What Makes Sports Anime So Exciting?

Often, but not always, a subset of the shonen genre, sports anime has been around for a very long time. As such we had a variety of titles from different sports of different types. Titles like Ashita no Joe, Hajime no Ippo, Slam Dunk and Captain Tsubasa are iconic titles that define the genre in various ways.

Their impact of sports anime on the medium is immense and they garner a huge following and community. What’s the special X-factor in sports anime that makes it so compelling and extra satisfying? From traditional to avant-garde, fictional and realistic, sports anime have proven they can captivate fans, whether they and many of these titles are incredibly well received. However, we need to dissect the sports anime phenomenon and how it has presented itself at different points in time to find a possible discernible constant that is making sports anime, especially the big ones, as good as it can be.


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A formula?

Due to the sheer variety of athletic codes portrayed in anime, there is no need to look for a specific formula that would fit any or most examples; However, there are obvious categories that emerge when analyzing the central aim and themes of the anime in question. Sports anime are diverse, but like any other genre, they have tropes and tendencies that can better support our understanding of the X-factor that earns them the cult following they are prone to.

One of the most compelling aspects of sports anime in general is the idea that the main characters of the series are working toward a goal or ambition, be it individual, collective, or a combination of both. The journey, often from scratch, and the near-guarantee that the main characters, regardless of their skill at the call-to-action, will eventually reach their destination – no matter how unlikely it seems. There is also often a lower barrier to entry, a reason why having a specific goal or ambition is a little unrealistic or even delusional.

Aoi Ashito from the soccer anime currently airing Ao Aschi is a great example of this. Despite being in decent physical condition and even being the best soccer player from his hometown of Ehime, Ashito begins his journey to becoming a professional soccer player at the age of 15 without even having a grasp of the basics, the first touch, the passing, and it he severely lacks what people understand by a “soccer IQ”. The title character of Kuroko’s basketball lacks presence, and more importantly, Kuroko lacks basic ball handling skills, the ability to kick the ball and physical stamina. Iwa Kakeru: Sport Climbing Girls had a protagonist who was a total novice; start climbing one day and have to compete the next day.

The drama

What helps sports anime become so moving is the fact that characters aim for ambitions that aren’t necessarily attainable, with the basic premise that they will actually do it. This is perhaps the biggest draw for her and other anime that use this trope in the context of a character’s physical power (see “The Big Three”). Seeing characters overcome obstacles is heartening for viewers, and it feels great, it’s like watching a friend finally achieve a goal they’ve been striving for for more than 50 episodes.

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Sports anime can be incredibly dramatic, and this element gives them an interesting edge. Even something stupid like keijo!!!!!!!! (hip whip girl)a sports anime in which female athletes compete in gladiator-style contests, thrusting themselves from a platform into the drink below with nothing but their breasts and buttocks, carries itself in dramatic fashion that in some aspects can serve as a level of comedy.

Advantages and disadvantages

While the draw, on the one hand, stems from the insurmountable odds that the main characters of the sports anime in question face in pursuing their goal, sometimes the sports anime begins with the protagonist already competent or even immensely talented. In this case, they are a force to be reckoned with in their sporting code of choice; but this trope is often secondary to the above.

Highly talented individuals in sports anime are often paired with characters who lack technical ability but make up for it with passion and moments of brilliance. A great example of this would be Hinata and Kageyama dating Haikyuu!. The two are an interesting mix from the beginning of their respective journeys, but Hinata lacks the obvious height; Kageyama lacks temperament. The draw of Haikyuu! can then be seen as how the synergy between them allows them to achieve the common, lofty goal that is the call to action in a sports anime.

Sports anime like tend to have the protagonist’s insurmountable barrier to entry, complemented by an ultra-specific aspect of the sport that they master better than anyone else. While on the one hand Chihayafuru The protagonist, Chihaya, is bold, impatient, and lacks a thorough knowledge of the poems that are essential to the sport of karuta. She has the fastest shot of any karuta player her age, and she works on that aspect until it challenges her flaws.

To take it away from sports anime and set the conversation in shounen anime in general, this dynamic of sports anime is the niche application of the core idea that each configuration has its obvious advantages and disadvantages; However, its application in sports anime allows a character’s worst flaw to be turned into a reliable weapon if properly refined.

The right catalyst

“Catalyst” is to be understood in a very loose sense. Every sports anime needs a central conflict or point of contention to bring it all together. Anime style Haikyuu! Do this in a character-driven manner, with each character in the series facing their own unique issue that then affects their playstyle, temperament, and chemistry with other members of the team. This also applies to works such as Free! and SK8 – The Infinity, where a character’s relationship to a sporting code is central to the story and everything else builds around it. in the SK8, Langa’s skills from his snowboarding contribute to his skateboarding; However, he only skates because snowboarding was something he would do with his late father. On the other hand, the other main character, Reki, has to reckon with his passion for skating as he sees a “rookie” like Langa overtake him and become one of the most prolific skaters he has ever seen.

While every show has something that makes it remarkably different from the next, some of the best sports anime have some sort of variation on the themes and tropes above. While execution of these tropes is important; Their presence within a sports anime title makes this anime get a lot of attention and recognition. While this is by no means exhaustive as the medium continues to evolve and change, some of the elements that make the best sports anime are a combination of drama, a worthy call to action, a character-driven story, and complex dynamics and themes that exist to connect the characters to each other and to the sport on which the entire series is built. Ultimately, some of the best sports anime are those that can inspire passion in a viewer and also show a similar level of respect and reverence not just for the sports code; but also the characters of the series.

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