Friday, November 4, 2011

10 Things I Hate About Anime: Sports Physics in Anime


 Hey guys! I’m back! This time we’re looking at anime sports physics, which, by and large, are RIDICULOUS! Again! If you are joining us for the first time… I really don’t hate all anime, I’m just venting about certain conventions that annoy me. So let’s dive right in!

A member of the Harlem Globetrotters working some real-life craziness on the net. 

 Okay… so generally I don’t watch sports anime all that much, and there is a good reason for that. See the reason I find sports interesting is because, within a sport, athletes are limited by rules and conventions which they MUST follow, lest they be disqualified from whichever game they are playing. Now, you have your athletes that don’t really stand out too much, they are probably pretty good, but they just follow the rules and play accordingly. Then you have STAR athletes who make the rules work for them!

What I mean is that, really famous athletes often have a specific playing style that peoples either fiend really impressive or really entertaining. Take the Harlem Globetrotters for example. If you have never heard of them (look them up on youtube for a good time!), they are basically a novelty basketball team from Harlem (New York City) who make a point of doing all manner of tricks while they play the game (such as spinning the ball on their fingers or shooting backwards). Win or lose, people love em, but the thing is they always play within the rules, and that’s what makes them so interesting (in my opinion). Regardless of the crazy passes or shots they do, they are still playing basketball. What does this have to do with anime?

Baseball time!
 Well as I’m sure you know, sports anime is about, well, sports! They often start out relatively realistically with the protagonist, an athlete and player of some sport, usually in high school, who is competing in some league to be the best! He or she competes against other high school students in his or her school and then moves on to regionals, and then provincials (if that isn’t the same thing…) and then nationals and then internationals and becomes more and more famous.

Let’s use Hockey (woo Canada!) as an example of a general breakdown of how sports anime works. The teen protagonist wants to be a badass hockey player, so he joins his or her’s high school hockey team. We see fun training segments, which are actually my favourite parts of sports anime, where the protagonist learns the fundamentals of how to be the best! Once they are ready, they play their first game, lose, feel bad, mope, train harder, win, and then play against a stronger team. This is generally how sports works in real life (in my experience), and how it works around the beginning of most sports animes. To me, these are often the most captivating parts of sports animes because their plausible.

Sam Dunk! Widely considered one of the best sports animes/manga.
 Later on however, as the teams they play get more and more skilled, the protagonist is getting better and better, winning excitingly close games that are realistic and full of tension, ya know, like real sports games. Then, just as things are getting really exciting, the crazy stuff starts happening.

At some point the protagonist will inevitably encounter a rival player who has some ridiculous skill - lets say, the power to hit the puck in such a way that is spins super fast, generating a whirlwind that pushes the gaolie aside and always secures a goal. Aright so already this is pretty unbelievable but maybe your like, “I guess this dude is an oddity and it will be interesting to see how the protagonist deals with this situation, within the conventions of hockey”. Yeah… well that WOULD be pretty frickin interesting WOULDN’T IT? But no, in anime the protagonist often has to learn some equally ridiculous counter measure to combat this mysterious skill. Here is where most sports anime loses me.

From this point on, the story deviates from a plausible story about some dude who wants to be a good hockey player to some sort of hockey-themed martial arts fantasy epic (I love martial arts by the way, but there’s a time and place!). Basically the protagonist encounters opponents with more and more implausible skills - let’s say something along the lines of shooting the puck in such a way that it spins so fast that the density of the puck actually increases to the point that the evaporating water droplets from the ice rink condense around the puck and turn it into a giant ice ball which collides with the goalie and nearly kills him! ...I kid you not, that kind of stuff happens ALL THE TIME in sports anime, especially as you get further along in a given series.

Hajime no Ippo! Though featuring ridiculous characters and situations, is exaggerated though actually fairly plausible in it's portrayal of boxing for the most part, as far as sports anime goes anyway. 
Here’s the problem for me. Sports have rules and conventions. I’m sure there is nothing in the hockey rulebook about giant ice balls, but its pretty damned safe to assume that if that ever occurred, they would probably stop the game and Interpol would probably arrest the dude who made the ice ball and run all manner of experiments on him to see if he was some sort of super human. In anime, however, everyone is just pretty surprised and the game keeps rolling.

At this point, the game ceases to resemble hockey. The rules and convention have been broken and continue to be as the techniques get more and more implausible. Rules and conventions make sports what they are, with these crazy techniques the original rules of the game are rendered obsolete! So I ask you, "what is the point in making an anime sport centered, if the sport your series is centered around turns into something that no longer resembles that sport?" It dosen’t really make any sense!

Why not just create a new sport and have the anime revolve around that?! You can have a compelling story that takes place within the rules of the game, you can even have special techniques, so long as they coincide with the rules of the sport. Sports movies and T.V. dramas do this ALL THE TIME. See, animes portray melodrama really well, so they could make it a million times more interesting with emotional investment and character development, while having the player lose sometimes, or learning some new skill that helps them out a bit, but instead they just make it crazy! But, we must not forget the most ridiculous aspect. 

The dudes from Prince of Tennis, a group of highschoolers who could beat the pants of any living pro.

These are HIGHSCHOOLERS! These people are performing techniques which the GREATEST ATHLETES IN THE WORLD will never be able to do. It’s crazy! They didn’t call Wayne Gretzky the “great one” because he could hit the puck so hard that it broke into fragments that flew in impossible trajectories around the goalie to reform in the net to make a goal! NO! They called him that cause he was REALLY FRIGGIN GOOD AT HOCKEY!!!!!!

Have you watched high school sports? I mean its not bad, but it will never be as exciting as the pros! That’s why they don’t BROADCAST IT!!!! Now you might be asking “Oh Alex, why does everything need to be realistic with you? Don’t you have any imagination?!” Yes. Sure I do, but nearly every sports anime I’ve ever heard of works in this way. I'm asking for a bit of variety! You could make a really compelling anime about a normal sport, and just make the story and characters really good while focusing more on the real-world mechanics of the game, which are full of little tricks and hidden skills anyway! You might like it! But I think it's NUTS! So YEAH! Rant over.

By the way I would like to thank my buddy Chris Evensen for helping me with this list, he’s a Manga Guru of sorts, who has read like every manga EVER. Or something like that.       

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