Sports anime are often dismissed by people, myself included. This is for various reasons, such as lack of interest in the sport, or people claiming it to simply be “fujoshi bait”. While many sports anime have amassed cult followings in the West, discussion on them hasn’t really taken off. Which is a shame, because as I’ve found by watching these shows, there’s a lot to talk about.
What makes Sports Anime Different?
Personally, the biggest barrier that stood between me and sports anime was my general disinterest in sports. Watching these shows I found that I could get invested in them, and enjoy them a lot, but why? I decided to look at what the differences were between “sports” and “sports anime”, they are two different forms of entertainment after all. Despite being about the same thing, sports obviously, the appeal is somewhat different. So what does sports anime have, or at least have more of than real sports that connected me to it?
The Importance of Character Development
How the viewer interacts with the players is different. As sports anime are a story, the viewer gets to watch the characters grow, often within the context of how they play the game. In an anime, the viewer gets to hear the characters inner thoughts, which builds character and explores their goals. A narrative like anime also allows for it to display it’s characters outside of matches, doing things like practice and just spending time. The audiences get to spend time with the character in more than just the plays, this allows for the viewer to understand what makes the character act in certain ways during the games.
Play styles are often made to fit with the character’s personality. A sports anime is about more than just the sports. The sports are the method of delivering a story, and this allows for it to explore different things. Shows like Yuri on Ice! allow for the sports to be used to explore how the people who play grow through action.
Character Through Action
Characters in anime have a clear end goal in place, which makes every step they take part of their journey. As sports are often a team effort and building up each individual member of the team, the audience gets to be involved as well. The team as a whole wants to win, but even with a unified goal, there is variety in motive.
For example, in Scorching Ping Pong Girls the primary protagonists display two very different reasons for playing and thus explores why the characters play the way they do. In anime, the game is a vehicle for the characters self-expression, telling the story through the actions of the individuals. Sports anime can be used as a platform to tell more character driven works where the sport is just one facet of the narrative. There is a multitude of things to be explored in a single work, not just what’s on the surface.
But the fictional narrative isn’t the only advantage that anime as a medium has over regular sports…
Sports Anime and the Camera
Of course, people are still watching sports anime because of one big thing, the actual games. Sports anime presents sports in a way that really benefits from what it is, action. The virtual camera in anime has a major advantage over the real cameras used to film real sports. In real life, the placements of the camera can’t get in the way of the game, leading to shots only for the purpose of letting people see what’s going on. Anime, however, is not limited by things like that. This allows for the camera to be placed wherever is coolest for the cut. This means dynamic shots that drill momentum straight into the viewer’s eyes.
Shots like this are made possible by being an animation. Haikyuu! and other sports anime are works that can take full advantage of their medium. This also allows for artistic styles to put on full display revealing the passion put into a single scene. Animation allows for reality to be accentuated for the purpose of creating a more exciting world.
Sports anime are not my favourite by any means, but they are a good example of the things that make a good show work. Thinking about it gave me newfound appreciation, and I hope more is written to explore these ideas in the future.