Sports Anime Should Be about Art

This below post was kind of something that came to mind after I hit “publish” on the previous post, and it’s too big to just edit into my previous post. So.

I actually watched half of S2 marathon style

To summarize my last post, I am just complaining that sports manga/anime stories shouldn’t be taking sports just as a character development vehicle. It’s not to say don’t develop characters. I’m not saying we shouldn’t focus on intercharacter relationships, teamwork, or any of that good stuff. What I am saying is the way the actual sport is portrayed in sports anime/manga should be taken seriously and more thematically thorough. It should not just be a means to an end.

To go to the next step, maybe Chihayafuru is a good example because that is a pretty hollow example. By that I mean competitive karuta, as much as you dress it up to be, is still not much more than Egyptian Ratscrew. There are techniques, but it’s hardly a game nearly as complex as, say, motor sports in general. Or even most team sports. Is it more complicated and nuanced than curling? Anyway, that’s not the point, and I don’t want to belittle anything. But part of what makes Chihayafuru ticks is how it explains one of the most ethnically obscure sport of Japan to an audience who largely isn’t aware that it is a thing. There’s the whole exploratory angle. It really isn’t a story focused on an audience of pro karuta fans who follows the scene, but we share Chihaya’s point of view, starting a novice, as she explores the world of karuta.

What I enjoyed from Chihayafuru is that it plays pretty hard on the artistic nature of karuta. That the poems’ history as courtesan time-wasters is not lost on the audience. The art to “singing” the poems, for example, interplay with how fast someone can pick up the audio cues and thus get the right card first, is precisely the kind of thing that ties both the athletics and artistry sides of the sport and what it means to people who play it, in light of karuta. It’s not done in light of some intercharacter conflict or struggle, but as a nature of karuta. And in a way that karuta is such a simple game means there were only a few ways they can make these sorts of things stick out in the anime. I think that is a mixed blessing because the story can focus on the “go to koshien” aspect, which is, admittedly a necessity if the game here is foreign to most viewers. I’m also glad, visually, Chihayafuru is all about those artsy things.

And I think that’s the best way to approach sports anime: treat it as art. To use K-ON as an example, music is, by default, treated like art. It is about how it affect our lives. It’s not as much about how competition, pressure, a desire to be successful, self-worth, or whatever teenage angstbait or page-turning trick, but about what it means to learn to be a craftsman in your art. It’s partly what makes team sports so much fun to watch, because it’s not just a single guy doing the physical equivalent of hunting wild boars in a MMORPG until he dings level cap. Mio and Azunyan can practice until their fingers bleed through and their guitars stain crimson, but it’s not what music is about. Just like how abusive and difficult summer camps is what Koshien is about, but not so much what baseball is about. But singing a nursery rhyme when it’s raining outside and you’re doing absolutely nothing on a Saturday afternoon is exactly one way what real life music is like.

This is partly why I really like Oofuri. That is one story where you know whoever wrote it paid the gods of baseball the proper respect. It’s a plain koshien story, sure, and it still focuses on the battery like 90+% of baseball anime, sure, but the treatment of the sport is glorious. You can actually find what is artful about both baseball and Oofuri just by watching a bunch of people play the sport. Despite swimming in its very culturally-specific context of the Japanese high school sports club experience AND the whole Koushien culture context, Oofuri takes a big step beyond just all of that, and talks, well, baseball.

So, yeah, the other big reason why I like Oofuri is because it goes beyond the rigid genre walls of sports anime, the go to koushien schtik, and even the walls of high school baseball stories (and high school stories). Maybe another way out of these barriers for a non-Japanese to enjoy sports anime is through the appeal of these simpler, fundamental concepts like teamwork or raw human emotion and growth/character development. But if the focus is on that, I feel the work would lose its sports appeal.


Sports Anime Is Really about Character Development

This is the trigger, but I gave this topic a lot of thought over the years.

And it still is kind of the same thing.

