I don’t know about you guys but I love the Olympics. I have total respect for athletes of all kinds and the time and effort that they put into making themselves the best they can be. What’s even better is when you see their hard work pay off and they achieve life long goals. Another thing I love is sports-themed anime. Now I’m still fairly new to the sports anime scene, but I really do love what I’ve witnessed in my athletic adventure thus far despite the common similarities between each of them. Today I’ll be fangirling about three of my favourite sports series: Kuroko no Basuke (the basketball one), Haikyuu!! (the volleyball one) and Free! (the swimming one). So prepare yourself for some serious cardio and team bonding as I give you the low down.
Let’s get things started with my favourite anime series ever, Kuroko no Basuke. The easiest way to describe KNB is to compare it to Space Jam, but instead of colourful aliens who happen to be very talented at basketball, it has pretty colourful haired teenagers who are very talented at basketball. The legendary Middle School basketball team of Teiko have went their separate ways after graduating from High School. Former member of The Generation of Miracles and Teiko team member Kuroko Tetsuya enrols at Seirin High along with new comer Kagami Taiga. With their contrasting abilities on the court, both Kuroko and Kagami vow to take Seirin straight to the top by defeating all the remaining members of The Generation of Miracles at their respective schools and aim to win the Inter-high Tournament.
Kuroko no Basuke offers a perfect balance of suspense, humour and a slice of life. All of the characters have very distinct personalities and you find yourself even caring about the minor roles throughout the process of the series. Despite the majority of the cast being male, there are also some great female figures in there too (my personal favourite being Riko Aida, Seirin’s cute but deadly manager). As much as I hate to admit it, some of the matches do go on a little too long, but it’s worth the wait to see what the next gravity defying move will be. The best way to think about it is basketball with with superpowers. Sounds silly but trust me, when you get over the initial thought of it you soon find yourself loving it. The matches are well thought through and involve areas of clever strategic planning on how each team can overcome the opposition’s weaknesses. They’re also kept realistic with not every match going according to plan, which keeps things interesting and grounded. If you like the over the top vibe that anime is often associated with but with relation to real life, you’ll love Kuroko no Basuke.
I started watching Haikyuu!! not too long before the second series began. This one took me a bit longer to get into simply because unlike Kuroko no Basuke, not everyone is immediately freakishly talented at their chosen sport. Haikyuu!! follows spunky readhead Hinata Shouyou who, despite being defeated by the ‘King of the Court’, Kageyama Tobio, in Middle School is determined to become a successful asset to his team at Karasuno High. But much to Hinata’s shock, he soon discovers he and Kageyama are both on the same team and are forced to work together as setter and middle blocker. Haikyuu!! perfectly shows that no one is perfect and if you really want something, you have to work for it. Season one shows a Karasuno which is rough around the edges and, despite the potential of it’s players, it falls short of it’s goals. And whilst season two also reflects this, by the end, you see a team who overcome hurdles and are going to do great things in the Spring Tournament.
The strongest asset to Haikyuu!! for me has got to the be the characters. Everyone is so unique and the humour involved throughout is fantastic. Karasuno all share a brilliant relationship and it really is hard to pick a favourite. Even members from rival teams such as Nekoma and Aoba Josai have great personalities which make them distinguishable and fun when they interact with one another. Character development is another strong factor which I feel adds to Haikyuu!!’s abundance of attributes. The contrast of Yamaguchi from season one and two is like night and day. Sure, he’s still not perfect and he’s still a nervous wreck that has room for improvement, but his confidence soars when you see him take centre stage in season two. Haikyuu!! is fun, well paced and will leave you excited to see where Karasuno will succeed next.
Last up, it’s Free! or as the Internet likes to call it: ‘The Gay Swimming Anime’. Like with Haikyuu!!, I started Free! shortly after season two was about to air, and whilst I wasn’t expecting much, I was certainly surprised by how much substance it has and how much I enjoyed it. Free! kicks things off with a blast from the past: Haru Nanase has long had a passion for swimming ever since competing in a relay as a kid with his friends; Makoto Tachibana, Nagisa Hazuki and Rin Matsuoka. Upon going their separate ways years later, the boys are reunited and now in High School, After a sour metting with Rin who seems to have became a bit of a knob after returning to Japan from Australia, he is determined to become a better swimmer than Haru. Rivalry aside, Haru, Makoto and Nagisa plan to make their own swimming club in order to revisit their childhood nostalgia and compete in a relay once again.
Animation is most certainly one of the best things about Free!. Kyoto Animation do a superb job of making the swimming animations in the races, particularly the initial dives into the pool and the turns as each swimmer kicks off the wall to do another length. The work is so incredibly smooth and scarily realistic. For all there is a ton of fan-service throughout, Free! isn’t just a pretty face. It implements real life struggles like mourning over the death of a loved one and growing up. You really do feel sympathy for characters like Haru and Makoto who have to make decisions in season two which will shape their future and relationship as
partners friends. Other cast members like Rei offer a comedy factor but also a great amount of respect from the viewer as you see him learn and develop over time. Free! doesn’t take it’s self too seriously and offers a great balance of everyday situations and intense competition with a strong cast and beautiful visuals.
So there you have it. I might not be an expert (yet) but at least this gives you a taster of what sports anime is like. They all follow the same basic structure, but the various series and categories of sports available on offer keep things fresh so there’s something out there for everyone from baseball, to tennis, to cycling and it doesn’t look set to be leaving us anytime soon. With Yuri on Ice (figure skating) and All Out (rugby) set to join the list this Autumn, I can’t wait to cheer on some new teams and see some fresh material.