dies early on yet is a complete character is so short a time. There’s drama without being melodramatic. Kid Goro acts like a real kid as well. When his dad thanks him in a post-match interview, Goro says to Momoko, “Hey, that’s me! He’s talking about me!” as all kids do before they learn of basic context. I love the dad advice too about never admitting that pee splashed on your pants. “Always claim it’s water from your hands.”

Then we have the teacher turned mother. She was a mother figure to him before she dated the father. She plays catch and takes him to the games to watch Dad live. So wholesome. Within a few episodes, we already have meaningful, well-developed relationships. Such a good start raises high expectations for characters in the rest of the series. It delivers.

In Cross Game, I talked of how predictable it was. Major is the opposite. From the characters to the baseball, this anime isn’t predictable. It doesn’t invert everything, of course (that would make it predictable, ironically). The subplot of Joe Gibson, the man responsible for killing Goro’s father, and Joe’s son is excellent. It occurs in later seasons, so I can’t talk about it much, but it combines family drama with high expectations to create the tensest baseball. Gah! It’s so good.

The writers use this great technique to keep the audience on their toes about who would win. You know the build up to a big moment in sports anime – the last second slam dunk, the mad dive to block a shot, the winning homerun? Usually, this tells you what is about to happen and who will win. Major mixes it up by giving both teams that inspirational build up. Both teams “deserve” to win after such emotional hype.

We can’t talk about excellent characters without mentioning the main kid himself, Goro. On the surface, Goro is the typical arrogant sports protagonist, which normally indicates the first of many problems (see Ace of Diamond). Goro is the arrogant ace, yes, but they don’t let him get away with bad behaviour. When his arrogance interferes with the game or affects others, people call him out and it shows how much he has to learn. Natural talent isn’t anywhere near enough. In one game with a bunch of kids, he tries to do everything and yells at his teammates for doing it wrong. He believes he’s untouchable. There’s a harsh lesson waiting for him. Baseball is a team sport and even the best player needs support. At the same time, it doesn’t go soft and say friendship will win everything.

That’s just the beginning. Major deftly evolves the character conflict at each stage of life. We aren’t dealing with the same issues in the Majors than from his time as a kid. The power curve across the six seasons is fantastic. He’s so much better than everyone else is on the first team, but as he works his way up to the Majors, the skill gap closes and competition becomes more intense. The importance of the team grows ever stronger. This constant evolution keeps games engaging. There isn’t a single boring match. Starting with Goro’s father in the professional games was a good idea, as it indicates where we are headed with the kid. It’s like the Metroid games that give you one level of Samus with a full arsenal before you lose most gear. You know what you’re in for.

One aspect that surprised me here is the changing cast each season. In your standard anime, when they introduce a team, we stick with that team to the finish. There might be an addition or subtraction here and there, though it’s in effect the same team. Season 1’s team of little guys receive full attention and development. Convention dictates that they will be staples. Nope, season 2 brings on a completely new team. His closest friend of the time soon realises that he isn’t good enough to stay in the same league as Goro. It does make sense – wouldn’t be realistic if everyone could reach the Majors. It shakes things up each season without losing progress on Goro.

The baseball industry outside of games is also far above the competition. It places a huge emphasis on player injury, from the dangers of permanent damage should you start a child too early in life to career ending injuries that crush dreams. Psychological blocks also enter the field to demonstrate how important mental state is to star athletes. Injuries, I’ve noticed, are the most neglected aspect of sports anime, which is surprising when one considers how impactful they are to real sport and all the opportunities for drama they bring.

Even training arcs are good. The writer understands that this is a good time to build characters, not repeat the same exercises a thousand times.

Other baseball areas Major explores include scholarships, scouting, trading players, tryouts, language barriers, the different tiers of teams, and so much more. This is a comprehensive dive into baseball. If you know nothing about baseball, fear not, this is the perfect anime to learn from. Prior to this baseball quartet, I had only watched a few baseball games in my life from various hotel rooms while on holiday (when you don’t speak the language in some countries, sport is all that makes sense).

