Sunday, April 02, 2017

'All Out!!' Is a Fun Anime About Rugby

I love sports anime.  I find them inherently thrilling, for sports as a theme has a special effect on a narrative, fueling the creation of compelling character and story arcs.  Even the most mediocre of them can at least reflect the competitive energy of its subject sport.  Moreover, they are really informative, as I often gain understanding and interest on a sport after watching an anime about it.  Thus, as a general rule, a sports anime is guaranteed enjoyment for me.  So I try to look for the next Slam Dunk or next Eyeshield 21.

All Out!! is the latest sports anime I’ve recently got into.  I was initially interested of watching it because it’s about rugby, a sport I’m aware of but not very familiar with.  So, at the very least, it was another opportunity for me to learn of a new sport through a more entertaining way (i.e. watching an anime about it) than directly watching a real-life game.
And, as I hoped, All Out!! is once again another fun sports anime.  It revolves around Kanagawa Prefectural High School Rugby Club, or “Jinko” for short (abbreviated as such in Japanese), a perpetual underachieving team.  The captain is the tough and strong-willed Sekizan Takuya, who’s very passionate about rugby, though he only learned the sport in high school.  He’s mostly self-taught and, like most of his batchmates, he didn’t have the opportunity to be genuinely mentored to achieve his full potential.

One day, an impulsive freshman named Gion Kenji, despite knowing nothing about the sport, decides to join the club after witnessing them practice.  It’s because he has always been upset of his short height, and the opportunity of tackling others – especially those who are taller – in a game of rugby mightily appeals to him.  In his pursuit to play rugby (or, rather, to tackle somebody), Gion drags the meek and tall Iwashimizu Sumiaki – a freshman who has played rugby in middle school but has become disenchanted of it – to join the team with him.  Later, ever impetuous, he even shamelessly recruits Komori Shingo, a former national team player, to be Jinko’s coach, who immediately proceeds to whip them into shape with his strict but purposeful mentorship and training.  And thus, Jinko finally begins the difficult road towards becoming a competitive team with a winning culture. 
Like other good sports anime, the strength of All Out!! lies with the likability of its ensemble of characters.  Indeed, I found Jinko’s roster worth rooting for, and thus, I was invested on their development throughout the series.  And since a rugby team requires a lot of players, there are a couple of notable characters involved in the story aside from Gion, Iwashimizu, and Sekizan.  Though it was hard to tell all of them apart during the early episodes, their individual personalities and skills eventually made them distinguishable from each other.

A fresh thing about Jinko’s dynamic is that it has no “superstar” (so far).  In other anime sports teams, there’s at least one character who possesses great talent or aptitude for the game.  There’s no “super rookie” or “ace”-type character.  There’s no character whose sudden presence in the team elevates it immediately.  There’s no Kaede Rukawa or Tetsuya Kuroko or Tobio Kageyama.  Though a couple of characters have particular skill sets or fortes that make them unique as individual players, they aren’t portrayed as if they’re remarkable.  Sekizan is strong, but he isn’t an unstoppable force.  Ebumi is fast, but he isn’t outstandingly lightning speed.  Gion is tenacious, but he’s not “change-the-flow-of-the-game” impactful.  Hence, their “underdog journey” has much more grit and struggle in it than any other anime sports teams I’ve encountered.  Moreover, its inaugural season’s 25-episode has established that, despite the inadequacies of Jinku so far, they are a team that will go “all out” until the final whistle.
Overall though, All Out!! isn’t as delightful as the previous sports anime I’ve watched.  It’s not as excitingly fast-paced as Haikyuu!! or engagingly over-the-top as Kuroko’s Basketball.  I don’t know if that’s because rugby isn’t as good as other sports or because the anime isn’t as well-made as other sports anime.  Nevertheless, the debut season has been a pretty good one.  And, in subsequent seasons, I’m definitely gonna cheer for each Jinku tackle, scrum, and try.

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