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 something Tsurune gets right from the beginning. 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 early on but develop beautifully toward the end. Haiji rubbed me the wrong way right from the start, even being called a ‘master manipulator’ by me in an episode review, and yet seeing the finale and seeing how far these characters had gone was a truly moving experience. Where Run With The Wind really works is that it has ten characters in the team to develop and while some don’t get as much screen time as others, by the end of the show each one has had their moment to shine and the are thoroughly entertaining.

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

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.

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LAID-BACK CAMP 1/7 SCALE PRE-PAINTED FIGURE: NADESHIKO KAGAMIHARA

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.

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Karandi James
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Haikyuu Season 3 Series Review

Overview:

After two seasons of this, you kind of already know this is an anime about the Karasuno volleyball team. Season 3 picks up immediately from season 2 and we see the final match to decide whether they get to go to nationals. I’ve previously reviewed season 1 + 2 of Haikyuu and I have also done episode reviews of seasons 1 + 2. I did not do individual episode reviews for season 3. If you want to find any of my other reviews for Haikyuu, click here.

Review:

Like my other reviews of Haikyuu and preface it by pointing out I don’t much like sport and it is only recently I started really trying sports anime. Having found a couple of them quite watchable I decided to start working my way through some of the more popular titles and of course ended up watching Haikyuu. On that note, I will point out that if the whole series had been done the way season 3 was, I would have dropped this series very early on. That isn’t actually saying season 3 is bad, but the entire season (all 10 episodes) follows one match of volleyball. Which means, we’re watching a very drawn out game between two teams. We get occasional flash backs, time out conversations, on court discussions, and the occasional commentary from the spectators, but essentially you are watching a volleyball game play out in almost real time and if that had been my introduction to the series I’d have been out.

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So why was I glued to the screen to the point where I didn’t even pause to write the episode reviews I’d intended?

The main reason is this is such a perfect culmination of everything from season 1 and 2. Karasuno have grown and developed as a team and built their skills. Previously we’ve had episodes focussing on individuals but with one exception season 3 focusses on the team as a whole and how they are operating. This is no longer the Hinata and Kageyama show with their weird combination that lucks out some points due to surprising the opponent. This is now very much a cohesive group working with each person’s strengths and the skills they learned through everything we’d watched previously employed for the best possible outcome. Of course, that isn’t to say that Hinata and Kageyama don’t get their moments. They certainly do make their presence in the team felt.

So while if this had been the format for the show back in season 1, when I didn’t know these characters or have a reason to care about that last synchronised attack they just pulled off, I would have been completely bored and disconnected, in season 3, this works brilliantly. You’ve sat through two seasons with these characters. Either you just like animated volleyball or you’ve formed some connections and this series capitalizes on that fact. It doesn’t retread old ground but still manages to highlight the significance of the bonds between characters.

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The one exception is Tsukishima. He’s been one of my favourite characters from early on (something about his common sense and sarcasm just really hit the mark) but in season 3 he really becomes a part of the team and he just shines. The coach isn’t lying at the end of the game when he says that Tsukishima is definitely the MVP. Whether it is strategizing, stepping up his own game, finally finding the determination to go all out, to the point where he even questions why he cares so much, everything about him during this game is just perfect and he really steals several moments in this season.

Despite being glued to the screen though, I do have some criticisms or at least some thoughts on things that weren’t quite so amazing. They didn’t take away how great it was to see the Karasuno players from playing this game but they do take some of the shine off the show after the fact when you sit back and reflect on it.

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The first of these is the opening theme. It works and the imagery is actually really well done and is on par with previous seasons visuals. So watching it is fine. The song itself though, while not in any way bad, doesn’t quite have the same impact that earlier openings have had and given how hyped up everything else in this show was, it felt just a little bit lacking at the start of each new episode.

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Another issue I had was with the opponent. The team from Shiratorizawa are probably the least interesting team we’ve met in this three season run of this show. Previous opponents have had the stand out characters and fun personalities or formed interesting rivalries with cast members. You’ve actually felt a bit bad for some of them when the plot inevitably turned on them so that Karasuno could continue on their way to being the protagonists of the sports show. You don’t get this from Shiratorizawa, although I get from some of the flash backs and things they are trying to help us care about this group. Really, other than the ace and the red head (and I don’t actually remember either name), I couldn’t actually recall any of the players from the opposition even the day after I finished viewing this. They had almost no impact. Sure, they were great at volleyball and some of the rallies and plays were cool to watch. But as characters they were just opponents. The next rock blocking the pathway for the team we actually care about.

haikyuus35.png

Nowhere was this more clearly highlighted than when we saw Oikawa in the stands. Here is an opponent we actually cared about and even as a bystander and occasional commentator, he is still more interesting than the other team on the court. Given how few episodes most opponents got in Haikyuu, it seems a little wrong that the team that had nearly ten episodes actually felt the least fleshed out. And maybe this was deliberate. The coaches were competing ideologically with brute strength vs flexibility so maybe the wooden personalities of the opponents (red head was an exception here) was an actual choice to highlight that difference, but it doesn’t make them any more interesting or memorable.

