An Oasis of Thoughts

Twelve Days of Anime x 3: The Power of Karuta, Baseball and Basketball and the Three Stages of Sports Anime

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The  passionate goddess in action.

Not only am I three days late to this event (which is why there’s three things to talk about), but I am embarrassed to not even know what this is all about! So for twelve days (10 for me), bloggers talk about an event, series or theme of some sort that has made an impact on them personally. I’ll take this post and analyze my view that each sports anime goes through three steps, a defense of the sports genre and why I feel it’s been overlooked by the community for a couple of reasons.

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No one wants to leave their comfort zone. That isn’t just something applied to anime, but most other categories like education, activism, employment and so on. If you’re comfortable with what you already have, why change? This is true for deciding what kind of anime you would want to watch and even with the advent of moe domination, there is still quite a lot to choose from in today’s anime series. But if there’s one genre that still gets overlooked, it’s sports. I won’t try to come up with arguments as to why people avoid sports anime, because from a former sports anime hater like myself there’s just too many reasons to list. But once I caught a glance of a show about a kid with no confidence in himself in baseball, something then and there clicked with me. It wasn’t the baseball that clicked with me (but eventually did), it was the kind of character at the helm of the show: someone unsure about himself after being used as a emotional punching bag by people he thought he could believe in. I could relate to it.

Kuroko no Basuke - May00

Now, this is coming from someone who has watched a grand total of four sports anime (three excluding a sequel), but I feel that people do not give enough credit to these kinds of shows. It’s not just about baseball, or basketball or Karuta: it’s the struggle to challenge your limits, it’s the heartbreak when you realize there are others out there who will be better than you and it’s the passion to better one’s self and strive to not just focus on victory, but also understanding your fellow teammates. These three series, Chihayafuru (the struggle), Kuroko no Basuke (the heartbreak) and  Ookiku Furikabutte (the resolution), understand each of those three aspects and while all of them have experience each one of those aspects, it is what I have marked in parentheses next to their titles that I feel they do a much better job in presenting as opposed to the other. Warning: light spoilers for all three series, but I’ll try to be vague if necessary.

The Struggle

Chihayafuru - 01

This is what I feel Chihayafuru excels in. From the get-go, our lead protagonist Chihaya was never good at the game of Karuta unlike her friend Arata, who was the reason she started to play. But what she saw in Arata’s eyes was passion – the kind of passion that could easily attract others and what spurred her into Karuta. Even the title of the series roughly means Passionate God, an obvious reference to Chihaya herself. Throughout the series, Chihaya struggles to be the best Karuta player and would one day have to challenge Arata again once she improved her skills. Making friends and learning new techniques is all part of what makes Chihaya a fascinating character to watch: no matter how many times she falls down, no matter what people may say to discourage her, she always gets up and keeps trying. As I said earlier, all three series including Chihayafuru experience each of these three stages, but Chihayafuru best represents my definition of “The Struggle” of the three stages of sports anime.

The Heartbreak

Kurobas 18

This is a >MFW picture for that particular episode and the one with Kise.

Once you find your footing and keep pushing forward, victories seem like a gimme at this point. You think there’s nothing stopping you and then suddenly, reality sets in. You and your team lose. Whether it’s by a razor-thin margin or a full on blow-out, a loss is a loss no matter what. I had trouble on choosing between Kurobas and Oofuri: both had very gut-wrenching defeats to their opponents, and while it was admittingly more painful to see team Nishiura lose, their first victory was really pure luck among many other positive factors that favored Nishiura. In Kurobas, it’s not just Kuroko’s team that gets thrashed, but also Kise’s team and both of them lost to the same exact team, in particular, one very aggressive member. This is where I really felt just as bad as both team’s did: losing a game can be devastating, it could be that scout from another powerful school who had given you a nice scholarship who suddenly decides one miss-up and you’re out of consideration. True, Kurobas is hardly a real representation of basketball: no one can have the kind of power that Kuroko has, and once I used the word “power”, all logic suddenly left (plus, no one has naturally blue hair). That’s just one aspect of the show, however, because the emotions are still as true as they would if this was a real life team.

The Resolution

oofuri.jpg

When has a group photo NOT turn out like a disaster?

You’ve lost and now you think everything you’ve done up until now was worthless. Someone, most likely your coach, snaps you and your team out of their depression. Defeat is only a temporary setback, because the road to victory is not easy and you have to realize that defeat means you must understand just what it is you lack and what you can improve on. This is where the team aspect of the genre really gets attention, because while you yourself may find resolution, you can’t win without the support and cooperation from your teammates. This is why I feel Oofuri does a much better job in giving each team member some good screen time and backstory, which I feel was somewhat lacking in Chihayafuru and Kurobas. Baseball, like practically every other sport, requires a lot of cooperation and teamwork. In Oofuri, the main character Mihashi has absolutely zero confidence in himself. I know people who have seen it (the rare few) complain a lot about Mihashi’s whiny and defeatist personality but I can accept and understand why he is who he is. The series gradually has him opening up to the rest of the team, starting with the pitcher Abe who initially thought of Mihashi as his ticket to the big leagues but after getting to know him personally, Abe ended up being his primary support and even a guardian to him especially during season 2. Gradually, the rest of the team also gets to bond with him and after they face their major loss Coach Momoe has a great idea: she makes everyone write down what their goal is for the team without showing or telling anyone else. I felt this was the best reason to choose Oofuri for Resolution as the goal writing scene showed just how different the team is, with wildly different goals they can’t win if their priorities aren’t united. Sadly, the anime ended at this point and there still isn’t a season three but if the past is any indication: season 1, April 2007, season 2, April 2010, season 3: April 2013? If so, Fall 2013 has a lot of work to do if it can even rival the sheer amount of series premiering. But while the series has yet to continue at least in anime form, it best represents the resolution the team has experienced.

In a way, these three steps remind me of the 12 major Arcana from the Tarot deck (and because I’ve been playing Persona 3 FES and P4 Arena a lot): the struggle represents the Fool, the heartbreak represents the Tower and the resolution represents either the Universe (for Persona 3) or the World (for Persona 4). Of course, the rest of the nine Arcana lie in the middle of each of these steps, but those three Arcana I listed I feel best represents my post.

If all of that didn’t convince you to give one of these shows a try, well, I tried but the main point of this post is how I personally have come to truly appreciate a genre that many overlook and disregard at the drop of that. I do hope you all will give one of these shows a try.

**Alright, I am really starting to sound like Igor here. Damn, I’ve been playing P3 FES and P4 Arena non-stop and for whatever reason Igor’s speech totally got me motivated to write all of this.

Twelve (Ten) Days of Anime:

Days 12-10: Opening Up to And Appreciating Sports Anime

Day 9: ? I will try to post every day, but no guarantees on that.

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