Category Archives: Sports

The conflict and goals are based around a sport.

One Outs – Anime Review

Japanese Title: One Outs

 

Similar: Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor

Akagi

No Game No Life

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Sports Gambling

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The strategy moments.
  • Absurdity of it all.

Negatives:

  • Infallible protagonist.
  • Opponents are amateurs.
  • Require immense suspension of disbelief.

(Request an anime for review here.)

In a moment of desperation, a baseball professional hires the reckless gambler and pitcher Toua Tokuchi in the hopes of getting his team out of the gutter. Tokuchi is a risk for the team because of his gambling. He isn’t talking a couple of Gs on a game here and there. No, Tokuchi likes a few more zeros on that number and in much, much greater frequency. His first bet with the team owner, instead of a salary, is ¥10,000,000 for every out he pitches, but a loss of ¥50,000,000 for every run he forfeits. Bets only escalate for there.

This premise should sound familiar to many of you – it certainly did for me. But imagine my surprise when I learnt, near the end of the series, that One Outs is not from the folio of the extreme gambling mangaka god, Nobuyuki Fukumoto. It’s not just the premise that matches. The voice actor for Tokuchi is the same as Akagi and Kaiji (he only comes out of hiding for these roles). I should have noticed that this wasn’t one of Nobuyuki’s works when the protagonist begins as the king, not the underdog, and when the opponents were easy. Join me as we dive further.

One Outs starts on the back lots, where people bet on a shortened form of baseball called ‘one outs’. Roughly put, you bet either that the pitcher will get three strikes or that the batter will score a clean hit first. Tokuchi is a pro at this, having won 499 games. The first act is a series of increasing bets in this underground gambling format and loses interest after the first game. It doesn’t evolve beyond the bigger pot. We waste four episodes here.

After this, the story moves to the baseball stadium with Tokuchi’s new team in a few matches. It remains a gambling anime with a sport element, mind you, so this isn’t suddenly for sports fans. Here we encounter the problem of having an overpowered protagonist in the face of lesser opponents.

It’s not about him being better than any pitcher that has ever lived – this, I don’t mind. It’s part of the absurdity of these anime. The problem lies in the opponents, both on the field and off. The team owner, who plays main antagonist, has little impact watching the games in a comfy lounge chair from his office. He makes a few underhanded changes to the matches, but they’re negligible. Akagi and Kaiji pit their protagonists with the major villains face-to-face, on the field. This team owner is a pitiful substitute and a one-note character.

As for the opposing teams, they have a few interesting contenders, such an import player so fast he can secure any base. Unfortunately, most opponents and allies alike are complete idiots. They don’t have an ounce of professionalism to their character. Tokuchi even explains baseball basics to them as if this is their first game. These feel like dumb kids on the playground, which further compounds the problem of Tokuchi being such an invincible player. To convince the audience that a character is a genius, the best technique is to have him defeat an equal or smarter opponent in a clever and believable manner. If the opponents are idiots, then it gives the impression that your average Joe could do the same.

The escalation of bets is also predictable. “Here’s a ridiculous bet.” “Ha! I can’t believe you suggested that! You will never— oh damn, you won. No way!” You would imagine that after the tenth amazing feat people would catch on that Tokuchi is infallible, but you’d be wrong.

Where One Outs does engage is with the psychological manipulation. That said, it’s nowhere near a “genius” as the author thinks it is. Much of it relies on the dimwits for opponents.

The best moments occur when real strategy is involved. For example, a famous batter has to play with an injured elbow and a pitch to said elbow would end his career. Tokuchi takes advantage of this to psyche out the pitcher, making him aim away from the elbow out of fear that he might end the career of a beloved player, giving him an easy hit. There are enough of these moments to last the series, but I wish there were more. In fact, One Outs could have been better had Tokuchi been a decent pitcher yet with masterful strategy. Instead, he’s an alleged genius and the best pitcher you’ve never seen.

