Tag Archives: Sports

The conflict and goals are based around a sport.

Yowamushi Pedal – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Yowamushi Pedal

 

Related: Yowamushi Pedal: Grande Road (sequel)

Similar: Haikyuu!!

Initial D

Baby Steps

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Comedy Sports

Length: 38 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Strong acting.
  • Loveable protagonist.
  • Good at teaching the mechanics of cycling as a sport.

Negatives:

  • Heavy reliance on CG environments.
  • Main antagonist is a nightmare.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Onoda is the type of kid who cycles four hours each way to Akihabara instead of taking the train because it’s free. A train fare worth less than an hour’s work saved at the expense of eight hours cycling? I love this kid’s dumb innocence. Seeing Onoda tackle the incline to school with ease, cycle club member Imaizumi challenges him to a race and soon ropes him into joining the club.

I was going to watch just a few episodes of Yowamushi Pedal before dropping it, but I ended up finishing the season. The protagonist is so likeable and the technical explanations do a good job of engaging you in cycling as a sport. Onoda makes an outgoing friend in Akiba, Naruko, who teaches him how to gearshift like a pro and draft while chasing a punk in a car that threw his trash out the window. It’s a tad unrealistic, of course, but it’s good fun.

Yowamushi Pedal gives off similar vibes to Haikyuu (not as good though), so if you liked that, you will enjoy this. Where Yowamushi differs is in the protagonist, Onoda. What personality type do you think of when someone says “boys’ sports anime”? Most would imagine an energetic, hot-blooded guy with endless determination to be the best, always the centre of attention. Onoda is the opposite (he’s almost Mob from Mob Psycho 100 levels of opposite). He’s timid, introverted, doesn’t like having the spotlight, barely speaks up for any reason, and has confidence in the negatives. He’s not someone you’d cast as a shounen sports protagonist.

However, he works as lead in Yowamushi because one, the explanation for his sporting ability makes sense (they didn’t have him scale the mountain the first time on a bike after some ancient master “saw something special” in him), and two, his evolution from this starting point is believable. The supporting cast works on his aforementioned weaknesses.

Naruko teaching him how to cycle properly and not just on sheer determination is perfect. He justifies his place as a support character and it establishes who he is (he’s the sort to help a newbie in need). Great way of inserting shounen “ability exposition” in a natural manner, by the way. Onada’s cycling team is a good make up of characters. You have some of your usual archetypes here, though an unusual one is Makishima, a creepy looking dude with long green hair and a bizarre notion of what can pass for fashion. On first introduction, he’s a bit of douche with his bluntness, made worse by his attitude and appearance, but as time goes on, you learn why he is this way, and how he cares about the team even when rude to them. He provides a balance to an otherwise “good guys” team.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the antagonists. The competing racers aren’t interesting or memorable. Well, one guy is memorable, yet for all of the wrong reasons. The antagonist focus goes to (I had to look up his name) Midousuji, a design mix of the Cheshire cat meets Orochimaru. He has a broad grin of grinding teeth, bulging eyes, a reptile’s tongue, and a personality that transcends human limits into the comical realm. With a personality so over the top and played up to a grotesque degree, you can’t take him seriously, even when he strangles teammates. He’s so ridiculous that I think he walked into the wrong anime. He does not fit. At all.

Worse still, he just doesn’t stop with the cackling, the grinding teeth, the leering, and the lolloping tongue. Terrible antagonist. I find myself more interested in the small rivalries within the team than the main conflicts against this guy.

As for the cycling itself, you know, the core of the show, it’s solid. You won’t feel lost if you have no idea how it works at a professional level. I dare say, you may even find the intricacies of working as a team and pushing the man and machine symbiosis to the limit surprisingly interesting. It isn’t about pedalling as hard as you can.

Yowamushi Pedal is still a sports anime for sports anime fans at the end of the day. It’s a good one at that, though I don’t imagine it will draw in many outsiders. Want a lesser featured sport in anime? Yowamushi Pedal has you covered.

Art – Medium

Yowamushi Pedal has a good amount of animation, but as a sport that’s constantly in motion, they had to rely on CG roads and environments when cycling, so you will need to get used to it. Animations repeat often as well, but seeing as cycling is a repeated motion, it isn’t a notable problem and the camerawork mixes things up. I like the character designs, reminding me of Haikyuu with the easy distinction among the cast.

Sound – High

Strong acting. Honestly, even if you aren’t into cycling, the characters keep you entertained. The background music is solid as well, though the OP and ED aren’t hype enough for a sports anime.

Story – Medium

An otaku who cycles long distance to save money has his arm twisted into joining the school racing team. Yowamushi Pedal follows the standard sports formula, not that this is a bad thing, but it doesn’t take any risks.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For sports fans. Yowamushi Pedal is the perfect example of a sports anime that delivers every aspect to a good standard without excelling in any way either. Good for sports anime beginners.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

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.

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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.

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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