Sports Anime – Your Move

Thanks to Annalyn convincing me to watch Haikyuu!! back in around January, I ended up binging the entire season and a half that had aired and eagerly anticipated the upcoming episodes of season 2 (and later, waiting desperately for Fall to come so I could watch season 3). I was shocked, as sports anime had never been something I’d even considered watching. I am, after all, not a “sportsy” person in real life. It’s not so much even an apathetic stance. I often dislike watching or playing most sports. Despite this, Haikyuu!! quickly became (and remains) one of my all-time favorite anime. Not only that, but I ended up checking out other sports anime because of this. I found myself watching Prince of Stride, Cheer Danshii!!, and DAYS, plus I’m now following Yuri!!! On Ice (no actual yuri involved) and All Out!! this season in addition to, of course, season 3 of Haikyuu!!

**Note: Minor and very vague/general spoilers will follow in the post regarding Haikyuu!!, Cheer Danshii!!, DAYS, and Yuri!!! On Ice**

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So, why do I, the girl who avoids sports like the plague, find myself enjoying these anime so much? They’re full of reminders that I often need to hear. I see bits of myself in the characters as they struggle with various roadblocks and try to become somehow “better”. I recognize life stages I’ve been in or am in that the characters are in. I find that so many of these shows, under the sports jargon (which honestly begins to grow on you), hold messages for many different people, sports-inclined or not.

To give some perspective, the reason I didn’t post anything last month was because I was working through some stuff in my personal life, and it left me genuinely unable to focus on composing any sort of post to go up on the site. I dealt with body image struggles after I noticed a bit of gained weight (I’ve been bad at keeping my exercise routine for a bit), self-doubt in my abilities as I struggled with learning new things at work, and loneliness when I noticed that as all this stuff came up, the list of people I felt like talking to about it was very, very short. It’s not the first time I’ve struggled with these things, and like usual, they bundled up and turned me into a giant, anxious mess, feeling stuck in place in my life.

It felt like every time I made progress, it was all undone – I could never move forward, and there was no point in trying to. It’s not the first time I’ve hit a patch in life where I feel like for every two steps I took forward, I’d take anywhere from one to three back. I can also guarantee it won’t be the last. We’re all vulnerable to times like that, be it for a day, a week, a month, or longer.

The worst part, though, is that when I hit one of those times I’ve become used to being told some of the same old advice: “Just pray and it’ll get better.” “Maybe God wants you to be going through this right now.” “Just give things some time and they’ll get better – things always get better.” I won’t say that the preceding is never true. Prayer can be powerful, and can fix many things – check out Moses’ prayer interceding for the people of Israel in Exodus 32:7-14, where his sincerity kept them from God’s anger. Maybe God does want you to go through your current struggle to help you learn an important lesson, but maybe He doesn’t and this is something you’re going through simply because we live in a broken world. Whether it’s a lesson or an attack, you should probably do something, even if that “something” is just actively seeking God and waiting on Him during the times when you have no control/power. There are many more times Biblically where God’s people are called to action (even when that’s actively waiting on God), not complacency.

So yes, sometimes things are totally beyond our control and we have no choice but to go with the flow and see how everything plays out. Typically, however, we’re the ones who need to get our butts in gear and do something about the problem. Yet it’s all too easy to pass it off because we’ve convinced ourselves it’s not something we need to deal with. I will also say to my fellow Christians that you’re not sinning or being selfish by using your God-given gifts and abilities by choosing to keep pushing forward instead of waiting for God to materialize step-by-step instructions in front of you.

All of the above is why I love sports anime. Typically, the main characters hit a roadblock in their sports goals and have to learn to overcome them. They are working through their own problems in their own way. They learn that the only way for them to get through is by putting in some effort themselves; no one else will magically fix it for them. So, when I need a reminder of just how capable people can be when they commit to a goal and have a little faith in themselves, I flick on a sports anime.