Sportsball

The problem about sports anime is that isn’t about sports most of the time. I think it might mean I should give ESPN’s oft-praised 30-for-30 a try, because as they say in American sportscasting, it’s still about telling a story. I think the problem with sports anime is not the stories they tell, but how deeply the sports play a role in the story. How does it integrate thematically? I keep coming back to Cross Games (because it’s the most moving sports anime I probably have watched, and it’s also the only Adachi thing I saw to completion) because it’s a great story that probably has nothing to do with baseball, yet it’s about baseball. It is entirely engaging for me as someone who knows about high school baseball in Japan, but it is totally boring as someone who enjoys following the MLB. In that sense, it’s a story that engages me as a person and as someone who knows about the whole koushien religion but not someone who enjoys watching baseball.

I want to also point out One Outs, a show I dropped about 2 episodes in, because it is ridiculous and honestly I’d rather go sit down and watch that Million Dollar arms movie first. What I want to see is more like, Moneyball. Because one is actually a book about baseball and the other is just gambling. It isn’t to say the cat-and-mouse game depicted in One Outs is not a part of baseball, but it’s characterized in such a way that becomes a very different thing to enjoy; I wouldn’t so much if I didn’t enjoy that gambling aspect. I would say if I was a bigger fan of the sports I might enjoy One Outs on technicalities of how it portrays the sport in such an out-of-box way.

Baseball fans are blessed because Japan loves this sport, so there are probably more baseball manga and anime than most other sports. It’s also easy for me to draw from to make my points because of that. And because Oofuri exists. That is the kind of sports anime I love, because it uses baseball to tell the story, even if ultimately it’s the same human narratives you find in Adachi’s works. It’s just also the same kind of narratives you find on a pre-game show on ESPN. What drives it isn’t the ships or the feelings of the players, but what the sport does to you, how it changes the way you think and see things. This is kind of also why I am sticking with Ace of the Diamond.

Over time I also found an increasing reason to justify why Ro-Kyu-Bu is a great sports anime (as far as sports anime goes–in my opinion very few are any good for fans of sports), and that is precisely why. The story in Ro-Kyu-bu is about a bunch of kids, through their pursuit in basketball, actually learn something about life, and they apply it to their sport. For those people who follow developing pro basketball programs, you know this is actually exactly how it works even at the highest level. And the fact that one of the lolis has a post game just tickles me.

To that point, this is also why I’m not talking about, say, K-ON or Hanayamata (or GaruPan or Love Live or many other similarly formatted stories) in this blog post, because they don’t even enter the picture even if it may be natural to graft on a Go To Koushien trope in the plot for any of those. There needs be some  kind of texture, at least, from the “sports” thing. For me K-ON was actually the closest out of the bunch because it totally channels a form of what music means to people. And because music is such a big topic and experience, it’s hard to box that in the whole sports context. Another one that I see people harp on is Chihayafuru, which feels like a koushien thing through and through and does the sports aspect right, but competitive karuta is as sports as Concentration. It’s about the novelty of the thing, not the thing itself.

And it’s also the distinction between just showing it and explaining it. K-ON is a story that just show you what music is, and what it does to people (eg., not always good!). Oofuri on the flip side is a story that explains everything to you, both directly and through how the story progress, how people relate to each other, and how they develop.

This is actually my biggest critique to GaruPan–by all means it’s a solid sports drama, but it only has one major character development point, which is Miho’s backstory and how she reconciles it with her sister. Seems like a lot of time spent to do very little, at least in that sense.

Also, part of this is just the way how the concept of say, team play and competitiveness, play into character development as showcased through sports. To me that is bull caca in that we’re still telling the same old story told everywhere and does nothing about the sport. If execution is where it counts, then it becomes just a matter of executing the thing on the sports. The catch here is that people come to anime narratives for exactly that–the intercharacter drama, the growth and maturity of individuals, the beauty of friendship, what have you. But who isn’t into this stuff? The sports component is like the moe component, in that it becomes a database element. All too often the sport is merely a subject of respect and not so much a subject of love and passion. It’s not the focus of the story. It’s not thematically thorough.

So yeah, more real sports anime please.


IM@S Still Cleans Me Up

There’s not much else to say on my part. Words probably could describe how I feel today and how I felt back when in February, but this means so much to so many and it was executed so well that it says all that I wanted to say.

Oh, I guess at least I can attribute.

