Category Archives: Sports

The conflict and goals are based around a sport.

Hanebado – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hanebado

 

Similar: Haikyu!!

Free! Iwatobi Swim Club

Stars Align

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Sports

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The badminton is great

Negatives:

  • What is with the protagonist?
  • Who is the protagonist?
  • Split personality storytelling
  • Worst parent in anime

(Request an anime for review here.)

What a rollercoaster of opinion Hanebado is for me! This was a request from a dear reader for an anime I hadn’t heard of (though did see a clip of the badminton). When I looked it up to see what it was about, I noted the poor ratings. Didn’t think anything of them at the time. We fast-forward to this week, where I am supposed to review Yowamushi Pedal (finished watching it over a month ago) and am watching Hanebado for the future. Hanebado turns out to be such a baffling anime that I must talk of it immediately.

The story is about high school girl Ayano who reluctantly joins the badminton team. This prodigy had stayed away from the game for a while after her mother, a 10-time badminton champion, abandoned her.

Or!

The story is about Nagisa, captain of a high school badminton team, who hasn’t gotten over a 0-21 loss at the hands of prodigy Ayano last Nationals. She takes out her frustrations on members of the team. One day, an Olympic player joins as their coach and he recruits Ayano to the team with sights on Nationals.

I’ll get to the reason for these two versions of the story in a moment. I want to start positive with my first impressions.

Hanebado opens on the Nationals match between Nagisa and Ayano on the verge of a 0-21 finish (perfect game). The animation is fluid, the choreography is tight, and sound design is flawless. Everything about this scene draws you into the sport. If you’ve ever played badminton, you’ll know the feel of flicking the racquet, that ping of resistance when the shuttlecock hits the strings, and the swiftness of your shot into the opponent’s court. Hanebado captures this.

With such a good first impression, those poor ratings return to mind. What could possibly go so wrong?

The first negative, though not a critical one, is indecisiveness on the protagonist. This relates to my two story angles above. It starts by presenting Nagisa as protagonist, but then from episode four, Nagisa is barely in it and Ayano takes the position. It switches again later. Whoever wrote this (or adapted it, if different from the manga), could not decide on a clear direction. We even see a smaller version of this problem later, where some guy we barely know form the boys’ badminton team gets a dedicated episode. If you only watch this one episode, you would be excused for thinking him protagonist. It’s a mess.

Not a deal breaker though.

Early episodes are standard sports anime fair. You meet the team, there’s a bit of comedy, a bit of personality, ambitious speeches, the shy one, the mean one, and the cocky one. The usual. Then it gets stuck into the matches and we see Ayano’s competitive side. During a serious game, this timid girl turns into a coldblooded killer of badminton. She even has the dead anime eyes when “in the zone”. It’s cheesy as hell. More than this, her whole personality changes into a bitch. She becomes so nasty to everyone that no sane person would want to associate with her again. When a friend wishes her good luck, she insults her for it. She even badmouths a teammate for trying hard to win.

What a failure at portraying a “tough” character. She has split personality disorder, surely, but the writer doesn’t treat it as such. Barely anyone even comments on how nasty she is. I cannot emphasise enough how disparate her two versions are, as if replaced by a different character. And if I haven’t made it clear yet, she is trash writing. This also ties back to the protagonist confusion, as when Ayano is “in the zone” she comes across as the antagonist!

The justification for her personality is from past trauma. This is where I introduce you to an even worse character – the mother. Let me give you the 411, as they say, on this woman. She abandons her daughter after she loses a match while sick (the opponent pinned her down and coughed on her because it wouldn’t be fair if only one person was sick). And her justification for this? It’s for Ayano’s good, that it would make her a better player. Which parenting school did she go to? Abandon your kid for years out of some sense that it will be good for her? Ayano spots her years later in a magazine alongside a Danish girl, a badminton champion and her adopted daughter. Replaced… Harsh.

It would be one thing if she were a neglectful parent antagonist to Ayano’s arc. However, Hanebado doesn’t see her that way. When she comes back to Japan, there’s barely a criticism against her. The grandparents on the father’s side don’t seem to care whatsoever for abandoning her infant. Their response is akin to having missed her daughter’s school play. “Oh that’s too bad. Maybe next time.”

As for Ayano’s response, she’s mad at her mother at first, but the final episode cops out and ends with, “Eh, I’m over it.” What just happened?

Usually when a story has a poor writing decision, I can see what the author was trying for. The result may not have worked, but the idea makes sense. In Hanebado, I don’t know what the author was thinking. Either it doesn’t make sense, like I have perceived it, or the author somehow thinks that the mother’s parenting is good and the split personality behaviour is praiseworthy.

