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With the release of Free! Season 3, I’ve decided to write this opinion piece on sports anime, because this subgenre which I love to bits sure gets a lot of hate.
When I start a sport anime, I almost always subconsciously think: am I really going to be able to get through _____ episodes watching [insert sport here]? and always, ALWAYS the answer is yes.
As someone who began their anime obsession with Sailor Moon, Dragonball Z, Avatar: the Last Airbender and Full Metal Alchemist, I’d never given much thought to watching a slice-of-life, run-of-the-mill, non-fantasy/sci-fi, in-our-world show. It’s not that I didn’t think they’d exist, but I guess I figured if I was going to watch sports, I should just go watch sports–real ones, with real teams. This kind of thinking, however, is one of my biggest gripes with the social perspective on anime, and the stereotypes which follow it.
My view on the genre changed in late September/early October of 2015: my mother had grown increasingly more ill, and I had little social and academic stimulation. This is also the time I began my Crunchyroll subscription and decided to give Haikyū!! a try. It had good reviews and looked simple, which was ultimately what I needed. I didn’t have the mental and emotional capacity or resources to invest into something so serious like my previous series. Upon reflection, I think I wanted something where I knew the main characters wouldn’t die–an escapism from the very real possibility (and ultimately reality) that Mama would lose her battle with cancer.
What I discovered was refreshing, inspiring and exactly what I needed at the time. The characters were round, interesting and inspiring; the plot was easy to follow and not bogged-down by the standard world-building and other sci-fi/fantasy complexities I was accustomed to at the time. Without realizing it, I became invested in these characters. All of them: their victories and losses, their eccentric nature in direct juxtaposition to the anime’s staccato bursts of horror-animation. Rather than words, let me provide a series of gifs:
I mean, there’s a lot to love, amiright?
After binging the first and second seasons, I proceeded to swallow Free! and Kuroko’s Basketball. Eventually I would watch Yuri on Ice!!! and Yowamushi Pedal as well. What was this life?! How did it take me so long to even give these a try?! Sure, they were largely about teams and you often saw the same move repeatedly: a fast quick here, a misdirection there. However, those same moves were still refreshing, still evolved and progressed with the characters themselves. Plus, the camaraderie! The tenacity! Someone hold me: I’m getting emotional. So why didn’t I try these earlier? What prevented me from entering this wonderful world of don’t mind and ganbatte? To answer this question, let’s have a quick story time.
I was talking to a close friend of mine– let’s call him John– about anime and how he seemed to like the comedies (Ouran High School Host Club, the Devil is a Part-Timer, etc). I was saying how it was interesting that this was the case, since he engaged with large and complex problems on a daily basis. To be honest, I expected him to like something more like FMA: the themes present in it are huge and the show genuinely makes you think and reflect on society as a whole as well as your own life choices. His response?
If you’re going to talk about a serious topic, you should choose a different medium. Anime can’t be taken seriously: it’s a cartoon.
Yes, my fellow, Annieme Addicts, I know. I, too, was deeply offended.
To me, this was the equivalent of saying you can’t write a funny poem because it’s a poem, and don’t you know all poems have to be iambic pentameter and written in heroic couplets! Actually, only Shakespeare can write poems, and he can only write them about comparing lovers to a summer’s day. Ridiculous, right? It’s judgmental and uninformed, and it’s largely how most humans operate. We love to categorize and think about things in mutually exclusive terms, to organize and divide for simplified understanding. The wonderful thing about being human is our ability to feel multiple emotions for any given situation: we’re allowed to feel both affection and grief when remembering a late loved one. We’re allowed to like multiple things. We’re capable to empathize with others whose worlds seem vastly different from our own. We’re capable of changing our perspectives when knew information becomes available.
To say that sports anime’s can’t be entertaining and captivating, their characters and plot arcs are stagnant, and their thematic exploration is flat and shallow strikes me as the equivalent of saying anime in general cannot and should not be diverse, deeply moving and astute. At least, the statement is an imagined generalization based on speculation rather than personal experience. If we try them out and they’re not our thing: cool. We know something we didn’t know before about ourselves and preferences.
But please, fight the urge to immediately dismiss something as dead before it has a chance to breathe. Instead, try them. Explore with an open mind and you just might find they open your heart and make a home of it, welcoming you as a part of the team for as long as you choose to stay.
That’s all for me!
Watch on, Annieme-niacs!