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.
Join the discussion in the comments.