For those who are new, let’s just say that back in Feb there was a great IM@S live event and I was able to attend. In many ways it was possibly one of the most moving attempt at mix media marketing ever, and one of the best anime/game event ever. It was also a great concert on its own. Now we can relive it on Blu-ray comes October 22nd. There was a live stream earlier today that I clipped and put on the ‘tubes and you can look at the samples above.


Housekeeping: IM@S SSA Cleanup

Lots of stuff to talk about but mainly I just want to publicly point out that all the people who contributed money to our SSA flower and book deal should’ve gotten their stuff in the mail by now or already received them (months ago for most of you). Maybe better put I am kind of putting it to rest now that the last thing I had to mail out is in the mail.

A big thank you to all who helped us through the whole thing. A big thank you to those who helped me through the whole thing!

In other news, IM@S 9th is in a couple weeks and things are ramping up. Friday brings a surprise announcement that they don’t want fans to send flowers to the Tokyo and Nagoya venues. Probably because they are like “wait we’ll get too many flowers and there won’t be any room for people” or some such. We are planning to do something flower-based so it’s a curveball to our plans that we’ll have to work around.

Today also is the day that Tenso (popular Japanese proxy) received my IM@S Movie pop stand. The shipping was about what I expected; the boxes are like 97cm in length and 80cm some in width, so it’s quite large. Some Ps ordering multiple are paying hundreds in shipping, so hopefully when we get the stuff in time for some photo OP!


Gnashing Teeth on North American Anime Con Guests Announcing

It’s about three weeks to Otakon, and Otakon still has one guest to announce for their Sunday music showcase. For those of you unfamiliar with North America’s second largest anime convention (boasting probably close to 35000 unique attendees for this year), in recent years Otakon employed their main events each day in this way: Friday night features a concert, Saturday night features the masquerade, and Sunday afternoon the second concert. For the 20th Otakon they did things differently by doing a concert on Saturday instead of Friday so they can reinstate the MST3K event that Otakon used to do, but that was just for last year. Also, it made renting the Baltimore’s First Mariner Arena more feasible.

Again, it’s about three weeks to Otakon. As mentioned before ALTIMA is Otakon’s Friday guest. We have no idea who will be for Sunday yet. Three weeks is a magical period of time because of how the airline industry works. Booking too close to the date of the event and you will be paying out of your nose, and there are rarely any deals closer than 21 days prior. That’s not to mention availability of flights. So yeah, good luck, west coast bros.

The great thing about Otakon is that the management knows this. In fact it’s not just them. Knowing however is only half the battle. It is all too common with multi-party negotiations though, that if working with these third parties things invariably can get drawn out and delayed. Japan will take its time. There might be something unexpected that delay the process, who knows. What makes Otakon slightly better, in my estimates, compared to others, is how they work to avoid these issues that comes with the process. Because knowing means you can try to mitigate these external factors. Emphasis here is try.

Because, let’s face it, these things happen all the time. I’m grateful for the opportunities these large or mid-size cons provide, to make a concerted effort and bring over Japanese guests who worked on anime or what not. But in the end it’s these little things that distinguishes a great con from just a good con. It’s the difference between being able to meet one hardcore JP fan at the con versus a dozen of them. It’s the difference between going to a con or not going to a con for me, if it’s not a con already on my agenda that year.

As someone who had a jolly time hanging out with said JP fans at AN and Acen this year, it makes a difference to me. I guess it’s just something that can’t be helped. But is it? I think it can, even if it is very difficult. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the enjoyment of fans going to a con directly hinges on the competencies of the con management. I’m just numerating a clear example of it. Some things might matter more or less to some people. Some might not matter at all to just about no one. I wonder if you’ve got a group of experienced con managers (like Otakon has in the past few years), this is one way they can iteratively level-up how they run a con and squeeze that last drop of enjoyment from the whole endeavor. And since JP guests cost so much resources to bring over, why not maximize the experience for the fans who enjoy the guests? Go all the way.

But then again you still have the situation we’re seeing today. It’s three weeks till Otakon. Do you know where your guests are?

PS. On the flip side, Otakon hotel cancellation deadline is Friday, so if they announce the music guest Thursday and it’s a hit for you, you might have a shot at getting hotel space. Hotel space is likely not the most important item for attendees, but it’s probably second most important for a lot of people.