You’re Not Your Looks, and Your Looks Aren’t You

In Cheer Danshii!!, I expected all the team members of the cheer squad would be cookie-cutter thin but muscled guys who clearly live at the gym and stick to strict diets. I was pleasantly surprised that one of the main characters, Toono, was actually portrayed (nicely, not mockingly) as being overweight – and he knew it. He had made up his mind that he wanted to try cheerleading, even though many were skeptical that he could do it, considering both his size and his love of food (did I mention he’s the fried-pork-curry-challenge champion, because he is). His teammates found a place for him on the team where his sturdiness not only was not an issue, but truly benefited everyone. Toono continued to train just as hard as, if not harder than, anyone else in order to contribute to the team. He didn’t magically, drastically lose weight – by the end of the show, he was still just as heavy as at the start. The big difference was that he was stronger, healthier, in better shape, and much more confident in himself. Not only that, but he’s revealed to be the only team member – despite his weight and appearance – with a girlfriend. As a girl who could stand to drop a few pounds, this was a refreshing reminder.

Toono realizes that his weight doesn't define him - even as he is he can help the team.
Toono realizes that his weight doesn’t define him – even as he is he can help the team.

One’s weight does not define one’s abilities nor one’s attractiveness. Never fall into the illusion, fellow girls, that you need to be super thin to get a guy. Proverbs 31:30 is a wonderful reminder that our focus should not be on “charm” or “beauty” but on developing a “fear of the Lord”, or, basically, a real understanding of and relationship with God. Never fall into the illusion, guys, that you need to have a 6-pack to get a girl. Remember that when God sent Samuel to appoint the next king, he wasn’t concerned with appearance, but their heart (1 Samuel 16:7). If you’re losing weight to get into shape or get healthier, like Toono was, then go for it, but don’t do it for someone else! It’s not going to be easy – we’re shown Toono struggling to keep up with the physical demands of cheer-leading many times – but it will be worth it if you stick with it. The most important part, however, is to learn to be comfortable in your own skin. You may not be stick-thin or super “buff”, and that is okay. Your goal doesn’t have to be either of those things. If you’re happy how you are, great, stay that way. If you’re not, set a goal that works for you, commit to putting in the work and – maybe not instantly – you’ll start seeing the results.

You Can’t Do it if You Don’t Believe You Can

DAYS and Yuri!!! On Ice feature main characters with very different skill levels in their sport, but the same doubts in their abilities. In DAYS, Tsukushi has practically never touched a soccer ball. Despite this, he joins the school’s soccer team. Yuri from Yuri!!! On Ice, on the other hand, is a professional, having reached a global level of competition in figure skating. Tsukushi faces doubts right from the get-go as he struggles to play the game, let alone become any good at it. Yuri is facing his own doubts after reaching the global competitions just to place last. These two both have the choice to take the easy way out and give up, or struggle constantly to push forward. They both choose the same – keep going. Tsukushi finds his motivation both in his own need to be on the field (and not the side) during his matches, and his team’s pushes to keep trying harder. Yuri’s motivation is Victor – both the fact that Victor has suddenly become his coach and Yuri’s long-time goal to compete against Victor some day. Even knowing that there’s no guarantee they’ll succeed, Yuri and Tsukushi decide to put in the effort to keep pushing towards their goals, because they’ve decided that’s better than just giving up.

Even after making it to the global competition before, Yuri still faces doubts about his abilities.
Even after making it to the global competition before, Yuri still faces doubts about his abilities.

As both series are still airing, I’ve yet to see if their efforts will pay off in the long run or not, but that’s not far off from real life. There will be times in life where you want to give up. You could do that, but you could also choose to keep trying, so that even if you fail, you can say that at least you tried. To keep trying, though, you need to choose a goal that you want to get to and find something to motivate you to get there. You’re not going to learn a new skill overnight. You’re certainly not going to master anything in a day. Even when you do “master” something, you’ll find there are things you don’t know and other things you struggle with. There will always be someone “better” at what you do. You can use that as an excuse to stop pushing forward, assuming “I’ll never be as good as ___, so what’s the point?” Alternatively, you can use that as motivation to try to reach their level. Remind yourself of what an awesome, smart, creative, capable, unique person you are. The moment you start doubting your abilities is the moment you stop entirely or start moving backwards in your goal(s). God has shown time and time again He can use anyone in His plan; Moses, who did not speak well, Rahab, a prostitute, and Jonah, a coward, are just a few examples of this. When God says that with Him supporting us, we’re enough as we are, who are we to argue?

