Why Does Teamwork Serve as an Excellent Story Cornerstone?

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We’ve all heard the groans, and probably groaned ourselves when an anime pulls out the power or friendship/teamwork finale and characters overcome all obstacles just by working together and recognising each other’s strengths and weaknesses. It is a little twee and a lot overdone and when done poorly, groaning is the appropriate response to a trite conclusion. 

However, and this is a big however, many fantastic and emotionally moving stories continue to embed teamwork as the central concept around which the characters and narrative develop. These are stories that move the audience and inspire. They offer little new in an already saturated field and yet they take the idea of teamwork and manage to fill the audience with a sense that what they are watching is worth it and rewarding.

So how does this work?

Haikyuu Kurusu Team

Firstly, through having a team, the anime instantly creates a cast of usually diverse characters to focus on within a confined context. If it is a sport anime like Haikyuu or the more recent Tsurune, we have a set number of participants with their own strengths and weaknesses, different levels of experience, and different attitudes. This inherently means the story gets to work on bringing these characters together to better understand one another, and conveniently help the audience get to know them as well, and it also comes with built in conflicts that make sense within the context before any external threat or problem is introduced allowing the story to feel like progress is being made even when not very much is going on in the wider narrative.

For some, this won’t appeal. They’ll feel they’ve seen these basic relationships play out before and they’ll be right. But what it does mean is that if a particular group or team happens to contain personalities and character types that appeal to the individual, the anime as a whole is instantly going to seem a whole lot more attractive.

Tsurune Episode 4 - Onogi

This is where Tsurune is edging out Run With the Wind as far as I am concerned (and it is a personal opinion). While Onogi in Tsurune is a bit of a downer, I kind of see where he’s coming from and he isn’t so over the top in his spitefulness or annoyance with the other characters that he’s irredeemable. It is quite clear that in not so many episodes the boys on the team will come together even if they’ll later have a falling out. And each of the other boys in the team I quite enjoy. They aren’t larger than life characters so for some viewers they might find them too subdued or dull, but I am enjoying the calm they bring even while they each have enough individual personality and drama to bring something to the table.

Run With The Wind Episode 3

Run With The Wind on the other hand has at its centre Haiji and Kakeru who are both problematic characters in their own way and while I’m pretty sure they’ll both mellow out before we get to the end, they are fairly hard to take (or at least I find them quite grating – particularly Haiji who I’ve previously called a ‘master manipulator’ among other things, and that wasn’t meant as a compliment – though having watched episode 8 I’m now very much hating Kakeru a lot). However, due to the large cast in Run With The Wind, ten members of the team as opposed to the five in Tsurune, despite finding the central two characters a little hard to swallow, other supporting characters are fantastic and are certainly keeping me entertained and wanting more. 

Run With The Wind Episode 5

Prince for best character of the season, please?

However, neither of these shows can really stand up when compared to previous sporting anime just in terms of the team dynamic. I’ll admit, I don’t watch a lot of sports anime, but when I finally gave in and watched Haikyuu I was blown away. They managed to bring in fairly flawed characters who individually would have been quite painful to endure and yet balanced the dynamic between the different cast members fairly beautifully to create a team that really made you want to get behind them.

Haikyuu

That isn’t to say that Tsurune and Run With The Wind won’t get there, nor is it saying that they aren’t good to watch given both are in the top half of my picks for the season so far. However it does explain why some team anime get more traction than others just on the cast of characters alone and how the narrative deals with those characters.

Secondly, where there is a team there is some common purpose, goal, direction. There’s something driving these people to come together and even if they don’t seem that driven in the beginning it is easy to give them an obstacle to work together to overcome. It might be simple story telling, but it works. In sports anime the goal is usually make it to some final or win some competition. Endlessly we get the ‘this is our last year’ routine, which somehow Run With The Wind managed to shove in their even though the characters are all different ages at university (thanks for that Haiji, we just needed time pressure). But outside of sports anime, we are seeing this a lot in some of our cute girls doing spy things offerings.

Izetta

I say that like it is a common genre, and it isn’t… yet. Watch this space, once anime realises it is on to a good thing we’ll see the plethora of shows following along and while that isn’t a problem, it does mean the quality of said anime will vary wildly and if the isekai genre is anything to go by, it means that those that dismiss anything that is popular or common as trash by default will definitely steer clear. Still, with Princess Principal and now Release the Spyce, cute girls doing spy things is a genre with a lot of potential and we could even throw something like Izetta into the mix, though technically they weren’t really doing spy things.

Now I would be the first to admit I am not the biggest fan of cute girls doing cute things. But cute girls doing spy things is a different story and Princess Principal showed us beyond any doubt that the idea can work. Outside of the context, the group of girls could have been any group from any high school anime ever, and yet with the context they were given, it allowed for the plot to have some drive and a sense of urgency even as the girls went about their ‘daily’ lives (you know, infiltrating, gathering evidence, running for their lives). And while that might miss the more relaxed motifs of the general cute girls genre, for those of us who don’t actually mind the relationship dynamics but kind of feel sleepy while watching something without a clear plot, it is an excellent path to take.