When I say author, I want to be clear that I don’t know if it’s this way in the manga. I’m questioning whoever is responsible for putting it on screen.

It’s a shame that the characters and story have such problems, as the badminton itself is great. I love the matches. The animation, the cinematography, and the sound design – all fantastic. Sadly, there isn’t much outside of that to praise.

Art – High

Easily the best aspect of Hanebado, the art is clean, the animation fluid, and the opening sequence is beautiful. Such a waste on this story. I like the practical character designs that make sense in badminton, except for the pink haired girl (should have tied her hair up during the game).

Sound – Medium

The acting is fine in either Japanese or English and the casting is similar. The music is solid as well. Fine all around here.

Story – Very Low

A girl reluctantly joins the badminton team after bad memories of her mother kept her away from the game. Hanebado starts as a standard sports anime before it takes a turn for the stupid with baffling character choices and drama.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Unless you want to see some well-animated badminton, stay away from Hanebado. I still don’t understand the story choices.

(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:

Fluid Animation

Negative: 

Induces StupidityRubbish Major Characters

F-Zero: GP Legend– Anime Review

Japanese Title: F-Zero: Falcon Densetsu

 

Similar: Redline

Initial D

Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Racing Sports Science Fiction Action

Length: 51 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Some good design elements.

Negatives:

  • The art quality!
  • Surprisingly low energy for the fastest racer ever.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I want you to look at the screenshots below and take a guess at the year of release for F-Zero: GP Legend. Or at least think of anime that you believe came out around the same time.

Have an answer in mind? 1992 alongside Sailor Moon? 1997 with Pokémon? You’re thinking far too early. F-Zero: GP Legend came out in 2003 – late 2003… It blew my mind when I realised this, which was only after I had finished the series. The whole time I thought I was watching something that would have been wedged between Sailor Moon and Dragonball Z during my morning cartoon block, had it ever been localised.

To give you context of how bad this looks for the time, know that Fullmetal Alchemist, Gungrave, and Planetes came out in the same season. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex came out a year earlier and looked great even with CG animation. What happened? Did they make GP Legend ten years earlier but forgot about it until an intern, charged with clearing the archive room, found the reels caked in dust below a shaft of musty light? He blew off the years of neglect and back rushed memories of his favourite racing game? I’d love to know the answer.

Speaking of forgotten for many years, Ryu Suzaku (Rick Wheeler in English) enters cryo-freeze for 150 years after an accident during a car chase with the villain Zoda. Jody Summer wakes Ryu from his slumber to join her special police unit comprised of pro racers. In the future world of Mute City – formerly New York City – lightning-fast racing dominates the entertainment and gambling scene and the special unit must keep the prize money out of villainous hands. You could focus on getting into the villains’ lair instead, but whatever.

Ryu adjusts and functions surprisingly well for a guy who just woke up after 150 years. (Shame they didn’t look to Demolition Man for inspiration. I love that movie.) The story quality matches the early 90’s art. Early episodes are a villain of the week format that incorporates racing, pitting Ryu against/alongside one of many racers from the games such as Samurai Goroh. The plot goes deeper after that, though not by much. The characters are a varied and unusual bunch, which does make events a tad more interesting. One guy looks like Mario auditioning for the fifth Tellytubby in white.

You’ll notice that I’ve made no mention of Captain Falcon, the character everyone associates the games with even if they have never played them. In GP Legend, he is the legend and therefore isn’t part of the story very much. Ryu is firmly the protagonist.

With 51 episodes of this artistic quality and bland story, it takes an iron stomach or being a super-fan to complete F-Zero: GP Legend.

 

Art – Very Low

I cannot believe this was made in 2003. Take an N64, increase the anti-aliasing, and you have yourself F-Zero: GP Legend. It looks better elsewhere, but this is a cheap anime. The world and cars have good design intentions.

Sound – Low

F-Zero’s electronic music is present, yet a pale imitation of the games’ soundtracks. The acting is typical morning cartoon fare.

Story – Low

A police detective wakes up 150 years in the future after an accident and works with an elite task force to stop villains through racing. F-Zero: GP Legend is more a low-energy villain of the week series than a racer to boring results.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Unless you are the biggest Captain Falcon fan, F-Zero: GP Legend has nothing for you.

(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:

Ugly Artistic Design

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.

(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:

Mary Sue

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.

(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:

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.

(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:

Extensive Character DevelopmentRiveting ActionStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None