Sports anime gets a lot of flack because people believe the shows revolve around sports. While the audience learns the rules of the sport, it’s not important. What keeps people watching are the characters and their stories.
The stories that dominate the genre put an emphasis on the long journey to reach a dream. They highlight the blood, sweat, and tears that it takes to actually reach your goals. This resonates with people across the board. Everyone has a skill they want to get better at. While it may not be to a level of national recognition, the feelings that come with our successes and failures connect viewers to the stories told in these shows.
For example, Haikyuu follows Hinata on his journey to be the next volleyball legend. His journey is littered with countless adversaries both physical and mental. Hinata fights his way to get to where he is by the end of the series, and it fills fans of the show with so much pride and joy for him. His journey to becoming a national superstar inspires fans to chase their passions.
Most sports animes give their viewers shots of serotonin. However, not every show is happy-go-lucky.
Stars Align is arguably one of the most devastating sports animes. It follows a struggling middle school tennis club as they try to learn how to play the game. However, we very quickly find out that most of the members use the sport as a way to get a break from their abusive homes.
While the series was canceled mid-way through the season, (on a cliffhanger too) fans of the show still call it one of the best shows they’ve watched in a while.
Any show needs to have characters that keep people watching. The genre emphasizes personal stories. Therefore, it’s no wonder the characters endear themselves to viewers who have a real emotional investment in their successes and failures.
Back in 2017, thousands of people watched Yuri on Ice. Online threads filled with speculations about the characters, plot points, and potential endings. It was truly one of those ‘you had to be there’ experiences to fully grasp the chokehold it had its fans.
Yuuri, the series’ protagonist, has bouts of anxiety and self-doubt. Canonically, Yuuri is an Olympic-level figure skater. He is the pride and joy of his friends and family. However, he doesn’t see it. He believes that his failures will make those around him despise him.
Viewers of the show watch him struggle with his crippling anxiety and the weight of his crushing ambition. Many viewers relate to his experiences on varying levels and root for him, wanting the best for him. After his idol Viktor comes into the picture, Yuuri transforms and blossoms into a much more confident version of himself.
At the end of the day, the characters endear themselves to viewers. The viewers just want to see the characters win and be successful. Their wins are our wins. Their losses are our losses.
Sports Anime: A TL;DR
Sports anime as a genre is more about the journey to achieve a goal. The sport can be switched around and can even be made up, but the core of what makes sports anime popular are the stories and the endearing, relatable cast. After all, everyone has dreams, and watching shows where characters struggle and fail only to finally succeed is inspiring.
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