Princess Principal Episode 10

Once again, the core of this is the team. Cute girl stories live or die by how the personalities bounce off one another and how relationships are formed and maintained throughout the series. While Princess Principal had the overall narrative with the Princess and the wall and lots to pay attention to, each episode was ultimately driven by the girls themselves and individually, while interesting enough, they couldn’t have carried the story. But together they were fantastic and together they could overcome obstacles in the plot that individually were insurmountable.

Release the Spyce Episode 4 Mei and Fu

Release the Spyce is more problematic because the overall plot is a lot weaker and the team dynamic is less interesting or engaging (at least that’s how I’m finding it) so while all the elements are there the execution has been a little lacking. Shame, because this bright pink spy story could have been really fun and instead I’m just kind of hoping they would focus on one aspect or another because at the moment they are juggling too many things and not really succeeding.

Lastly though, I’ll bring teamwork back to relatability. Even though many of us aren’t exactly team players by choice, in life we have to deal with others and work with them at times. We’ll butt heads, have misunderstandings, dislike someone on first meeting for some arbitrary reason, feel like someone is holding us back, or even just be the person who is holding people back just because. However, teamwork is a vital skill and it is a situation we’ve been in over and over again throughout our lives. So seeing characters forced into a situation where they need to get on with someone or work together or just play their part, all of that is something that on some level we can understand and empathise with.

Tsurune Episode 5 Minato and Onogi

So while I’ll probably not stop rolling my eyes at power of friendship/teamwork conclusions that feel unearned, I did feel it was time for me to express why teamwork isn’t a concept that should be dismissed out of hand. When used appropriately it can form the cornerstone of something well worth watching and something that can have a real impact on the viewer.

However, I’d love to know your thoughts on teamwork in anime and who some of your favourite anime teams are and why so please leave me a comment below.

Thanks for reading
Karandi James
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12 thoughts on “Why Does Teamwork Serve as an Excellent Story Cornerstone?

  1. awesome review!!!! really love how you describe the power of teamwork/friendship! it is true that teamwork is an essential part in everyones life and not only in anime or movies at all. Anime teams we really like are clearly in the Free! anime series, especially between Haru and Rin as they care for each other even though they were/are rivals. Especially Rin as he does not show or wants to show any interest into his old friendship (Season 1). We really like this teamwork.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Instant like for Haikyuu!! (because I have an obsession with that anime and the ongoing manga)… But, in the larger perspective, I see what you’re getting at throughout the post. With teamwork/teams in anime (or even just a group), we don’t necessarily need a plot progression to have a good episode. What we could get is simply a better understanding of the different characters (their quirks, dislikes, likes, reactions to certain events, mental states, etc) and that in itself actually builds on the overarching narrative because with a better understanding of the characters we can see how the plot is affecting each member of the cast in their own way.

    I’ll take Haikyuu!! as an example in this case: Asahi (long haired wing spiker). He’s quiet, doesn’t like confrontation, and his character deals with anxiety. With that we get to see how he reacts to being in crowds and on the volleyball court, how he reacts at school, and what he went through before he joined the team. Nishinoya was almost his polar opposite in some respects. Noya is boisterous, excitable, outgoing, but he also said he wasn’t going to be on the team without Asahi. The two are opposites, yet that’s the reason they mesh. They respected each other, didn’t try to make each other something they weren’t and those characteristics played off each other and made the more rounded characters through the interactions.

    I’d bet if someone was to go through the show they’d be able to see the contrasting characters (not just on Karasuno, but other teams like Nekoma (they’re like a mirror image of Karasuno to be honest) and Aoba Josai, etc) and notice that each of them plays off their opposite/semi-opposite, which eventually lead to a cohesive cast with many ideas, thoughts, styles, personalities, and whatever else they brought to the table. And that’s still true in the 300+ chapters of the manga that Haruichi Furudate and company have written and illustrated.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Not a sports anime, but I’ve been rewatching Amagi Brilliant Park recently, and a lot of your thoughts here can be applied to that series too, especially where you talked about, “seeing characters forced into a situation where they need to get on with someone or work together or just play their part.” Amagi is full of lessons in teamwork both large and small, from learning how to work with talented people even if you don’t personally like them (as in Seiya and Moffle’s relationship), to the contrasts between various leadership styles, especially between Isuzu’s authoritarian management style as the prior park manager and Seiya’s relatively more collaborative approach. There are only a couple of episodes where teamwork actually is the central theme, but it’s a constant undercurrent throughout the series, and anyone who’s ever held a 9-5 job in a typical workplace for any length of time will probably find some parts of Amagi that they can relate to from their own professional career.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Teamwork makes it all happen, although not so tidily as some shows would have you believe. I like a little more grit and dissension in my teams, just to keep them honest. Look at the crew of Cowboy Bebop for a little workable dysfunction, or Papika and Cocona from Flip Flappers, or even the 2 very different crews Marika Kato captained in Bodacious Space Pirates. . .

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Dissension can work really well but it creates quite a different dynamic so I guess it depends on what the anime is going for in terms of tone. Still, I liked Darker Than Black because the main ‘team’ were more just working together out of necessity rather than any kind of camaraderie. And though they grew closer as the story continued, they continued to have their difference right to the end.

      Liked by 1 person

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