I’ve heaped much praise on Major, so what’s wrong with it? Most notably? The art. If anything is keeping more people away from Major, it has to be the art. The first season released in 2004, yet wouldn’t have looked good for 1999. The final season was in 2010 – looks like it time travelled from 2004. I do like the character designs. No monkey ears is a plus. Another negative of Major is season 3, where the high school situation and team leans a little towards the unrealistic. It’s good in the end, though there was no need to go that underdog. Season 3 is certainly the weakest. All up from there, however.

If you’re looking for that “capital A” Anime type baseball and you’re concerned Major will be a bit too serious, then you have nothing to worry about. This still has the classic shounen tropes of hot heads, sideline commentary, overconfidence, etc. They simply have balance.

In a contest against the other baseball anime, Major is the instant winner. It was better than the others before Goro even played his first game.

Art – Low

Why did this have to be the worst looking of the baseball anime? At least they assigned more of the budget to pitches and hits.

Sound – High

Thank heavens they changed actors as Goro aged, unlike too many other sports anime. Great acting for the Japanese characters, though it’s a real shame they went full Engrish with the Americans, which is odd since they used real Americans for minor roles. Nothing breaks immersion more than hearing a hard ass American – with not a word of Japanese in him – speak English like a Japanese actor after one lesson.

Story – Very High

From fanatic as an infant to little league and onto the Majors, we follow one guy’s baseball journey. Major has everything you want from a baseball story – characters to cheer for, others to hate, consequential drama, a bit of romance, and excellent baseball games.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch for sports fans. Don’t let the poor art deter you from watching what might be the best sports anime.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Deep NarrativeExtensive Character DevelopmentStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative: None

Big Windup! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ookiku Furikabutte

 

Related: Big Windup! 2

Similar: Major

Cross Game

Ace of Diamond

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Comedy Sports

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • It would be against the Geneva convention to force people to watch this

Negatives:

  • Maybe the worst protagonist in anime?
  • Participation trophy philosophy
  • Perma-blushing cheeks
  • Cheerleading subplot

(Request an anime for review here.)

The typical shounen sports protagonist will be the most energetic and often most arrogant player in the game (see Major and Ace of Diamond). Apart from being one of the easier archetypes to write, his personality facilitates big plays and big drama. If he’s arrogant enough to get into someone’s face to grandstand ahead of a match, he’ll have the confidence to go for the long shot that moves you to the edge of your seat. Big Windup goes for the opposite and in the process demonstrates why the high tempo protagonist is so common.

Mihashi isn’t just an underdog. He’s a crybaby – I’m not using hyperbole. This guy is on the verge of tears when someone merely looks at him. On the pitcher’s mound, on the sidelines, at school, at home, hanging out with friends, wherever, it doesn’t matter, this dude wants to cry about anything and everything. That’s not all. He’s supposed to be the team ace. I’m not sure if we’re meant to feel sorry for him or to find his social ineptitude humorous. I could argue either way.

The arc is obviously to have him come out of his shell and gain confidence through the support of his teammates. However, it starts with a flawed premise. How is this guy an ace to begin with? How does he have the skill? The answer the story gives is that he was on a team in middle school as the ace, but also that he was so bad they could never win…? Is he good at the game or not? Never mind playing baseball – Mihashi would have a mental breakdown from the pressure of having to strike someone out. He should be in therapy, not baseball. I watched the first season, 25 episodes, and he is no less of a crybaby by the end (they still use his frailty for comedy with that chicken face in episode 25, so again, not sure if comedy or serious). There is another season, but surely by this point he would have some change.

The brilliant ProZD portrays Mihashi perfectly here, just without the badass growth:

Let’s suppose you either don’t care about this character or can tolerate him, is the rest worth it? No. The baseball is rather dull and lacks tension, both in a game and character sense. Most teammates are the same milquetoast person, blending into one forgettable mass. Some are alright, though nothing to write home about.

At its core, these problems all feel like symptoms of the same illness – the aversion by the author to have tough conflict. Meekness characterises Big Windup. I don’t want to sound nasty, but this needed more nastiness. I have the impression that the author leant on wishful thinking for a “nicer” world to craft this story, rather than facing reality, often caused by an author’s fear of hurting their beloved characters. Twilight’s author, Stephanie Meyer, refused to kill off any of her characters because she grew too attached.

