What is, though, a sports anime?
Of course, the answer is – it is whatever your kokoro says it is.
On its face, this is admittedly a rather facetious means of defining what a sports anime is, but I don’t think that a hard and fast definition would adequately explain how shows are identified as part of that category. If I were to say that a sports anime is one in which a sport, or even sometimes a game (a la Chihayafuru or Hikaru no Go) plays a central role in the storyline, and that generally it is pursued in competitive fashion, that doesn’t get at why Saki is (typically) considered a sports story whereas entries in the WIXOSS universe are not. (Tangentially – why are survival game stories not usually considered to be sports stories? Is it because they seem to not be very sporting?) So, at some point, I do think that one ultimately gets into relying on one’s gut to make the distinction.
Having said that, I will note that I don’t include Lostorage incited WIXOSS or Magical Girl Raising Project here, although I am watching both and think one could make arguments for calling them sports anime. If one did so, I would simply disagree with that. In the former case, the opaque nature of the titular TCG’s mechanics inclines me to decide that it is Not a Sports Anime. For the latter, I will cite the lack of concrete rules as disqualifying it as a sports anime. Regarding those which I did include below, I will not be defending or explaining their inclusion.
Without further ado…
1. Yuri!! on Ice
To some degree, laying out reasons for placing Yuri on Ice as the best sports show of the season (so far) seems like a pointless exercise, as it’s high quality is apparently pretty self-evident (MAL, not a place known for holding much affection for whatever it suspects of being “fujobait”, currently has it at an 8.46). It does a great job with balancing drama and humor, the skating sequences are gorgeous, the characters engaging… But I really want to give credit to how sexy it is. Because, wow, it is pretty sexy, and not just in the sense that we’ve seen a fair bit of Victor’s nude butt (although we have).
2. Haikyuu!! Third Season
I’m a little leery about the ability of the show to avoid feeling flabby later on given that we are getting ten episodes for a single match, but so far this has been pretty solid stuff. There’s some really good character work here with the boys of Shiratorizawa, most of whom are brand-new to viewers here. After the likes of Oikawa, there was a risk that Ushijima’s staid assumption of dominance would make it difficult to get as invested in this match, but luckily the other members of the team stand out a bit more. In particular, Tendou is quite entertaining, not least because his pop-eyed facial expression and grinning make him look like a Bleach villain. And the bone tossed to Tsukishima fans this time around in the form of focusing in on him manages to have some meat for the rest of us, much to my surprise.
I’m also a big fan of the ED, both in terms of it’s visuals and the music. I did like the visuals of last season’s ED, but I can’t claim that OPs and EDs is an area this show has ever shone in.
3. March Comes in Like a Lion
SHAFT and Shinbo certainly seemed an odd fit for adapting this one, but that original author Chika Umino specifically wanted Shinbo to direct did make me walk back some of my skepticism before it aired. (The first episode further allayed lingering concerns honestly merely by not having us see the panties of the youngest Kawamoto sister, although this did require some defiance of gravity.)
I was impressed in the latest episode at just how affecting and moving it was about grief over loss of a parent. Dead parents are thick on the ground in anime, but its genuinely rare for there to be a real examination of the ramification of it for characters. If anything, I’d accuse most shows of treating it as simply a garnish for the storyline, or a cheap way of getting the plot moving that is then largely ignored. Here, though, the deaths which occurred before the story began continue to shape the lives of the cast and impacts their relationships with one another. It’s sometimes quite difficult to watch.
Despite all the absurdity of premise, I must admit, with some wonder, that this is a pretty decent sports anime. Even as the whole thing strikes me as an elaborate troll of its audience, it takes its setting and characters quite seriously. I find myself, as a butt is machine gunned at the screen, wanting our heroines to find success in their sport. I want them to trounce the snotty members of the elite class and show them that they can’t simply dismiss them. And I want our greedy and not particularly bright lead Nozomi to convince their sensei to let her perfect the Butt Vacuum Cannon.
5. Sound! Euphonium 2
While one can’t claim that this isn’t still a highly polished production, it’s become bogged down in problems stemming from characters we never set eyes on prior to this season. Admittedly, I’m the sort of person who gets extremely irked when it feels like a story has hastily invented new figures out of a need for different drama to arise, and few stories manage to pull this off without inducing annoyance in me. Perhaps in the original novels Mizore was referenced in the material covered by the first season, but KyoAni cut her presence in order to prioritize the things which were central to that season (the seemingly abrupt emergence of Ennoshita in Haikyuu’s second season, for example, resulted from the first season having dispensed with scenes from the early manga which had involved him). Whatever the case, I care not a bit about Mizore or Nozomi, and am bored by the time spent on their respective plights.
I additionally find myself totally put off by the prominence of Reina’s crush on Taki-sensei. I was disappointed that Niiyama-sensei wasn’t a means by which to wholly jettison it. My issue with it isn’t even on the grounds of preferring to ship Kumiko and Reina – I simply feel uneasy with the lack of clarity about whether the show intends to let it come to fruition or not (Taki-sensei’s habit of carrying a photo of Reina, as shown in last season, seems weird at best). Haruto and Chika’s Musical Mysteries (I’m sorry, I don’t actually care enough to discern the true full title) was an extremely mediocre effort, but at least it made it clear from get-go that neither of it’s underage leads had a chance in hell of getting a date with sensei.
6. All Out!!
Disappointingly bad. A lead who is totally ignorant of the sport he ends up embracing is certainly a unique point to start from, but it makes it a little hard to get invested in his sudden interest. Barely existent animation in the brief shots of the sport in action don’t much help; in a show with stronger characterization and a better core story, it could easily be overlooked, but its simply another strike against it here. I was struck repeatedly by the thought that I would so much rather be watching the secondary lead happily discuss literature with the club he tried to join in the first episode. The show is good whenever it is focused on the obnoxious lead having his ass handed to him by his senpai, whether literally or figuratively, but this sadly doesn’t take up the entire twenty-two minutes of each episode. I’ve dropped it.
Where’s DAYS? Good question, especially since it and I have something in common! Sadly, as an American I am constitutionally barred from ever giving soccer more than thirty seconds of my attention, so you will have to rely on the opinions of others in this matter.