You may be thinking that I compare One Outs too much to Akagi and Kaiji, but they are the perfect examples of this concept done better. I don’t need to go beyond those when they demonstrate definitive superiority. One Outs will appeal either to those who haven’t seen this anime style before or to those who can’t get enough of it. I expect that I would have enjoyed this one much more had it been the first of its kind I had seen.

Art – Medium

One Outs doesn’t have the distinct style of its inspirators, though still in the same vein for the protagonist, instead blending in what reminds me of Initial D. Outside of characters running bases, there is little animation.

Sound – Medium

Masato Hagiwara returns for the third time as an extreme gambling protagonist, which is fitting. The rest of the cast is good as well. Soundtrack leaves much room for improvement.

Story – Low

A pitcher gambles millions on each game of baseball for the ultimate thrill. An infallible protagonist against amateurs pretending to be professionals weakens tension and limits potential.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For fans of Akagi and Kaiji. While One Outs isn’t as good as those two series, if you like the ridiculousness of the extreme gambling then you will have fun.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Mary Sue

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Tomorrow’s Joe – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ashita no Joe

 

Related: Tomorrow’s Joe 2

Similar: Fighting Spirit

Rainbow

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Boxing Sports Drama

Length: 79 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Joe’s rivals, Rikiishi and Carlos.
  • Rough art aged surprisingly well.
  • Greatly improves in the second half.

Negatives:

  • Insufferable protagonist.
  • Too much of the comic relief.
  • First half is a slog.
  • Audio did not age like the art.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Joe Yabuki is a douche. A giant douche. Never has a bigger douche roamed the lands of Japan, itching for a fight. He wants trouble. Drunkard and former boxing coach Danpei witnesses Joe’s latest street brawl and sees something in his punch. Though Joe is vulgar, he has potential for greatness in the ring and he could give Danpei a reason to live again.

Tomorrow’s Joe is Japan meets the Wild West. Everything has this dusty ragged look, from the art to the characters. Joe’s whistling echoes across the windswept streets of the slum, creating a lonely and downtrodden atmosphere.

The archetype of starting as a delinquent before finding a purpose in sport/music/art is a common one. You expect the character to grow as a person over time, both in skill and temperament. Joe is in dire need of the latter. See, when I said he is a douche, I should have made it clear that I meant throughout the entire series. I’m unsure if I can think of a more unlikeable protagonist. He is a prick to everyone even when he has no reason to be, especially to those who care for him. Speaking of, it makes no sense to have a gang of children, Danpei, and many more besides to be so obsessed with him. No one would stand by him after the fifth instance of douchery, let alone the tenth. And why does no one object to little children hanging around a dangerous criminal all the time?

Shortly into the story, Joe is arrested. He has the opportunity to go free if he doesn’t act like a prick. Of course he acts like a prick. Later, after the kids and company do all they can to support his release, he again has an opportunity, but lo and behold, he’s a right arse to the judge as well. This happens every episode. He tries excessively hard to be cool – the number of face punches he takes without falling is another effort to convince you he’s cool. Even the worst protagonists must have a point of sympathy for the audience. Why would anyone want him to succeed?

The repetitive cycle of dickery results in a glacial pace for the first act, which mostly takes place in prison. Even after prison, the story is mediocre. Not until around the midpoint does it start to become interesting.

Opposite Joe, we have two great rivals and without them Tomorrow’s Joe would have little value. The first is against Rikiishi, a fellow inmate who is Joe’s opposite – upstanding, polite, and disciplined, which irks Joe to no end. Carlos from Venezuela joins the series later. When the story focuses on the rivalries – prep through to the matches themselves – Tomorrow’s Joe is at its best. Some episodes are top tier quality. An episode that will stick with me for a long time is with Rikiishi losing his water weight before the weigh-in and the loss of his mind in the process. It makes the others all the more disappointing not to have the same passion and emotional intensity.