An alternate possibility is that Big Windup is about mocking a kid with a mental disability (again, not sure if we are to laugh with him or at him), though I like to give the benefit of the doubt.

A major subplot centres on the cheer team, which is an unconventional side to explore in a boys’ sports anime. It’s insistent on following these characters. However, there isn’t much to see here, which is disappointing, as Japanese cheer squads are rather nuts. They’re nothing like American football cheerleaders. They’re more like choirmasters, leading the crowd into a high energy, disciplined chant for the team. Deafeningly loud too.

The cheer and baseball teams alike are all about the power of friendship, everyone is good, competitiveness is toxic, and other “hippie” philosophies, for lack of a better word. Now, I’m not saying that being nice is a bad thing. Ideally, everyone in the world would be nice at heart. But having your head in the sand and believing that just being nice makes one a great athlete is delusional. This is a baseball team that would fall to a perfect game from any team that takes the sport seriously. Or if this were StarCraft, it would ban the Zerg rush for being unfair, then ban the MMM ball for being too competitive, and forbid everyone from using Stalkers’ blink for being too skilful. It wouldn’t patch the game, mind you, just make everyone promise not to use them. Because being competitive isn’t friendly. It isn’t fun if not everyone gets a medal in the end.

In every story, no matter how bad, I firmly believe there is a kernel of greatness. Having someone like Mihashi as protagonist isn’t the end of the world. What Big Windup needed was an altered backstory and different first act. Remove the baseball past altogether and replace it with a lonely kid suffering from mental illness, who breaks down in tears at the slightest conflict – doesn’t have to be real conflict. The possibility of conflict cracks him. You can make it that the one joy in life he had was watching baseball at home, wishing he had the camaraderie of a team like they do in those stadiums. There’s the baseball connection. Want to provide a little backstory to foreshadow him as a great baseball pitcher? Turns out, he would practice pitches against a tree in his backyard for hours (no friends to spend time with, after all), developing killer accuracy and speed. You could even have the classic sports shounen reveal when a later friend comes over for the first time and sees the dent in the tree – shocked silence, slow pan close up of the face, quivering irises, the whole deal.

We start the series with him moving to high school, where a classmate befriends him (feel free to have Mihashi tremble when he thinks it’s a bully). This friend is on the baseball team. The scene is set.

From here, Mihashi will slowly come out of his shell thanks to his first friend and work on his mental health. An adult at the school would be the perfect mentor character, one to bring awareness to the importance of mental health and explain to Mihashi that he isn’t broken. He just needs help. Want to lean the tone towards the happier Haikyuu end rather than the dour March Comes in Like a Lion side? No problem. Incorporate comedy, from the rest of team perhaps, in the battle against his mental illness.

Episode 3, we have the baseball connection (see backyard tree above). Episode 6, end of act one, Mihashi plays baseball with others for the first time. Season finale, he loses the match with his team – only been playing a few months, after all – but he played the game to his fullest, and that’s what matters. He could even cry, not out of fear or sadness, but out of joy and pride for his progress. We keep the underdog, the reluctant ace, the crying, and power of friendship, but we balance it with pain, struggle, and hard work.

Big Windup seems well intentioned. Infantile treatment of characters isn’t the direction to take in what is supposed to be a competitive sport, requiring some level of competitive spirit, drive, and confidence. I don’t know if it’s talking down to the audience, mocking a kid with mental and social issues, or merely an unintentional disaster. Next review, we look to Major for redemption.

Art – Low

Though the environmental texture is nice, it can’t make up for the character designs. What is with everyone blushing as if going through a menopausal hot flush 24/7? Then again, I suppose these blushing brides are an ideal match for the mentality of Big Windup.

Sound – Medium

The acting is better than this anime deserves and the music is alright. I can’t imagine anyone could make this protagonist sound good.

Story – Very Low

A bumbling kid is expected to be his team’s baseball ace. No level of baseball would be worth enduring this character and philosophy of playing a drum circle as a substitute for skill.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Skip it. It’s difficult for the protagonist alone to kill a story, yet here we are with Big Windup.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: 

Rubbish Major Characters