Or, a look at Ginban Kaleidoscope in the context of the 2006 Torino Olympics and the Japanese approach to women’s sports.
Before I jump into this, I just want to apologize to anyone who actually reads this blog on a regular basis for going missing in action so often lately. I’m taking eight classes this semester, so I really haven’t had much time… and what little time I’ve had over the past week has been eaten up by my insatiable desire to watch as much of the Winter Olympics as I can without going blind from the effort. Which is to say I’ve watched more TV in the past week than I generally do in a period of six months. Aaaand I’ve fallen behind on every single show I’m watching. Good job, Day.
Anyway, in the Winter Olympics my favorite sport is easily figure skating. And as I looked at the list of competitors, I took note of the Japanese women who’re competing – Mao Asada, who wasn’t old enough to compete in Torino, Miki Ando, who did poorly at Torino, and Akiko Suzuki, a new face on the international scene (which is to say she just started doing well enough in the past two years to warrant notice). And then I thought back to the fact that Shizuka Arakawa won the gold back in 2006. And then I remembered Ginban Kaleidoscope.
Ginban Kaleidoscope was a fairly unremarkable anime which aired in the autumn of 2005, right there in the months leading up to Torino. It was centered around a mercurial figure skater, Tazusa Sakurano, who is trying to qualify for the Olympics… in Torino! But then she gets possessed by the ghost of a dead Canadian pilot, Pete Pumps, right in the middle of her short program. And he’s going to be sticking around for 100 days.
Ok, the premise is kind of absurd, but the quality of the content or lack thereof isn’t quite important here. Because in this case, Ginban Kaleidoscope was, in many ways, acting as a representative of the dreams of Japan vis-a-vis the Winter Olympics – specifically, Japan was pinning its hopes and pride on its female figure skaters, looking for them to demonstrate Japan’s power through their triumphal efforts.
Part of this just has to do with regular old politics and nationalism, but there’s some further complexities when it comes to Japan’s relationship with ladies’ figure skating – after all, why else have so much focus on it as opposed to, say, the alpine skiing events? Or curling, for that matter?
While one could point to the simple fact that Japan was sending a fairly solid triplet of women to compete at the Olympics in figure skating, that ignores the original why – in this case, why does Japan have a lot of good female figure skaters (in addition to the three that were sent, Mao Asada was 66 days too young despite her gold medal at the Grand Prix Final prior to the Olympic games)?
Figure skating is a sport that from a Japanese perspective is perfectly suited for ladies. Because while it certainly demands a high degree of athletic ability, it nevertheless also requires a degree of grace and favors a degree of beauty that is in line with the yamato nadeshiko ideal. Essentially, figure skating is a sport that permits Japanese women to participate in sports, but retain the traditional qualities still prized by many in Japan. It is this which drove the growth of figure skating within Japan, and which in turn lead to there being a deep roster of Japanese female figure skaters who were capable of qualifying for the Olympics.
(It may be worth noting, also, that the yamato nadeshiko paradigm also prized sacrifice and service for one’s country, which there is an element of within competing as a representative of one’s nation at the Olympics, albeit one that applies to all the athletes there, not simply the female figure skaters.)
Ginban Kaleidoscope would never have gotten an anime adaptation if it weren’t for the fervor leading up to the Torino games in Japan over its female figure skaters. The fact is, the show itself is fairly mediocre, even if it is enjoyable enough, and the light novels it was originally adapted from didn’t have the readership pull normally needed by light novels to garner TV adaptations. But the climate was perfect – Japan had figure skating fever; time to cash in.
It is ironic, then, that the heroine of Ginban Kaleidoscope finishes 4th at the Olympics. However, it isn’t exactly shocking, as Ginban Kaleidoscope, despite merrily playing up its figure skating aspects, is not really a sports anime, but is instead closer to a coming of age/rom-com-type tale. Its giving nothing away to say that Tazusa falls in love with her Canadian ghost (really? Canadian?) despite the fact that he’s only going to be around for 100 days.
Another deeply ironic factor is Tazusa herself, who is more enjoyable than what one can reasonably expect from such an average effort – she’s a bit of a spitfire, grouching at reporters and the head of Japan’s ice skating federation alike. She isn’t anything like the yamato nadeshiko ideal. and, in real life, she’d never have had a chance at making it to the Olympics, as Japan’s skating federation would’ve found something to prevent her from getting anywhere near there. And had she made it to the Olympics, the International Skating Union itself would’ve punished her for her refusal to conform to the deeply conservative environment of figure skating – note what little good Johnny Weir’s fantastic performances at Vancouver did for him (6th place).
(Of course, unshockingly, Tazusa’s tempestuousness declines as the show weaves its way to 12 episodes – after all, she’s a girl in love, and any good girl in love knows that you should act more demure if you’re interested in a guy!) (seriously, she ends up taking advice from the dead Canadian on her free skate, since obviously pilots know more about figure skating than do figure skaters… and then she’s ok with the 4th place finish because she got a kiss from Pete before he finally went to heaven; lame). 
However, like I said, GK wasn’t intended to be a sports show to begin with, even if it was somewhat marketed that way. The important factor here is that it got adapted into an anime at all – had this been about a spunky Japanese girl who dreamt of a gold medal in biathalon, you can bet it never would’ve seen a TV screen. But figure skating – ah, figure skating! It was something that was thirsted for, the international competitions followed closely, the appeals to the Olympics’ officials to somehow alter their rules regarding age of competitors, the intense dreams of a chance at that elusive bit of gold… here Japan could pin its hopes. And it just couldn’t get enough of it.
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 The novels apparently go far past Tazusa’s 4th place finish in Torino; it seems that they are more sport-oriented than the anime was, probably due in part to the difference in audience (anime was meant for younger girls, while the light novels were written for men).
Shizuka Arakawa won the first gold medal for Japan in figure skating at Torino in 2006; Midori Ito lost out in the 1992 games to Kristy Yamaguchi, interestingly enough. Arakawa won with a program that some people found to be rather dull, but which excelled in grace and included no falls, unlike the other ladies who stood on the podium with her; in a way, it was perfectly fitting with the style of figure skating preferred by Japanese audiences (the more athletic Miki Ando doesn’t have nearly as much popularity as some of her peers despite the fact that she’s the only woman to have ever landed a quad in competition), which itself fits with traditional Japanese ideas of womanhood.