It’s Okay to Need a Team

Lastly, Haikyuu!! Where to even begin with this show… I could write a whole post (probably many) on just this show. Annalyn’s already written a few posts on it, in fact. However, right now, I want to focus on two specific characters: Kageyama and Tsukishima (and I promise this is not just because I fangirl a lot over these two, haha). These two are probably tied as the most reclusive, anti-social members on Karasuno High’s team. At the beginning of the show, they even go so far as being straight-up mean on occasion. So, why these two? As an introvert who has trouble connecting with people (like Kageyama) and, when anxious in social situations, has a tendency to become cold, analytical, and sometimes mean as a form of self-defence (like Tsukishima), I empathize a lot with these two. I’ve also loved watching their growth through the two-and-a-half-ish seasons that are out at the time of my writing this. See, while never stated explicitly, we’re given a pretty good idea that despite being on the team, these two guys sometimes feel lonely. They feel less like a part of the team as a whole and more like one individual on the team. However, when they start to make efforts to open up and reach out to connect, the team reaches right back.

After a while, Kageyama begins to realize you need a team, because you're all in it together.
After a while, Kageyama begins to realize you need a team, because you’re all in it together.

While I’m not saying everyone will find that reaching out to those around them will result in a warm welcome, I am saying that sometimes us feeling lonely or isolated is just as much (if not more so) our fault as that of those around us. You can’t be on a team that won’t let you join, but you can’t be part of the team you don’t try to join. When I look at that short list of people I feel safe talking to about my struggles, I’m reminded that it’s probably mostly my fault it’s that short. Since I struggle with starting and maintaining friendships, I’m guilty of often leaving a lot of the work of connecting to the other person. Like Kageyama and Tsukishima, I need to start putting in more effort on my end. This is especially true since God didn’t design us to be alone ; despite being in direct relationship with God, God knew it was not good for Adam to be alone, and thus created Eve (Genesis 2:18-22).

In Conclusion…

Going nowhere near covering all the reasons, that’s how I, the sports-avoiding-geek, have become hooked on sports anime. Learning about the actual sports and picking up on the terms and rules has become fun (I’m still not sure how that’s become enjoyable) but the main reason I love it is that it’s got so many sports lessons that aren’t just sports lessons. They’re full of reminders that sometimes it’s hard to keep moving forward. Sometimes, you’ll fail. A lot of times your progress may feel like you take two steps forward, then a few steps back. If you sit still and don’t push toward any goal (can be as simple as “I will finally clean out my closet today” or as big as “I want to become a doctor”), you’ll get stuck moving nowhere – or worse, moving backwards.

Every one of us, no matter where we are in life, hits roadblocks. We can choose to let them stop us, or we can keep pressing forward, like those persistent protagonists in sports anime. If Toono gave up because of his weight, he’d never have discovered his ability to learn cheer-leading. If Tsukishima and Yuri let their doubt become greater than their motivation to press on, they would have let go of very important parts of their life. If Kageyama and Tsukushima never took a chance to reach out, they never would have found everyone else reaching back. If you’re going through something, or a few somethings, like I was last month, you will never move forward in it by giving up. You may also be stuck there far longer than necessary if you “just wait for things to get better” or “just pray about it” and don’t actually do anything. Do what it takes to believe in yourself, pick a goal and the motivation to get there, and find yourself a team to have your back. Then the next time you feel you’ve taken a step back, push yourself to take two more forward. When life throws everything it has at you, it’s your move. Make it count.

2 thoughts on “Sports Anime – Your Move

  1. Your article reminds me of the expression: “God can’t move a parked car: move!” Prayer is the most important thing that we do. (Dostoyevsky once exuberantly wrote that prayer is an education–and with how Great an Educator!) Still, one exists in material reality, and God reaches us also in the way we interact with others and try to better ourselves within this world.

    I myself am not a fan of sports anime, unless it has to do with a martial art or if one considers board games sports (e.g. Hikaru no Go, Shion no Ou). But, they can be very inspiring.

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    1. Indeed! I always like “do your best, and give the rest to God.” Implication that you need to take the first step and do what you can – then God will take over when you need Him.

      Hm. It’s not martial arts and isn’t exactly a board game per say but have you tried Chihayafuru? It’s a sports one I really enjoyed. It’s about a Japanese card game. Seems like something you’d like because it’s similar to board game type ones.

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