Thursday, April 28, 2011

Guest Post - Why Sports Anime Isn't More Popular With R1 Audiences

Recently we were talking on the RACS facebook page about why sports Anime doesn't get much attention here in R1, and how series like Dan Doh, Joe vs. Joe, Eyeshield 21, Slam Dunk, Big Windup, Prince of Tennis, and even Taishi Girls are usually never more than marginal sellers in the North American market.

Jerry thinks he knows why...


Sports anime, as a whole, has failed to take off on this side of the pond due to the very different views our two cultures have, regarding sports.

Here, in sports (even team sports), while teams are lauded or reviled by their performances, the spotlight is ever tightly focused on Star Performers on the team. You never hear an announcer praising the Offensive Line for its protective coverage of the QB in a touchdown play; it's all about the QB, or, more often, the work of the Receiver.

Same goes for baseball. Post-game interviews aren't aimed at the whole team. The newsies want to speak with the Pitcher and whoever belted one out of the park.

That's just the way we always have been, in the States. Sure, teamwork is important and we give lip service to it, but it's the "Dramatic Individual" who OWNS our historical legends...and our sports.

Japan? Pretty much a 180 in perception. The Star, or the "Dramatic Individual" might get a nod for doing something exceptional, but the focus, especially in the field of sports, is "Teamwork! Harmony! Pull Together!" You oughta remember that a phrase kids in Japan hear over & over is: "The nail that sticks up, gets pounded down".

That being said, nearly all the Sports anime I've watched (and sports manga I've read), pushes that same theme, regardless of the sport.

So, the loud, brash, plucky-but-untrained Underdogs band together at some young age and form a Team. Their hearts are pure, but, because their personalities aren't in harmony, they can only try-yet-fail. Finally, through sacrificial pursuit of individual excellence (though only for the greater glory of The Team, and The Sport as a whole), team harmony is achieved. The various oddball-types either slink off in disgrace, or they finally see the light, stuff their egos deep inside somewhere, and decide to give 174% to THE TEAM.

They go on to win!

Or, if it's a girl's team playing a Boys-Only sport, at least put up a respectable showing. Can't have GIRLS crossing the line now, can we?

This sort of set-form schmaltz just doesn't play here, where suppression of Self just isn't really promoted or celebrated (Charlie Sheen, anyone?)

Worst, still, is that 99.999% of sports anime/manga have the same cookie-cutter characters, in the same stock roles. Only the uniforms and gear change.

The one exception that I've had the joy of both reading and watching is "Cross Game", by Adachi Mitsuru. It, too, has a lot of the stock elements in it. Still, the characters are very "human", not just stamped out, and the story uses sports as a backdrop for several parallel tales, rather than making Love of the Game the focus. With it, you get individuals that you actually wind up caring about what happens to them, as individuals, rather than "Oh, dear! How's the Team gonna fare?!"

If Japan can produce more character-driven Sports Anime/Manga, then I think the market would decidedly open up, over here.

-Jerry Campbell, Kirkland, WA

UPDATE: Tatsu writes: I believe your argument is very well-founded. There has been that culture of finding beauty in self-sacrifice for the sake of your team, company, country and even going back to the samurai days, for your clan and warlord. Not glorifying yourself, but bringing glory to your clan. Also, the team-sports theme anime has been deeply instilled in the culture for well over several generations. People basically grow up watching it. For me, I grew up watching Kyojin-no-Hoshi, Captain Tsubasa, Ashita-no-Joe, etc. I think people watch these because anime is pretty much the only media-form that people have had access to that depict these sports-theme stories. In the US, the film industry has been very advanced for very long time. Sports films like the Natural, Hoosiers, Raging Bull, Rocky, and more recently Rudy, Major League, A League of Their Own, Remember the Titans, etc that beautifully depict scripts via live actors have been making it an uphill battle for anime to find a place in the main stream. But perhaps we are at a “been there, done that” point in the film industry where anime will be getting much bigger interests from the viewers as far as sports-themed films go.


D2M said...

I think the harmony-team work thing is because the Japanese culture views the group more important than the individual. Team sports work really well in illustrating that view.

I find it really amusing when sports themes are applied to things that aren't really sports, per say, but still competitive. Yakitate!Japan has a very "Sports Anime" feel to it, while being all about baking bread.

I tell you, only the Japanese could make something that ridiculous work. ;)

Eric Potter said...

Hmm--I would've thought the reason sports Anime don't succeed here is because most Anime fans are nerds who don't care for doing or even watching sports. I assumed as much because I'm a part of that group.

I've made a couple exceptions--'Big Windup' had me hooked, and after hearing too many good things about it I'm going to try checking out the 'Cross Game' manga.

Robert said...

+1 on Cross Game. It really is excellent.