For some fans, the announcement of an anime tournament arc starting is enough to make them squeal with joy and start anticipating the awesome show-downs to come.
For me though, finding out that a story I’ve been enjoying is about to embark on a tournament arc is usually enough to make me sigh. I’m happy enough when it turns out I was wrong. My Hero Academia managed to turn their anime tournament arc into quite the impressive fare with some of the show’s best episodes and fights appearing during its run, but that’s more of an exception rather than the rule.
So what is it about anime tournament arcs that really puts me off before the arc has even started?
Anime Tournament Arcs – A Different Kind of Fan-Service
For me, it very much feels like a tournament arc is just a different kind of fan-service. Largely because it puts characters we love up against one another and shows of their flashiest moves. This includes characters who normally wouldn’t fight each because they are friends.
However, unlike a beach episode, tournament arcs tend to run through multiple episodes if not entire cours of a season and so while the tournament may exist for a purpose and there may be some goal the characters wish to achieve by entering it, the narrative as a whole more or less screeches to a halt while we essentially watch action sequence after action sequence with character match-ups that might be thrilling but ultimately if we skipped to the conclusion we wouldn’t be much worse off.
Even My Hero Academia wasn’t exactly progressing its plot throughout its tournament but it did compensate by delivering some of the strongest character moments and break-throughs for the series making it feel meaningful and needed with the characters emerging from the tournament with some improved mind-sets and motivations.
But when we look at anime built entirely around a death game or tournament style match up such as Juni Taisen: Zodiac War we can really see the weaknesses of this kind of narrative.
Sure watching super-powerful characters pummel each other can be fun but it works better if we actually know the characters first and want at least one of them to succeed in the end. It also helps if we understand what the purpose of all the fighting is in the first place.
No Consequences To Losing An Anime Tournament
The other issue anime tournament arcs suffer from is a lack of consequences of failure within them. As much as the stories might try to make the stakes seem impossibly high, a tournament arc is by its nature a controlled setting and generally speaking regardless of how out of control the situation gets you kind of suspect that someone will step in before the characters actually die.
Likewise, while a character might go in needing to win in order to obtain some goal, losing seems to only mean they don’t get it (that and they have a massive bump to their pride). At times that doesn’t seem like a particularly huge consequence.
If we look at something like The Asterisk War, one of the biggest issues early on was while winning the tournament may lead to the characters learning something new or gaining something they were seeking, they did have other options to pursue and losing just meant things kept going as they had been.
The anime tournament didn’t result in any earth shattering consequences or even concrete and clear personal losses for the characters in question. And you could never actually believe that the schools would allow the students to be critically injured during the fights even if they were getting beaten up quite badly.
Of course, it is equally ridiculous when the fate of the world rests on the outcome of an anime tournament simply because, who does that? Whether it is Mirai Nikki with its god planning to hand his powers over to the final survivor of the death matches or something like the Fate series with its Grail Wars, it just feels so contrived and not like a real consequence.
Fight, fight, fight!
Lastly, tournament arcs in anime have this nasty tendency to outstay their welcome.
In an effort to appease everyone they shove as many characters as possible into the matches and then of course you have to justify their presence. Or give each and every character a shining moment before moving on. It eats up screen time and season time that could be better spent else where.
Plus, each fight ends up starting to feel much the same as the last as some fail to make each match-up feel unique and energised.
I definitely felt this fatigue in Dr Stone which actually had a relatively short tournament arc when they were looking to elect a village leader. In the grand scheme of the story, an anime tournament arc felt out of place and more than that, it slowed our progress toward a conflict with the revived Tsukasa to a crawl.
While there were some funny moments along the way in the mis-matched battles throughout the tournament mostly it felt like an intrusion into the story and for an anime that focused largely on science and building cool inventions out of stone-age materials, it was one of the least original ideas they could have brought into the story.
Do you like anime tournament arcs?
I’ve probably made this clear already, but there are some truly great anime tournament arcs out there. And when it fits the story’s purpose and helps develop characters, there’s definitely a place for a tournament arc.
But for anime that just kind of throw it in there to pad out there story or to provide some candy for viewers who were always wondering what would happen if X character fought Y, they end up being largely something that make me wonder how many episodes I can safely skip before I lose track of the story.
So I’d love to know how you find anime tournament arcs and whether you are a fan or not? Also, what has been your favourite anime tournament arc? Be sure to leave me a comment below.
Thank-you for reading 100 Word Anime.
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17 thoughts on “Why I’ve Never Been A Fan of Anime Tournament Arcs”
I think we can all blame Dragonball Z for killing the tournament gimmick by having the matches last 10 episodes each! 😛
Fights dragging on is definitely another point against tournament arcs though at least most anime have learned not to take it to that kind of extreme.
This is an interesting post, and I enjoyed reading your thoughts. The only “tournament” arc that I enjoyed watching was Naruto’s chuunin exams. Even though I love Jujutsu Kaisen, my interest fell a bit when the tournament arc started, though I’m not sure why.
For me the start of a tournament arc usually does make my interest flag a bit because it feels like things will more or less be put on hold during the tournament. There are exceptions and anime that really progress characters or plot through their tournament but they are not the common experience.
I completely agree with your point about Tournament Arcs halting the progression of the story. The shift in focus to constant battles definitely takes away from the narrative. I cant wait for Jujutsu Kaisen. Its not going to happen anytime soon in the anime, but it seems the manga is heading towards a Tournament Type arc and it seems way more interesting then most!
I keep hearing very good things about Jujutsu Kaisen. Will have to try it soon.
Its so good! Hopefully you enjoy it too!
I’ve never been a fan of tournament arcs. I actually stopped watching Yuyu hakuasho when the dark tournament started. It got too boring. I think that’s why I don’t like them, tournaments are often really boring, too long, and they make me forget where the story was going.
They do tend to stall the story at times.
I generally don’t like tournaments. I don’t watch real sports much. Anime sports is even less interesting.
To me, they feel like filler. Opportunity to show the hero breaking thru their barriers to higher levels and show lots of cool moves but they are often oh so predictable. Massively overused trope! I can often guess what is going to happen right down to an approximation of the dialog. I put them in the same category as the inevitable school festival or beach episode, except those are usually only one episode of snooze while tournaments can be half the season.
Anime like Slime and Spider are also “tournament” anime except it is unplanned and unorganized. Getting stronger thru a set of gradually escalating street fights where the protagonist doesn’t have a clue what’s next, rather than a formal competition with a schedule and a competition tree and a title to be won.
There are anime that are nothing but an extended tournament, with intermittent breaks for character development or plot advancement, a reason why I rarely like sports anime.
When tournaments are done well, they CAN be very effective. Think of Chihayafuru and her karuta tournaments. Or shogi in 3-Gatsu no Lion. Brilliantly done! But neither anime is about the sport. It is about the characters and the contests are character development tools.
Yes a focus on character so we actually care about what they are doing can make it much more engaging even if it is a tournament arc.
I general love tournament arcs. The Chunin exam from Naruto is one of my favorites. However, the all time greatest tournament arc has to be the Dark Tournament from Yu Yu Hakusho.
A tournament arc done well can be pretty entertaining. All too often I find they end up pretty repetitive though.
At some point I will have to try Yu Yu Hakusho.
A lot of tournament arcs only exist to introduce new characters and as you mentioned to have friends that would never fight battle. I do wonder if anime where the tournament is the goal (Pokémon) is different or are perceived differently.
Anime like pokemon where the tournament is the goal certainly have their audience though I will admit they have never been high on my list of favourite anime. That said, I did watch quite a bit of pokemon as a kid.