I have never really been into sports anime (Are those the exact words I used in my Ping Pong review opening? Or that I use in all of my reviews!? Fuck it… Being self-aware makes repedetive writing okay so whatever. You did this Deadpool). It isn’t really the sport part that puts me off, I’ll watch anything if I think that it’ll be good. But sadly, few sports anime have really intrigued me in any way other than “that shot was kind of cool I guess” so I just stayed out of it. I still have a lot of sports anime on my PTW-list (I think at least. But I never really felt the need to watch any of them. Even when people said that they weren’t about the actual sports that they based the story on, that never worked on me. If the show’s strength is the themes it tackles then why don’t I just watch a show that actually has interesting themes and don’t have to constantly be described as “not about the sport”. It’s just kind of annoying. And so before this I had only seen like 2 sports anime, one of which was extremely mediocre. So I wasn’t really that compelled to watch any of it if it wasn’t highly acclaimed.
But for some reason, a sports show this season intrigued me. I don’t even really know why, it was just on a whim that I started watching it this season. Maybe it helped that I had played Tennis before and wanted to watch a show about it, but I never expected to find Hoshiai no Sora this interesting.
One of my favorite youtube creators is Oliver “Philosophy Tube” Thorn. He does a lot of videos on subjects including but not limited to climate change, abortion, the validity of democracy and of course the philosophy of anime (Haven’t watched that one, I just think the character he plays annoys the hell out of me. He’s kind of like a majority of r/anime or Reddit in general. Yes I’m calling you out right now). You know, standard “left-wing youtube” topics (I hate that word but whatever). And I find his videos very interesting and have influenced my own way of thinking greatly, while also being surprisingly well directed and produced. Like, really! He’s kind of like Contrapoints if you know of her. He makes those kinds of videos that I can just put in the background while I’m doing something over and over and over again.
But a video of his that I find especially interesting is his video on abuse and trauma. He tells us the story of No Exit and his own experience with the topic. It’s a very personal video and one that kind of opened me up to how an abusive relationship could look like and what it inevitably leads to. How an abusive partner makes you feel like you are dependant on them and that even if hell opens up, you won’t leave.
It’s a topic that I feel as though doesn’t get talked about enough. Sure, we see girls being hit by their boyfriends in bad movies all the time, but they rarely touch on the psychological aspects of it. That even if you know that something’s wrong, you will not leave cause your self-image has now become defined by your partner. You become nothing.
And it’s surprising how few times this is dealt with in sports anime considering how heavily sports rely on teams. How you have to play as one to really win, that you can’t do so alone. And I thought this would continue to be with this series but I was quickly proven wrong.
(Btw I’ll be spoiling stuff, so bye-bye if you don’t want to read that)
From episode 1 I was highly interested in the show even if it didn’t seem like it would do anything special. While I didn’t find the art style to be that interesting to look at, the execution was fantastic! The overall direction is gorgeous and the attention to detail in the animation is so human that I don’t think I can really look at anime like I used to. Even (what I assume are) CG characters look really good! I hadn’t really seen anything from the director before and the art director had seriously only worked on one anime before this so it was a huge surprise! That coupled with the really well-toned composition and enjoyable characters made the show good enough to continue watching even though it had its problems. Looking at my notes, the showed seemed to be a mix of “I love Mitsue”, the animation being super nice and the main guy being way too good at tennis for someone who has never played it before (Even for someone really passionate about it). It was very relaxing to watch and just generally fun.
But around a third of the series, this changed almost completely.
When I watched the fourth episode of the series I noticed that there still was content after the ending. I usually stop watching when the ED plays since I want to actually watch the show, even when the ending is great like in this case! So when I saw this I was kind of shocked. And even more so to see what the after-credits scene had to offer.
The scene shows Maki home alone in his apartment when his biological father rings the bell and bursts in and takes the money that he supposedly needs from them. And this causes Maki to have a panic attack, something we don’t really see from Maki before this. It’s a very emotional scene since it breaks all the expectations you have for what kind of series this is. The way that they really put you inside of Maki with the use of cinematography and music was really special. It’s a glimpse of discomfort in Maki that kind of changed how I saw this show completely.
