[Post originally published on substack on August 12, 2022.]
Among the mass of baseball, soccer, and basketball anime, Love All Play and Ryman’s Club stood out like two rare gems. I was really looking forward to watching them, hoping to be drawn into the exciting world of a rather unfamiliar sport like I experienced with Kabaddi in Burning Kabaddi.
Salaryman’s Green Onion
I found it quite refreshing that, contrary to most sports anime I have seen, Ryman’s Club is about grown men (the sararīman, or ‘salaryman’), working in a company, having to earn their living, worrying about work projects and the like, rather than enjoying the carefree life of a teenager. Viewers who worry that they have to endure depictions of a depressing, pressure-laden work sphere, exhausting overtime, boring meetings (there are only a few) need not fear. The day-to-day job does get a fair amount of screen time, but the characters’ overall gleeful attitude suggests that work is easy and that they enjoy it just as much as they enjoy playing badminton. Additionally, they cheerfully (and successfully) navigate through all their workplace challenges. Mistakes (rather grave ones, like deleting an important document by accident) are without consequence thanks to an impromptu speech to naked board members. Critical issues (missing drinks for the ‘tasting session’) are resolved with the help of the competition, and the all too generic bad boss also gets what he deserves.
Watching the anime, I was hurried along with Shiratori Mikoto’s introduction to the new team, his (grudging) acceptance of actually having to work, when all he really wanted was to play badminton, and him finding fulfillment in being a sararīman after all. In between, I found myself immersed in the ‘Negi Ginger Ale’ project, milestone for milestone, from brainstorming to tasting session. Overall, well-done product placement, I must admit. I wonder if the Green (or Welsh) Onion farmers of Fukaya also got something out of it, financially.
I haven’t talked much about the sport up until now. Well, I guess I could blame the anime, as my post so far might reflect the depicted sport–job screen-time balance. Anyhow, work-related problems do influence the exercise of the sport but are – in the long run – without lasting negative consequences. This might be due to Sunlight Beverage’s new player, Shiratori, who has… well, I guess you could call them superhuman powers. Actually, it’s called foresight because, when activated, he can predict his opponents’ moves. Shiratori’s unbelievably precise super-eyesight saves the day several times. It pockets win after win for the badminton team, stops a thief, and saves his teammate, Miyazumi, from the evil boss because with his foresight Shiratori can also, very conveniently, detect lies. Possibly, due to this reassuring ability, I missed the thrilling excitement of worrying together with the characters about how they will overcome the various obstacles. Or maybe, the happy-go-lucky vibe of the series, assures you, that everything is going to work out anyway. It was unexpectedly sweet, though, that a childhood memory made Shiratori change his mind from actively refusing to play doubles to eagerly yearning for it.
To summarize, there is a fair share of badminton games, players deal with sports injuries, interpersonal frictions, and conflicting interests; competitions are held, and rivalries are established. However, in the course of the series, the sport drifts into the background and only serves as a framework for the various issues the characters have to deal with in their working lives. But do not despair! If you bear with the badorīman until the end, viewers, like me, who wanted to see some grinding badminton action, will be rewarded. The last two episodes, uninterrupted by workplace issues, culminate in the exciting grand finale between the ex-teammates turned rivals.
A Strong Wind
What Love All Play lacks in superhuman power, it makes up for in concentration (“Shūchū!”). Additionally, being teenage boys (and girls), they do not have to worry about earning their living but can concentrate (“Shūchū!”) more or less on the sport. Contrary to Ryman’s Club the story focuses on the sport, occasionally spiced up with academic worries and ‘blue spring’-emotions.
I do recall that there were some third-year students present at the beginning of the series. But unfortunately, they leave the club so fast I can’t even remember their faces or names, despite their names being displayed all the time. The important part is that they leave behind (or pass on?) a ‘legacy’ which the dutiful kōhai are now tasked to fulfill. The kōhai eagerly adopt their senpais’ wish to win the Inter High Team Event and put in their utmost effort to achieve this goal. Thereby, they are confronted with technical, motivational, and interpersonal challenges that enrich their sports club life.
The main character, Mizushima too, internalizes the senpais’ desire and is thus set on winning. He gradually does get better and starts to win some games by applying an intense concentration (“Shūchū!”) which causes gusts of wind to spread through the otherwise windless training hall – as the windows are kept shut due to the shuttles’ sensitiveness to air currents. Sakurai, one of the ‘groupie-triplet’ girls, seems to be equally sensitive to these; I haven’t seen any of the other girls’ hair whirl or clothes flutter when Mizushima, highly concentrated, executes a smash.
Mizushima’s sister, Rika, and the tremendously devoted groupie, Kamishiro, remind us of what adolescence is all about… experiencing first love. Honestly, I am not sure if it is just cruel of Rika to leave the teams star player, Yusa, in the friend-zone until he carries home the triple crown, or if ‘the goddess’ just dutifully sacrifices herself as the perfect motivational reward. Interestingly, the most affectionate girl (Kamishiro) chooses the most emotionally detached guy (Matsuda) as her object of desire. This leads to some questionable situations that left me wondering if I should dislike him for his meanness, or if his cluelessness is somehow adorable.
Apart from these side stories, the anime is about the boys, their training efforts, and particularly their relationships with each other. Luckily, viewers, you need not worry about tense or drawn-out inter- and intra-character conflicts, as issues are resolved quickly – usually within one or two episodes. Additionally, the characters are so cheerful, and their personal development happens at such an astonishing speed you hardly notice that there was some kind of conflict or challenge to begin with.
The doe-eyed, innocent, and somewhat naïve Mizushima is the personification of the anime’s overall vibe. A sweet, innocent, harmless struggle of boys navigating through teenage life while playing badminton at their school’s sports club. [Post based on episodes 1–18].
There are a few things the two anime have in common. Firstly, the animal sidekicks. Both are sweet in their own way, but which one is more appealing to you probably depends on whether you are a cat-person or an iguana-person. (Dog-persons should definitely watch Kuroko no Basket!) Shiratori’s mum makes it look so easy to have an iguana, so I was tempted to get one myself and have it accompany me to some event, but, man… they demand a high level of commitment and care.
Let’s talk about the visuals. The characters are all handsome and aesthetically flawless, even when sweating. So, no matter what state they are in, you want to keep watching the players exert themselves during games and practice. The games are really exciting to watch, as movement actually happens. Meaning, they are not depicted as a sequence of freeze frames which can considerably dull down your enjoyment of watching a game. And lastly, the coloring. Both anime worlds are dyed in energizing, vivid colors, and consist of almost constant clear blue skies. So, if you are looking for something to brighten up your own mood, the lighthearted stories and cheerful atmospheres of the two anime will not leave you wanting.
Subscribe to never miss a deep dive into the exciting world of sports anime, manga, and manhwa!