So, Tomorrow’s Joe gets better around halfway, but asking someone to stick around for forty episodes is a bit much. If it were spectacular in the end, maybe.

Art – Medium

The rough art comes across as style rather than errors, which ages it well – fights look good. One can see the French influence in the line work and character design.

Sound – Low

The music is okay – I like the whistling – but the voice audio is bad. The higher the voice, the worse it gets. The bass is shallow while the mic breaks against a high pitch. When the little fangirl screeches, which is often, your eardrums burst.

Story – Medium

A delinquent wanderer must find disciple through boxing if he is to survive prison and the world beyond. The first half is a challenge to clear – owed in no small part to Joe being insufferable – though it’s better once the boxing gets serious.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For old anime fans only. You have to love the rustic style of Tomorrow’s Joe to make it seventy-nine episodes (more if you go for the sequel). Interestingly, a love of boxing isn’t required (unlike Fighting Spirit), as character drama takes precedence.

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

Positive:

Phenomenal Villain

Negative:

Ear Grating Voice WorkPoor Pacing

Fighting Spirit – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hajime no Ippo: The Fighting!

 

Related: Fighting Spirit: Champion Road (sequel)

Similar: KenIchi: The Mightiest Disciple

Eyeshield 21

Baby Steps

Initial D

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Boxing Sports Drama Comedy

Length: 75 Episodes

 

Positives:

  • Easy hero to cheer for.
  • Surprising victory conditions.
  • A nice balance of drama, sport, and humour.
  • Emotional highs.

Negatives:

  • Romance element is wasted.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Even if you haven’t watched Fighting Spirit, you have seen it before. It’s the underdog story of a normal guy who enters boxing as a way to find himself, using drive and determination to close the gap between himself and his opponents. Rocky, Warrior – pick any fighting film and you will know 90% of Fighting Spirit. But there is a reason this story sees itself adapted every few years. Boxing gives the protagonist a direct target to overcome, a target that is near to his equal though just that little bit stronger. And it is in finding the strength to overcome that little bit where he sees what he’s made of and who he is as a person.

Our hero for this boxing journey is Ippo, a short friendless kid often bullied at school. During a routine bullying session, boxing pro Takamura happens to be passing by and helps Ippo out, later taking him to the gym for a patch up. He also suggests that Ippo release his frustration by punching a bag with the lead bully’s face on it. Much to everyone’s surprise, Ippo packs quite a punch, owed in no small part to doing the heavy lifting for his mother’s fishing business every morning and night. This awakens a drive inside him that never existed before. He finally has a goal. With the help of Takamura and others at the gym, he will take each step up the ladder to becoming boxing champion.

Ippo differs a little from other boxing protagonists by already starting strong. He isn’t Steve Rogers with no muscle before growing into Captain America. Ippo’s greatest challenge lies in mental frailty, which ties well with his theme of needing to find a path of his own. He says that he helps his mother because it’s his responsibility, but we see it’s also an excuse not to have to put himself out there and face rejection from peers.

He is an easy protagonist to cheer for. By golly, his innocent outlook and eagerness to improve just makes you want the best for the little guy. The gym owner believes he has no chance as a boxer because he’s too polite. Good humour like this keeps Fighting Spirit from growing too heavy. The best is the running joke of his big package – he packs more than a mighty punch, if ya know what I mean. He’s the Podrick of boxing.

Not forgetting the physical side, Fighting Spirit has Ippo progress through various training exercises to master new techniques, as you would expect. Thankfully, the training segments don’t drag on – this is no Naruto Shippuden – and they make sense, teaching a thing or two to the audience. He never improves just because the author said so. We see his systematic process in how he comes to grips with a new technique.

An advantage Fighting Spirit has over its inspirators like Rocky is in its ability to string a series of fights together over numerous episodes. A movie has to reach the peak quickly. It doesn’t have the luxury of twelve smaller fights before the finale. That’s not to suggest Fighting Spirit is slow or that it takes the extra space for granted. It develops just as fast as any boxing movie with the luxury of showing every stage of development. The training montage doesn’t need to cover months of training here and every important fight is shown in full. If you are a boxing fan, you will love this.