And while the show continues to have cute and wholesome moments where the members of the club support each other, this is consistent. Almost every member of the club seems to have some internal problem that they have to face throughout the show, which often has to do with domestic abuse (whether physical or psychological). And while this is pretty common in a lot of anime, the consistency in this really surprised me. The way they seemed to be able to give almost every character depth originally and interestingly was highly effective when trying to make this story seem real.
Toma’s problems with his mother and expectations of being as good as his brother, Nao’s silence in the face of his mother’s disapproval, and Mitsue’s fears that being an artist makes her stupid are just a few of these problems that the characters have to get over. And while a lot of them revolve around their parents, which can get a little repetitive (I would’ve liked to see this theme of abuse being developed in more ways), I feel like they explore this domestic abuse in a way that shows how much a child can be fucked up from this. There is a variety in how it is executed.
Yuuta is a character here that I feel as though is extra special in this regard though since his arc doesn’t really have to do with his parents at all. And while I think the character wouldn’t have been worse if it did have to do with his parents, it’s something that I can appreciate as it is.
Cause while I don’t think most anime are that problematic, I find the exploration of sex and gender to be very weak in it. I haven’t really seen anything tackling it realistically, and most of the time when a gay couple appears in an anime it just feels as though they are there to please the yaoi/yuri crowd. So seeing it being explored in Yuuta’s character was very shocking! In one of the earlier episodes, it is basically revealed that Yuuta is into guys. After this, we see this developed more, where we get to see his questioning of gender and sex as a whole. How he doesn’t feel comfortable even labeling himself, something a lot of trans and non-binary people has problems with as well. But he never feels defined by this either. While his sexuality and gender questions are developed in the series, he spends most of the time just being another guy in the club. No one jokes about or feels the need to point out that he’s gay or something. He just is and seeing a show deal with identity like this is incredibly respectable.
And again, character development like this happens so many times! Rintauro has like 3 scenes where he gets character development yet I feel like this is enough for him to be one of my favorite characters in the show. At the same time, I feel like they make every character feel flawed in some way. Whether it is being an asshole sometimes or to give their own responsibility at others, they don’t feel perfect. It’s incredibly impressive to see this in just another seasonal show when it is more common in longer shows seen as classics!
We even get to see this theme of abusive relationships being explored in tennis itself which is I think is just incredible! Arashi and his tennis partner reflect what an abusive relationship looks like. How Arashi is controlling of the whole field while his partner always second-guesses both his failings and wins. I would even say that Toma and Maki represent this in the way that they relate to their opponents. Their strategy is often to start out losing but learning who their opponents are so that they later can completely destroy them both physically and mentally. They become the controlling ones. It is kind of fucked sometimes, and I can see this conveying how a whole tennis match can symbolize a relationship like that. They get to know each other and then one of them manipulate that knowledge.
And I find that so interesting cause it doesn’t just use tennis as a backdrop to tell their story, but a vehicle. It is important for the story. So, in the end, I still believe that this show is about tennis. How we can escape into tennis, and that it can either distract you from your problems in life or just make them bigger.
And speaking of ending, I feel like I have to bring it up. This show has become the subject of quite a few controversies, one of which has to do with how the production of the series went. And I usually don’t think to talk about the production of a show really matters when discussing the quality of a series, since a work of art is what it is and not how it was originally supposed to be. But in this case, I feel like I have to bring up how the ending of the show was dealt with. Because according to the director himself, the series was cut into a 12 episode series 2 years into production when it was originally supposed to be double the length. So the story is essentially just half of what it was supposed to be. And this is obviously a shame. I would’ve wanted a 24 episodes series from this, and seeing the staff being fucked like this is terrible. But still, I genuinely think the 12th episode of the series works really well as an ending. While it doesn’t resolve everything the series has to say and definitely doesn’t end the story, seeing Maki becoming worse than his dad was really interesting. I generally think that stories that end on a negative point are more interesting than ones where the characters all end up happily. So while it is obviously too bad that this had to happen for the series, but for what it is I’m happy with it!
In the end, I don’t think this series will change my life or the media I choose to consume. I have to learn a lesson in that a show I like won’t make me automatically want to watch shows in the same genre. I will probably always have the precognition that sports shows won’t be worth the time. But it doesn’t have to. I find it interesting and it made me spend time I could’ve wasted on something else and for what it is, it matters.