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By Janet Houck
May 10, 2007
Anime covers just about every subject under the sun, and in no place is this better seen than in shounen stories. Typically, the boy hero is the underdog, who gradually overcomes obstacles with the help of his friends and his own self-growth. In the end, he reaches the very peaks of success, whether in spiritual magic (Shaman King) or realizing his dream as a pirate (One Piece), or being a Pokemon Trainer (Pokemon). Sports, however, are very popular in shounen manga, as they are quite familiar and realistic; frequently the hero shares the same dreams as the reader. Today, we’ll take a look at a few popular sports-themed titles.
In soccer, Whistle! (manga from VIZ Media; anime unlicensed) is a popular pick, where eighth grader Sho works to be the best soccer player ever. Captain Tsubasa is an older anime, released in Europe, South America, the Middle East and Asia in the 90s and early 00s (but not in the US), notorious for its over-the-top soccer moves, along with the standard focus on the relationships between the players, the drama of each match and training to be the best.
Slam Dunk (TV anime from Geneon; manga and movies unlicensed) is a long-running basketball series, focusing around Sakuragi Hanamichi, a high school punk who falls in love with Haruko Akagi. In order to win her heart, he joins the basketball team, captained by Haruko’s brother and set to take the championship this week. Naturally, Sakuragi knows nothing about basketball and his quest for love is set with obstacles.
Hoop Days (anime from Bandai Entertainment; manga, titled Dear Boys, unlicensed) is similar to the inspirational movies of the 80s and 90s. Kazuhiko Aikawa is an amazing basketball player. He moves to a new school and turns the lackluster boys’ basketball team into superstars. It’s a little predictable, but always a happy ending.
Princess Nine is a baseball series (anime from ADV Films) with a twist: all of the players are girls. The all-female team is put together to prove that girls can compete on the same level as boys, and even be better than boys. It’s an excellent show for athletic girls to see and get inspired.
Major is an ongoing series that aims for an older audience, working more as a drama that uses baseball as a background (both anime and manga are currently unlicensed). The father is a Major League batter. The son is a Little League pitcher. Both want to be the best in the Major League, while trying to balance the other aspects in their lives, and each other.
For hockey, you can’t do worse than My Heavenly Hockey Club (manga from Del Rey), which has Hana Suzuki joining the all-boys hockey team for the field trips to luxurious resorts. I’m just surprised that there is a hockey manga. I mean, hockey is a northern latitude sport!
Over in the swimming pool, we have Kenko Zenrakei Suieibu Umisho on the horizon, with the anime coming out in June in Japan. Umisho seems to have a touch of fanservice to it, with a character who likes to swim nude and always has a naughty smile.
Eyeshield 21 (manga from VIZ Media; anime unlicensed) is all about football, and follows the formula. However, it does add an element of mystery with the main character hiding his identity on the field as “Eyeshield 21,” who comes onto the field in the nick of time to save the day.
Prince of Tennis (manga and anime from VIZ Media; OVAs and live-action film unlicensed) is an excellent story of a young genius tennis player working his way through the ranks to become professional, while Fighting Spirit (manga unlicensed; anime from Geneon) is considered to be an excellent boxing anime, on par with the original Rocky.
Non-traditional sports are also starting to make an appearance in anime and manga. Free Runners (manga from Seven Seas) centers around parkour, the physical and mental exercise of using the city as a medium for motion. (You know, those people who do impossible jumps and flips.)
Strictly speaking, boardgames are a type of sport, so Hikaru no Go (manga and anime from VIZ Media) also deserves a mention, as it uses the game of Go as a life-changing sport. Racing is also a sport, so check out Initial D (anime and manga from TOKYOPOP), the franchise that brought drifting out of the garage and onto the kitchen table.
There are so many titles out there that not liking comic books isn’t an excuse for avoiding the manga revolution. So pick up one of these sporty titles and leave it around the house for the manga-hating brother or father who “just doesn’t get those books.” You’ve likely to have a convert on your hands.