I am not one for sports anime as a general rule. My primary genre is adventure and plot-driven anime so this is quite the departure, but after seeing some very compelling content from a facebook friend including some actual, sensitive LGBT representation rather than it being used as a horrific comedic stereotype, I knew I had to check this one out.
I was hooked from episode 1. Which did mean watching episodes 1-9 in one evening starting at around 10:30pm… I was immediately drawn to the gorgeous visuals. The lighting, character designs, landscapes, they all looked beautiful. It was obvious from the offset that people had worked hard to make this a very good quality show. And luckily, the characters were looking up from the beginning as well. I found Maki a sweet bundle of joy, and the introductory tennis matches managed to very nicely introduce a lot of characters well but in a short space of time.
Another aspect I really like is the music. The theme songs are nice, but the music in the episodes is better. The composer and the production team clearly put a lot of thought into when to use the music to build the right atmosphere, and some of the main piano riffs through the matches are catchy enough that I still remember them.
And I like the main story premise. While the student council president isn’t made out to be the most likeable character, at all, she had a point that the boys’ soft tennis club is draining resources and really doesn’t deserve the funding they get in their current state. A kick is just what they need to start doing something, and Maki becomes a very relatable character when he scathes the team on multiple occasions. I mean, if you turned up and could easily destroy a group of players who had allegedly been committing to something for a year but were worse than a 5 year old you’d be thinking what he was saying.
But this is far from the only level we see the characters. A lot of mature and sensitive themes are tackled very well, and to so many characters that it acts as a very good reminder that a lot of people go through a lot of shit. You never really know someone’s story. Toma’s relationship with his mother, wile not abusive like Maki’s father, is awful, and both of them clearly need out. Nao’s all-controlling mother is going to be a very relatable situation for a lot of viewers – parents who almost end up suffocating their children. We also have Mitsue who doesn’t feel she can show emotion or interest, and has a rather lecherous fan-base for her drawings, having to come to terms with losing this as she follows her own interests instead.
My favourite theme though, was just how accepting the anime was of LGBT issues. In many anime, this situation would have been mocked, and treated as a “comic relief” and while one scene where some of the boys dress up as girls to spy on a rival, is somewhat, it is handled well. Yu, who later becomes the team manager, isn’t mocked for crushing on Toma by Maki, he is very accepting of it and treats it like any other crush, and handles Yu’s questioning of their gender identity sensitively and they the kind of discussion that someone in their position needs. But e are eventually reminded that this is Japan when their mother sees them with a bag of girls’ clothing. But this is progress I really wasn’t expecting to see. In addition, there is a trans character Sho, who we don’t even realise is so until Maki tells Yu but he always uses Sho’s preferred name and pronouns, and treats him like any other man in his life. It’s perhaps a sign that these issues which have been taboo are starting to be discussed (but I’ll defer to a Japanese person for confirmation).
There’s a lot of good lessons to learn from the anime – how to fight back when shit hits the fan, how to deal with different types of people such as egotists, those with mental health issues, people who just hate you for no reason. It teaches us that almost everyone can get along, and if you put your mind to something you really can achieve success if you are prepared to work. Of course, if you’re doing things for the wrong reasons like Joy, eventually it will come to light.
Now, why could this anime become the next travesty waiting to happen? Well that’s easy – if it doesn’t get a season 2. Hearing that the anime was originally meant to be 24 episodes but got cut is heartbreaking. I completely support the creator’s decision not to alter it, and leave episode 12 where he intended to. But given that final frame of it, you really can’t just leave us there. I’m going to go out and say that I think the only fitting medium is an additional anime series. It’s the medium he originally intended, and which fits so well. I always find that I engage with anime so much more than manga too, and the animation, music, it’s all so good and I want to see more.
I have only paid for anime once before in my life, buying the special edition of the Your Name DVD, but I’ll gladly pay for Stars Align in the hope that it helps it get a season 2. After all, that’s what everyone says the industry looks at when deciding these things. So to anyone out there who watched it and wants more, you know what to do.