The fights are interesting too. Each opponent is a character full of complexity and with engaging backstory that they bring into the ring. I often find the inner thoughts of battle anime characters to be a waste of time, as they aren’t interesting characters, but Fighting Spirit justifies diving deep into a character’s mind.

While the victor of any given fight won’t come as much of a surprise, the manner in which they win is unpredictable. Will it be the knockout? How many rounds will it take? Will he overcome the Wall? It’s exciting!

All my praise above in mind, do note that this is an anime for boxing enthusiasts. If you dislike boxing or are indifferent to it, Fighting Spirit won’t change your mind.

Art – High

Fighting Spirit has a surprising amount of animation for a cel anime of this length. I expected the rigidity of Rose of Versailles and Legend of the Galactic Heroes. The more realistic art style suits the tone.

Sound – Medium

The dub is average – Ippo’s actor needs work – so go with the Japanese. It may sound old, but it has charm.

Story – High

This is a classic underdog story of fighting through the world of boxing. Though Fighting Spirit uses a formula you have seen elsewhere many times, it executes with such heart and passion that you will want to watch this formula again.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Highly recommended for sports fans – a must for boxing fans. Fighting Spirit won’t convince you if boxing isn’t your sport, but if you have any inclination, this anime won’t disappoint.

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

Positive:

Extensive Character DevelopmentRiveting ActionStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Kuroko’s Basketball – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kuroko no Basket

 

Related: Kuroko’s Basketball Seasons 2 & 3 (included in review)

Similar: Haikyuu!!

Slam Dunk

Free! Iwatobi Swim Club

Prince of Tennis

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Sports

Length: 75 episodes (3 seasons), 5 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Good animation.
  • Starts well.

Negatives:

  • Can’t choose a protagonist.
  • Superpowers cheapen the matches.
  • No surprises.
  • Worse with each season.
  • Too much spectator commentary.

(Request an anime for review here.)

The hype was real for me going into Kuroko’s Basketball after the comparisons drawn to Haikyuu. Yet even with tempered expectations, this anime disappointed me. It started well…

A middle school team of basketball players once known as the “Generation of Miracles” have since gone to separate high school teams. When people talk of the team, they only mention five players, having not noticed the ‘phantom’ sixth player, Kuroko, on the court (just go with it). He gains renewed energy when Kagami, a player with great potential, joins his high school. They work together to reach the top of Japan’s inter-high championships, even if that means defeating Kuroko’s former teammates of Miracles.

At first, I thought all was well with Kuroko’s Basketball. We meet the characters in fine fashion, backstory doesn’t bog the start, the coach is funny, the first serious match is good, and the animation does the sport justice. I like the running gag of Kuroko being so inconspicuous that people often forget he’s there, similar to Hinata. The anime does stretch the plausibility of this in matches though. Even spectators act as if Kuroko was wearing an invisibility cloak this whole time. It’s a tad silly, but not a big deal. The problem lies in the writer’s inability to stop the power creep.

It starts with Kuroko’s invisibility, then onto a guy that never misses, and even to the best player being someone that never practices. Tell that to any basketball pro and they’ll laugh their arses off. One match has the entire opposing team blatantly cheat throughout to no consequences. If you’re going to have them cheat, at least make it clever so we can believe they wouldn’t be disqualified, never mind arrested. More brains needed. It fails at being cool by going beyond the realm of implausibility. And it creeps worse with each season.

By the end, one guy can make you drop the ball just by looking at you. I do not jest. He looks at a player and they lay a brick right there on court. The mysticism element in the techniques lessens their impressiveness because rather than make success come for hard work and strategy, magic hands over victory. It isn’t impressive when Superman bulldozes human linebackers to score a touchdown. A touch of the supernatural would have been fine, but here, just when I think it cannot get sillier, Kuroko’s Basketball proves me wrong.

