This is turning out to be quite the season for fans of sports anime. Not only do we have five sports series coming out at the same time, but each one of them is about a different sport. We’ve got baseball, basketball, biking, boxing, and wrestling all represented here. Now I won’t be following the boxing anime (because, as I am ashamed to admit, I haven’t seen the earlier seasons of Ippo) or the wrestling anime (because, as I am ashamed to admit, I have seen the trailer for this anime), but the rest of them are fair game, so let’s bring them up to the plate and see how they play.
Ace of the Diamond
Let’s work our way down from the top here in terms of emotional intensity. Tensions in Ace of the Diamond run through the roof; where I took note of White Album 2 for its refusal to deal in emotional outbursts, Ace deals in little else. Tears and punches and jerks mocking and yelling at each other is the order of the day, and when it’s Nobuyuki Hiyama doing the yelling, it’s hard to complain. Most of the cast, from the main character to the recruiter to the high school’s batter are pretty irritable or manipulative folks, and the faces we see in the OP sequence don’t seem to suggest that the friendly faces of our hero’s middle-of-nowhere local middle school team will be the norm where he’s going. If you’re looking for a heartwarming, uplifting underdog series, I’d suggest looking elsewhere. The high school team is comprised of bought talent, and hypercompetitivity is the new teamwork. It’ll be interesting to meet the rest of the high school team once the MC inevitably decides to accept the offer there; until then, there’s not much to go on character-wise, which is often a huge factor in the appeal of a sports series. The animation’s nothing too special, but it gets the job done. The heavy-handedness of the drama is probably the biggest potential turn-off for the series, but it’s heavy-handed in a different way than Nagi no Asukara – rather than forcing dramatic situations to occur where they shouldn’t, Ace takes the reactions to understandable situations to the extreme. It’s an approach to heavy-handed drama that I’m more willing to accept, especially in a sports context like this, where competitive instincts can ramp up emotions to ridiculous degrees. If, like me, you want a show about a bunch of angry baseball players playing angry baseball, you can get your fix right here. Anyone else need not apply.
Kuroko’s Basketball S2
The first season of Kuroko’s Basketball is the sports anime that broke the sports anime bubble for me. You know, that imaginary bubble that everyone has that’s all like “you know, I don’t normally like sports anime, but this one sports anime was pretty good, and also happens to be the only one I’ve seen, and I don’t really want to watch any other ones because of some nebulous prejudice that I have yet to identify within myself”. Kuroko is the show that made me WANT to watch more sports anime. While the first season was thoroughly eclipsed by an absolutely stellar Spring 2012 season, the pickings are a bit slimmer this time around, and, like S1’s summertime second cour, it has its chance to shine as the show I most look forward to every week. The fourth-ever post on my blog was a love letter of a review for the series, I gave it perhaps the longest of my 12 Days of Anime posts, and though I ranked it 13th on my Top Anime of 2012 list, every time I look at the list I wish I’d bumped it up a few more spots. Suffice it to say, this show is a Pretty Big Deal to me. So big a deal, in fact, that I’m giving it another paragraph.
So yeah, the first season’s great and all, but that’s not what this is about. How’s the second? It’s every bit as good. This is very much the same Kurobas we were left with almost exactly a year ago when the first season ended, and it does all of the same things right.
- It’s got the same knack for well-defined and purposeful character interactions that fans like to (quite knowingly) misconstrue as homosexual undertones. In contrast to this summer’s notoriously gay swimming anime Free, which let its petty elementary-school drama linger and fester throughout the entire series, Kurobas puts forth an overly-dramatic flashback only for Kagami to get over it almost immediately and increase his resolve to play the game. A new member of the Generation of Miracles also makes an appearance, getting an unusually expressive reaction out of Kuroko.
- It’s got the same wacky hijinks and the same sense of humorous juxtaposition. After a very dramatized reintroduction to all the main characters and their powers (in amusing contrast to the ridiculousness of their abilities), including a grin-inducing return to the series’ classic and familiar “people don’t realize that Kuroko was there the whole time” joke, and the energetic rock-n-roll opening theme, the first scene we cut to is Kagami struggling to eat broccoli and spilling it all over the place.
- It’s got the same silly BS-ball powers to spice up the games. In addition to the regular powers we know and love, we have a character who shoots a jump shot that seemingly passes straight through Kagami’s hand, and an introduction to Kuroko’s new ability-in-progress, an unstoppable drive that plays on his lack of presence (yes I know I’m cheating and these are from the second episodes, but I’m already making all kinds of exceptions for Kurobas because Kurobas.
- It’s got the same goofy Engrish thrown in all over the place.
- Heck, it’s even got the same bands doing the theme songs (and dear god is the OP beautifully-animated).
In short, Kurobas is back and it’s as beautiful as ever. If you liked the first season, you’ll continue to like the second season. If you didn’t like the first season, then I am sorry you were not gifted with good taste. And Kuroko still is, and always will be, the best Basugay.
Yowamushi Pedal is quite unlike Kurobas, which I knew would be great and which lived up to all my expectations. Yowamushi Pedal, instead, was good very much by surprise. The otaku lead had every opportunity to be annoying, but was instead endearing in his dedication to his hobby. This dedication could have been shown through gratuitous anime references and nothing more, but instead was used to develop his character through his desire to restart the club and his circumstantially acquired skill at biking. The biking CG could have been obtrusive, but instead blended reasonably well (at least so far). The actually-athletic brooding rival character could easily have angsted the show into the ground, but instead he is inspired in ways both expected (biking) and unexpected (whistling) by his unlikely challenger. The show doesn’t go out of its way to beat us over the head with things, and lets the characters and situations speak for themselves for the most part, which made things feel surprisingly natural and made it a lot more enjoyable to watch. If Ace of the Diamond’s overbearing nature was too much for you, this may be the series to try instead. It’s lighthearted, well-written, and just plain fun.
As I fall farther and farther behind the currently airing shows with these first impressions, I move on next to the mechanical side of things. The weekend sports were one of the big highlights of the fall, but the first impressions are far from over!