Instead, Tokyo 2020 has been delayed an entire year, due to the outside world proving to be as hazardous as a Junji Ito tale (though obviously not nearly as terrifying). Turns out, Akira was right all along.
For now, we must stay put to stay safe, but how will we channel our dormant competitive spirit? Why, with anime, of course! You can’t watch the world’s greatest athletes, but you can still enjoy your illustrated heroes doing their part to fill the void.
I have the impeccable honour of sharing with you a sampling of AnimeLab’s sporting lineup. Study it closely, and mark your calendars for the eventual festivities of Tokyo 2020… err, 2021.
…And hey, lowkey… you don’t have to be a sports fan to like these anime. They have so many parallels to other genres like shōnen, slice of life, and even moe, you really ought to give them a chance.
Who knows? Maybe on the other side, you’ll become a fan of スポーツ after all.
Tamayomi: The Baseball Girls
Baseball hasn’t been featured on the Olympic lineup since 2008, but it will make its long awaited return in Tokyo.
Known in Japan as 野球 (yakyuu), it’s one of the country’s most popular sports, and even high school games are broadcast nationally. Sound intense? Don’t worry, we’ve got just the anime to help ease you onto the diamond.
Tamayomi: The Baseball Girls follows the newly reformed team of Shin Koshigaya High School. Yomi Yakeda is a talented pitcher who swore off the sport because none of her teammates could corral her special throw. She reunites with childhood friend Tamaki Yamazaki, discovering that she has become a talented catcher. So talented, in fact, that she can handle Yomi’s miracle ball, convincing her to pick up the glove and continue her legacy.
Tamayomi is kawaii incarnate, beaming with bright colours and even brighter personalities. Not to get overly sentimental, but it’s a wonderful pick me up at the end of a hard day. Seeing these players bond, struggle and grow together is enough to put a smile on anyone’s face, and each of them has plenty of their own moments to shine.
Plus, it’s a solid anime to help you learn some of the techniques of baseball, and after a few episodes you’ll dream of throwing sliders, hitting dingers, and maybe even nailing a sacrifice bunt if that’s your thing.
Cycling, on the other hand, has been contested at every Olympic event since the late 1800s. Somehow the only image that comes to mind is top hatted aristocrats astride penny-farthings, and to be honest, I would pay good money to see that.
Yowamushi Pedal introduces us to Onoda Sakimichi, an otaku whose dream is to join his school’s anime club. He’s timid, graceless and unabashedly geeky. Relatable, right?
He makes the 90km roundtrip to Akihabara on a weekly basis to score some cool swag, opting to take his bicycle to save money. He even rides up a steep incline on the way to school, completely oblivious to the difficulty of this feat, and catches the eye of elite cyclist Shunsuke Imaizumi.
Despite this novice’s weak bike, lack of experience and off-putting singing voice, he just may be some kind of cycling genius… But there’s only one way to find out!
Because of Onoda’s humble beginnings, this anime is instantly accessible — he goes into the sport with all the uncertainty of any layman, and he’s such an endearing character. He doesn’t have a mean-spirited bone in his body, more interested in pursuing his hobbies than bringing down others.
This is a charming, feel good anime that’s for everyone… but especially you.
Ping Pong the Animation
The ascension of table tennis has been quite fascinating. Initially invented as a recreational game, it caught on as a competitive sport, and watching the elite compete is a jaw dropping spectacle. Just try to follow a rally, and you will absolutely lose your mind.
In line with the sport that inspired it, Ping Pong the Animation is unlike anything else. Stylistically, it has a strikingly unique appearance, looking as if it was taken straight from the pages of a manga. Sure, it is based on a manga, as are many anime, but this truly takes it to another level. It just feels different, in the most enrapturing way.
Its protagonists, Peco and Smile, are budding talents in the sport with completely contrasting personalities. Peco is cocky and braggadocios, whereas Smile is reserved and aloof. Despite their differences, they have formed a fast friendship, and their abilities with a paddle have made them the subject of hushed whispers around the scene.
Whether either of them really have the commitment and dedication to ever succeed is another matter entirely, however, and therein lies the issue.
Ping Pong’s delivery perfectly encapsulates these two characters. Like Peco, it is offbeat and showy, while also having impeccable pacing and delivery, akin to Smile. This dichotomy is then furthered with the integration of new rivals and challenges.
Without going into too much detail, Wenge Kong is one of the most instantly attractive foes you’ll see in anime. He draws you in with his arrogance before slaying you with his swagger. It’s downright intoxicating!
The wait for rugby to return to the Olympics took a literal lifetime, absent from 1924 until 2016 in Rio. Therefore, Tokyo will only be the second time this sport has been displayed at the Olympiad level this century/millennium, depending on how dramatic you want to be.
Going against your conventional trends, number24’s hero, Natsusa Yuzuki, is a character whose love of sport never waned. He cruelly had rugby stolen from him, when a motorbike accident cut his playing days short.
As such, he has returned to the sideline, somewhat trepidatiously, as a team manager. This is despite his team acquiring new players who idolise him for his on-field exploits, alongside unknown upstarts filled with animosity for his seemingly lofty status.
If you’re looking for an alternative way to get into sports anime, this is practically bishōnen heaven. The members of Doushisha University’s rugby team are vulnerable and intriguing, more than ample motivation to invest your affections.
number24’s cast has so many layers, and their plights are frequently at the forefront. The tragic nature of Natsusa’s position, so close to the sport he loves and yet so far away, is touching, and you quickly learn how it has similarly affected his former teammates. That being said, he clearly has a knack for understanding the nuances of team building just as innate as his abilities were on the rugby pitch.
Even the end credits of this anime are a pleasure. It’s literally enjoyable from start to finish!
An article about Olympic sports without a reference to swimming is downright criminal. Indeed, we’re pretty sure it’s illegal in certain states, and we just aren’t going to risk it.
So let’s discuss Free!, which we will henceforth refer to without the exclamation mark, because it drives my autocorrect crazy every time I use it.
It is centred around the various members of the relaunched Iwatobi High School swimming team, primarily Haruka Nanase, the stone-faced introvert who excels in freestyle. Though he can come across as rather standoffish, his love and adoration for the water reveals his true self.
Much of the tension comes from Haruka’s uneasy kinship/rivalry with the mercurial Rin Matsuoka, a young man with incredible speed and somewhat curious dental complications.
Free explores concepts beyond the current situation (inadvertent pun), presenting questions of friendship, doubt and what comes next in life. Career trajectories, unexplored ventures… Their passion may be in the pool, but reality isn’t quite as straightforward. Have they really peaked at so young an age?
Aquatic athletics are difficult to portray, insomuch it’s a dynamic, kinetic sport, and yet Free pulls it off with aplomb. Races are elegant and intense, portrayed in a style that makes them feel like paramount battles for supremacy of Adam’s ale.
Also, gotta say it again… bishōnen heaven, y’all.
Obviously, that’s barely even scratching the surface of the extensive sporting anime you can find here on AnimeLab. If it’s got balls, sticks or just buff, attractive people in general, you’re sure to find it in the sports section.
Check out our Sports Anime Collection
Check out all of the above titles and more in our Sports Anime Collection on AnimeLab!
Step up your game with these competitive sports shows. Sweat. Sweat. Sweat.