This supernatural approach to basketball could have excelled if it didn’t take itself so seriously. When a player runs from mid-court to block the basket faster than the speed of a pass, no one questions it. At no point does anyone laugh at the ludicrous techniques on display. It feels as though the writer is desperate to legitimise his lazy approach to conveying basketball in fiction. A sprinkling of Food Wars would work wonders here.

Seasons 2 and 3 are nothing but a string of tournament matches against various teams starring one Miracle player each. Hints at good external drama from season 1 fall to the wayside. This can be engaging if the Miracle players have dimension. They don’t. Like their powers, these shounen stuffers have the ‘one trait’ that defines them, without layers to make them memorable. I can’t recall any of their names. I remember them by their colour on the rainbow. Character depth tries to step on court towards the end of each match to mediocre results, which often amounts to a complete 180 in personality. Kuroko’s Basketball has this constant sense of needing to get the next game started immediately, lest the audience lose focus on trite things like “characters” and “story.”

Kuroko’s Basketball is in such a rush that it forgets Kuroko. Oh the irony. Several-episode stretches have him as the least important character, as the next player on the rainbow takes all focus. Even Kagami becomes a shadow for too long. The airtime balance in season 3 is atrocious.

To conclude on a positive note, I must commend Kuroko’s Basketball for giving attention to the pressure that comes with being the best. Most anime, whether sports or battle, will show the strongest characters as never letting the pressure get to them, when in reality, being the best comes with a new set of pressures to which lower players cannot relate. I love this inclusion – could have been the main conflict.

Art – High

Good animation brings the games to life. The colour-coded characters are a matter of preference to the individual.

Sound – Medium

The acing is fine, but the script has issues timing player thoughts and spectator commentary. I appreciate the effort of giving a giant Senegalese player an accent – shame they made no effort with the “American” girl.

Story – Low

A mythical player from a basketball team once known as the “Generation of Miracles” takes on his former, and equally mythical, teammates in their new teams one by one. Kuroko’s Basketball amounts to a string of matches with predictable outcomes as it gives too much attention to side characters over the protagonist.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For shounen sports fans only. Kuroko’s Basketball is as generic as you can imagine for a sports anime in terms of its structure and story. The characters stepped out of every battle anime with a cast of one-note ‘specialists.’ If you love the genre, this will be your dream. Fans of real life basketball will find it hard to stomach the bad strategies and implausibility.

(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:

Shallow

Haikyu!! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Haikyuu!!

 

Related: Haikyuu!! Second Season (included in review)

Similar: Free! Iwatobi Swim Club

Kuroko’s Basketball

Ace of Diamond

Prince of Tennis

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Sports Comedy Drama

Length: 25 episodes (season 1), 25 episodes (season 2), 2 OVA + more on the way

 

Positives:

  • High-energy characters and competition.
  • Varied strategies and deep plays.
  • Good production values.
  • Well-woven humour.
  • Friendly to the volleyball illiterate.

Negatives:

  • There’s no story beyond the sport.

(Request an anime for review here.)

For the next step on my sports anime journey, I went with the highly recommended Haikyuu!! (The double exclamation triggers me. It’s simply not right!) Never watched a game of volleyball in my life, but let’s go!

In his first volleyball match, middle-schooler Hinata gets stomped. And I mean stomped, worse than Germany versus Brazil (7-1 never forget). He decides the enemy ace, Kageyama, is his new rival, works hard, and gains entry in Karasuno High School, a good institute for volleyball, hoping to rise up and defeat Kageyama on the big stage. However, Kageyama took a downturn in recent times, rejected from the top volleyball school, and has ended up in the same school as Hinata. Rivals become teammates.

