For starters, this sales pitch would probably take more than a minute to read in full. In fact, it will be the most un-sales pitch-like sales pitch you would ever read because of its length, but it probably doesn’t matter because the objectives of this series are really as follows:
FIRSTLY, TO CONVINCE THOSE WHO HAVE NOT WATCHED ANY SPORTS ANIME AT ALL TO START.
SECONDLY, TO DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN THE DIFFERENT SPORTS ANIME I HAVE WATCHED SO THAT YOU CAN CHOOSE WHAT PROBABLY SUITS YOU THE MOST. (also, not to worry, there will not be any spoilers!), which I will elaborate on in the next part of this series.
First off, I’ll start with my foray into sports anime. As someone who hasn’t had an inch of interest in real-life sport, I was naturally staying away and avoiding all sports-related anime, and I did that consistently for two entire years where I watched no less than 120 other titles. I traversed all other types of genres in anime – shounen, shoujo, josei, romance, school life, military, psychological, mecha, magic, fantasy, adventure, sci-fi, seinen, thriller, super power, shounen ai, shoujo ai, slice of life, mystery, horror, historical and even music (drama, comedy and action don’t count because they are present in varying degrees in all sorts of anime).
And then one day in June 2014 as I was browsing through the Top Anime titles on MAL (I actually periodically get ideas on what anime to watch next from there), I came across Kuroko no Basket, which had etched itself a place in the first page of the list. This wasn’t the first time I had seen the title, but I have been wandering around on the interwebs long enough to know that its a very popular title that dominated online discussions, together with Free! at the time.
I started Kuroko no Basket, and anime has never been the same again. Even while I watched many series in between then and now, including and not including other sports anime, it has come to my attention that the only series I have genuine interest in watching a ton at one go has just been sports anime.
Sports anime I have watched
These are mainly the ones aired in more recent years, namely Kuroko no Basket, Yowamushi Pedal, Haikyuu!!, Big Windup, Chihayafuru, Diamond no Ace, and Free!.
Reasons to watch sports anime:
You don’t have to understand anything about the sport at all. What do I know about basketball and volleyball? I played those in class and I can score by luck, but I don’t know anything about a real game. About karuta? Are you kidding me? About baseball? The only thing I know was that it involves a ball, bats, gloves and caps. Does it hamper enjoyment in any way? Nope, not really.
Firstly, most of the anime do explain certain games, rules, or even strategies and moves reasonably well enough. I won’t take basketball as an example because its simple enough, but for volleyball, I really had no idea that it had so many positions and rules until I watched Haikyuu!!. Even for the harder sports, like baseball where most anime don’t explain a lot because it has too many complicated rules, there are series that are more beginner-friendly like Diamond no Ace. I started baseball with Big Windup and I hadn’t a clue about what was going on. However, you should still rely on Google if you want to fully understand a strategy though.
You don’t need to have any interest in real life sports at all to enjoy it. I daresay I still have zero interest in real sports games because the singular difference between real life sports and anime sports are the presence of the story and character development. Without those the sport is nothing, with the exception of baseball, which is interesting because of it is more complicated. No worries, anime will do the job of you and you will be cheering your butts off before you realise it.
Sports anime does a better job at providing your shounen fix than the shounen anime themselves. For example, the shounen cliche of being powerful and beating up your opponents, or never dying after being bloodily bruised or beaten or being fired up for your nakama. Sports anime generally does incorporate your favourite shounen cliches as well, but because they do it within the confines of a sport and its rules they are much more limited. The good sports anime give themselves especially special leeway and restrict themselves to thinking up clever plays to outwit the opponent. Even when it comes to a battle of brute strength or power, these moments don’t happen often enough. And of course, sports anime do make your protagonists lose at times. Also, in comparing the concept of nakama in shounen and the parallel concept of teammates in sports, realism comes through for the latter because it provides a better bridge to any situation that involves teamwork and victory as a goal, whereas nakama necessarily means you must be motivated by the thought of those people to continue fighting (I seriously salute anybody who feels this level of love on a constant basis for a group of people, but it sure does not happen often.)
With the exception of moe, sports anime are pretty unique to the Japanese. There is no other series of any nationality that can portray tenacity, effort, discipline, and passion with the psychological mind games at times better than sports anime. You could find a good sci-fi story or fantasy or adventure story in other mediums of entertainment, but the Japanese are pretty well known for their specific genre-tackling, like focusing on a particular sport or hobby (like music). Such values are also part of their culture and they way they behave so they most probably the most well positioned to write a sports story that can tug at the audiences’ emotional heart strings so much.
The themes of effort vs talent, hard work and determination are themes that resound with us the most. For who hasn’t worked hard for something at least, in their life before? Whether you have succeeded or failed, the sweet taste of success or the bitter taste of defeat is something that isn’t really easy to forget. Sports anime taps on such core experiences really well and ensures that the characters face challenges that resonate with the viewers. Even if you have been lazy throughout your whole life, you would certainly be motivated to participate in a sport or go all out for your dreams at least once. I really regret not participating in a sport in my school days (I am still at school, but its really too late). I played in an ensemble before but music isn’t quite the same as sports.
Laughter and tears in one package. I limit this to the really good sports anime, but coming from someone who has always been a big fan of psychological mind twists and view that a good anime series only comes with a story with good setting and major, global themes relating to humanity, I was really surprised how much just laughter, tears, and emotional rooting for a team or character can play such a major role in determining whether a series is good. Besides, good sports anime are never lacking in a good story.
My conclusion is pretty obvious I suppose. This was mainly my personal opinion which is a tad more emotional than usual, to convince the wider anime community that sports anime isn’t as niche or boring as some people may think. Nevertheless, I emphasise that I have only watched the ‘better’ and ‘newer’ sports anime, so I can’t speak for the genre as a whole as I haven’t watched a ‘weak’ series, but for those yet to start, there really is no harm trying one. (I would still recommend starting with Kuroko no Basket, for shounen fans and bishounen fans). The next part of this series will be a comparison between the different sports anime, so for those who have tried at least one or two sports anime, do keep a look out for it!
Have you had any concerns about sports anime? Do you like or dislike sports anime, and why? It will be really interesting to see anybody who radically disagrees with what I am saying here, and of course, people who agree are welcome to join the party too! 😀