Sports anime have been around for a very long time, often but not always as a subset of the Shonen genre. As such, we've had a large assortment of titles from various sports of various kinds. Titles like Ashita no Joe, Hajime no Ippo, Slam Dunk, and Captain Tsubasa are iconic titles that have come to define the genre in various ways.
Sports anime have a huge following and community, and they have a large following. What makes sports anime so compelling and especially enjoyable to follow through? Regardless, sports anime have proven to be capable of enthusing fans, whether or not they or many of these titles have been exceptionally well-known.
Due to the sheer number of sporting codes represented in anime, it is redundant to seek for a specific formula that would fit each or most examples; however, there are obvious categories that emerge when one analyzes the main objective and themes of the anime in question. Sports anime are diverse, but they, like any other genre, have tropes and tendencies that can aid in our understanding of the X-factor that gives them the cult followings to which they are susceptible.
The idea that the main characters in sports anime are all working towards an objective or ambition, be it an individual one, a collective one, or a combination of the two, is one of the most amusing aspects of the series. No matter how unlikely it appears, the main characters will eventually achieve their goal, regardless of their skill set at the call to action.
Aoi Ashito from the currently-airing soccer anime Ao Ashi is an excellent example of this. He starts his journey towards becoming a professional soccer player at the age of 15 without even having a clue about basics such as first touch, passing, and physical stamina. Kuroko is a complete novice, picking up climbing one day and having to participate in a competition the next day.
The fact that characters strive for goals that aren't necessarily achievable is what makes sports anime so moving; these are some of the most popular anime that utilize this concept in the context of a character's physical ability (see "The Big Three"); it's like seeing a friend achieve a goal that they've been striving toward for the better part of 50 episodes.
Sports anime can be quite dramatic, and this element adds a unique flavor to them. Even something trivial like Keijo!!!!!!!!!!, a sports anime where female athletes compete in gladiator-style bouts to smash themselves off a platform into the drink below, has a dramatic quality that may serve as a layer of humor in some instances.
Pros and Cons
While on the one hand, the draw is due to the unimaginable odds that the main characters in the sports anime in question face as they strive towards their goal, sometimes sports anime begins with the protagonist already competent, or even tremendously talented. In this case, they are a force to be reckoned with in their sporting codes of choice; however, this trope often comes second.
Hinata and Kageyama from Haikyuu! are an interesting mix of being at the beginning of their respective paths, but unlike Hinata, they lack in temperament. It is then possible to see how their common goal in a sports anime is facilitated by their combination.
The protagonist's unbreakable barrier to entry is complemented by an ultra-specific aspect of the sport, which makes them more skilled than anyone else. While on the one hand, Chihayafuru's protagonist is ruthless, impatient, and lacks an intimate knowledge of the sport Karuta, she has the swiftest swipe of any Karuta player her age, and she continues to improve until she becomes a winner.
This dynamic of sport anime is the niche application of the basic idea that any configuration has its obvious advantages and drawbacks, but the application in sports anime allows a character's most shocking flaw to become a trustworthy weapon if they master it correctly.
The Right Catalyst
"Catalyst" is to be understood in a very limited sense. Every sports anime has a central conflict or contention point, with each character in the series facing a different situation which influences his play style, temperament, and chemistry with other members of the team. This is also true of works like Free! and SK8 The Infinity, where a character's relationship to a sporting code is the focus of the story; however, he only skates because he'd like to be one of the
Themes and tropes above are often found in each show, although this is not exhaustive; their inclusion in the framework of a sports anime title tends to result in the anime getting a lot of attention. Ultimately, the greatest sports anime are those that can inspire passion in a viewer, and who also demonstrate similar admiration for not only the sporting code but the characters in the series as well.