Hinata is a fantastic character. He may be a midget – people often forget he’s there – but he sure can jump. His energy and enthusiasm are infectious, except before matches, where he gets so nervous that telling him not to be nervous gives him the runs. Interestingly, despite falling into the typical shounen protagonist archetype (genki underdog) like Naruto and Luffy, Hinata is one of my favourites in Haikyuu. Usually, the cheerful protagonist is bland compared to the varied supporting cast. Hinata succeeds, I feel, because the underdog status is genuine. He doesn’t have the magic ability to win when the plot needs it. He has his role in the team as a Spiker and doesn’t overshadow the rest of the cast. ‘Less is more’ in action.

Opposite him, Kageyama is obsessed with winning. Not in the same way as Hinata, but in a manner that destroys any hope of success, as he berates his teammates for the slightest mistake. If he were company CEO, he would be over everyone’s shoulder on all twenty floors of the building at all times. And as Hinata’s rival, he’s tall – naturally. He plays the Setter position – sets up the ball for the Spiker.

First, the boys must learn to get along as teammates; otherwise, they can forget victory, let alone a championship. Their only chance at breaking the barriers is the captain. There’s also Noya in the Libero position (defensive specialist), a noisy fellow and the only guy shorter than Hinata – another great character. In fact, every character on the team is solid. Again, I think it comes back to the balance between Hinata and everyone else – the supporting cast doesn’t feel like they exist solely for him.

The funniest character is Tanaka, a guy who wants to look and act like a hard-ass intimidating newbies in a comical manner until the captain reins him in. Humour is never far away in Haikyuu and I worried about whether it could get serious enough when needed. Now, a super heavy moment hasn’t occurred in the two seasons so far, but when there has been weight in a scene, the tone has given just enough ‘serious’ for me to believe it.

As for the sport itself, Haikyuu does an excellent job illustrating the gameplay for anyone to follow, even the uninformed like me. The story also isn’t bogged down with explanation either, unlike battle anime. The strategies have variety, character psychology plays a big part, and everyone has strengths and weaknesses on court. The crowd even features Japan’s crazy coordinated chants!

The best aspect of the sport is its understanding of what it means to lose and the effect a loss has on players. This is what distinguishes Haikyuu from run-of-the-mill competitive anime like Food Wars. The writer doesn’t treat the characters like infants locked into a safe space, and knows that losses provide the greatest opportunities for learning.

If Haikyuu could find room for improvement, it would be outside the volleyball. There isn’t any story beyond the sport. It’s all about practicing volleyball, studying volleyball, and playing volleyball, which creates a lower ‘intensity’ ceiling than if there was more beyond volleyball. That’s not to say Hinata needs to come from some abusive home or live on the streets. It could be as simple as a romance affected by Hinata’s commitments to volleyball. Perhaps later seasons will introduce something.

Haikyuu is very “shounen” in its use of grandstand challenges, too many speeches, intense glares, over assignment of god-like titles to characters, and inspirational scenes. They aren’t realistic by any stretch. However, I have learnt to embrace them – you have to or there’s no way to enjoy hot-blooded sports anime.

After I finished Haikyuu, I watched a real volleyball match for the first time and it was phenomenal, probably one of the best matches in volleyball history (Women’s Japan versus China at the London Olympics – highly recommended). Japan even had someone shorter than Hinata playing Libero position! Haikyuu is the best shounen sports anime I have seen so far.

Art – High

Haikyuu is colourful like Hinata’s hair and sports great animation during the action. Simple, yet memorable character designs – expressive too.

Sound – High

Great acting brings this energetic cast to life and are even believable in otherwise unbelievable shounen dialogue. Good music, but nothing outstanding.

Story – High

A short but high jumping kid works with his team to reach the apex of high school volleyball. Though Haikyuu has little story outside of the volleyball, the conflict and development within the sport itself is excellent.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Try it/must for sports fans. If you’re a sports anime fan, Haikyuu is necessary, while I urge others to give a try, even if disinterested in volleyball.

(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:

CharmStellar Voice ActingStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None