Why You Should Try the Sports Anime Genre, Even if You’re Skeptical

Hi, I am here today to put in a plug for my favorite genre, sports anime.

Sports anime doesn’t get a lot of attention most of the time from the vast majority of anime watchers, mostly because on paper it doesn’t seem inherently compelling. “Why,” the viewer asks, “if I would never think of picking up a football or baseball in my free time, or watch it on TV, would I ever be interested in watching it in anime format?” There are many answers to this question — I will provide them for you now.

The first answer is that sports in sports anime are often not entirely like the actual sports they claim to represent. While sports in real life often lead to uninteresting blowouts where there is little chance of the opponent catching up, anime very rarely deviate very far from a tie in either direction, leaving the viewer in constant suspense as to the result until the very end. Some sports lead to this result organically, like in tennis or volleyball, where the game is never over until the deciding point is earned, but in sports with time limits, like football, basketball, or soccer, this result is manufactured nearly every time in these anime for the benefit of the viewers.

To add to this contention, there are no physical limits to the participants in a sports anime. Do you want a high schooler to have a forty-yard dash score better than almost everyone in the NFL? What about making most of their points by dunking? Make a tenth of the mechanical mistakes of a regular person? But it goes even farther than that. Anime characters are sometimes able to do things that are literally impossible in the normal play of the sport. Some find this annoying because it takes it outside the realm of reality, but others appreciate the added intensity it gives to the game and some could even regard these impossible feats as metaphors for what happens in the game. While some may regard special techniques like Kuroko’s “vanishing” basketball shot or Tezuka’s “zero degree drop shot” in tennis as annoying gimmicks, it is undeniable that they can add a level of hype to the competition which is appealing. Whatever your preference, there are plenty of sports anime that either do or do not incorporate techniques like this to differing degrees.

Another reason to watch sports anime is that sports anime are able to provide a consistent amount of action from the perspective of a recurring cast of teammates and rivals based on different approaches to the game. The conflict can last longer than a regular battle may last, and none of the characters are gone forever. When a sports anime character is defeated, they can regroup and fix their weakness and challenge their conqueror again to redeem themselves. Teammates can work together to improve on their issues rid themselves of psychological barriers. They have a concrete motivation to be in conflict, and a defined goal to work towards together. This is more true of the team sports than the individual sports, but even the individual sports can find methods of working together as a team. For instance, the bicycles in Yowamushi Pedal ride faster when people take turns being in front to shield the ones in the back from the wind, and individual scores can be aggregated into a combined team score like in Chihayafuru or Prince of Tennis. The way that everyone works together and is given recurring chances at exciting extended action make this an ideally exciting genre. At any point, a character can suddenly come forward with a new technique or mindset and shift the balance of power. The conflict is not over when a person “dies” and there is no manufactured plot which is said to compel them to battle. The motive, goal, and conflict length are all pre-established with the genre.

A further strength of the genre is that it is all based on the motivation of the players. They all care so intensely about their goal, and work towards it through different methods of mental and physical practice and training in collaboration with their particular sets of natural skills. This motivation is extremely easy to feel connected to as a viewer. Perhaps we can’t fully understand the motivation to become Hokage, but who among us hasn’t tried to win a sports competition, improve their physical endurance, or increase their strategic ability in a particular context? While maybe we don’t have the ability to shoot off a Kamehameha or swing through the sky to kill Titans, we entirely have the ability to go throw a baseball or swim a few laps in the pool. The fact of the matter is, these sports anime are just dramatic versions of what we have all likely done before in real life.

And it doesn’t stop there. Sports anime dramatize absolutely everything. Without getting into too much discussion about the definition of “sports”, there are at least “competition” based anime based on: cooking (Shokugeki no Soma), competitive card memorization (Chihayafuru), music club (Hibike Euphonium), piano (Your Lie in April/Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso), Ping Pong (Ping Pong: The Animation), Akagi (Mahjong), Kaiji (gambling), made up sports (Keijo), trivia (Fastest Finger First) and many other different types of competition. What this means is that we don’t have to feel like the goals in these anime are unattainable in our reality — any regular activity could be made into a sports/competition-like anime. Thus, we can feel like we are a part of this action. When we watch sports anime, we can take those emotions and channel them into our passions as well. If you’re a painter, you can imagine yourself into a competition to produce the best art. If you’re a student, you can imagine a competition to write the best essay or absorb the most information. If you’re a writer, it could be a competition to get published. Whatever it is, this beauty and excitement that you see in sports anime can easily happen in real life as well.

These are the reasons that I see sports anime as extremely motivational and criminally underrated, and why I would encourage you to try a show from the genre as well.

Recommendations for New Sports Anime Watchers: Kuroko’s Basketball (Kuroko no Basuke), Haikyuu!, Ace of Diamond (Diamond no Ace), Food Wars (Shokugeki no Soma). Haikyuu is the anime in the featured image for this article, in case that looked interesting to you.