I’m glad I made it through to the end of this (though is that sequel bait going on at the end of did I just not get that). I enjoyed my time with these characters and had a few laughs and smiles along the way. It didn’t blow me away or become my new favourite anime and I think my emotional attachment to these characters is pretty fleeting, but I kind of get now why so many people enjoyed this anime. It is good fun and there are some really great moments along the way.

Okay, over to you. I’d love to know your thoughts on this anime.


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Haikyuu Season 2 Series Review

Overview:

Right, so if you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t already been told the story of Haikyuu a million times (followed emphatically by people telling you to watch it immediately), it’s the story of two guys who initially hate each other who end up on the same volleyball team. Or at least that’s where season 1 started (thoughts on season 1 here) but by season 2 it really is all about the team and getting to the nationals by going through a really long preliminary tournament. I’ve been posting episodic reviews of this weekly (2 episodes at a time) for a while now so if you are interested in individual episode thoughts click here.

Review:

For those who have been following the blog for a while you will know I am not a sports anime fan. I never used to watch anything that had a sports anime label on it. However, I’ve now tried a very small handful of these titles of currently streaming anime and decided they weren’t all that bad and so, because of the very vocal fan base, decided if I was going to go back and look at sports anime that I had missed Haikyuu would be a pretty good place to start. Then I thoroughly enjoyed my watch through of season 1 and so plunged straight into season 2. So how did it go?

Haikyuu40b

I found season 2 a bit more of a chore to get through than season 1, to be honest. While I liked learning about the characters in season 1 and watching them get through their various personality disorders to become a team, season 2 was either more of the same or frequently a watered down version of it because they were already pretty friendly.  That said, season 2 did manage some truly amazing character moments for some of the support cast that got overlooked in season 1, and those moments were truly worth watching for.

Haikyuu43

Actually, my biggest issue with season 2 is the amount of training games at the camp. These games are practice and while the players treat them like they are life or death, there’s no real consequence for loss other than sprinting up a hill or some other penalty game so there is nothing riding on their victory. Haikyuu shines at its brightest when they take the court, but a lot of those training games really did feel like someone had asked me to watch a real sports tournament and to be honest I don’t watch most sport for a reason.

Haikyuu34c

So basically, by the midway point of season 2 I was kind of getting a little fatigued with the show and kind of figured that it was to be expected given I’m not a fan of sports anime and the fact that I’d been entertained during an entire first season was pretty good.

Then we started the actual tournament.

Haikyuu48

This show really ramped up the action and tension in that final stretch. Throw great pacing, good dialogue, character development, and well animated games all together and the last part of this season is really quite a joy to watch again. You kind of forget those episodes in the mid-season where you started wondering why you were still watching (although when I went back and re-read my reviews of them it all came flooding back).

Haikyuu42b

The real highlights of season 2 are the opening song used in the second half (that is all kinds of awesome), the actual injury incurred by the captain, every character on the team (or at least all the ones that are ever regularly on the court) getting significant moments in the games, and the effort put into giving the opponents actual personalities given they only really exist for the duration of a game. Yamaguchi and Tsukishima kind of steal the show for a lot of the time right out from under Hinata and Kageyama, though those two also get a few moments (nowhere near as many in season 1). Also the third years get a lot of screen time and the new female assistant manager all make their presence felt. With that many characters it is amazing that it never feels cluttered but each kind of has their moment and then fades back into the team as someone else steps up.

Haikyuu44c

Which leaves me torn as to my final recommendation on this. It is a necessary follow up to season 1 and ultimately is entertaining, though I’m really thankful season 3 already exists because talk about non-conclusive. While I personally became a little disengaged mid-way along I never really considered dropping it because I did like the characters and I wanted to see where their journey would take them. I don’t think I’ll watch this show a second time, but I’m really glad I finally watched it through and I will be going on to season 3 to finish it off.


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Haikyuu Episode 50

Review Episode 50:

Haikyuu has this issue with season endings. Season 1 ended on a low note for the team and a point that would have driven me crazy if season 2 wasn’t sitting ready to go. Season 2 has ended on a high note for the team but we didn’t get to the end of the tournament and the last episode was called ‘Declaration of War’. You can’t declare war and then end the season. Okay, apparently you can but it isn’t nice for the audience.

Haikyuu50

Anyway, other than that, this was a good transition episode as we wrapped up the match with Aoba, saw the fallout, the celebration, the pep talks and the resolve and we walked in for the next match with the guy everyone seems to think is all that but mostly I just think he’s a jerk. I’ll do a full review of season 2 directly and then get to season 3, only I have to change from watching on AnimeLab to Crunchyroll because AnimeLab does not have the third season. Little bit sad about that because the streaming works much better for me on AnimeLab.


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Haikyuu Episodes 48 + 49

Review Episode 48:

The team are all ready to go into the third set and we’re still moving those shining moments around the players from both teams, even spending some time getting backstory on player 16 from Aoba. Tsukishima is also getting his fair share of time to shine even though he kind of got a few good moments in the previous episodes.

Haikyuu48b

That said, about mid-way through we finally get Kageyama realising they need to use Hinata better and the focus switches to these two for the first time really in this match. As much as I’m not a big fan of Hinata, it seems weird he’s been so quiet for the past couple of episodes so I’m guessing this is going somewhere but I’ll have to wait and see where. My only other thought is that this game seems to be lasting forever (not in a bad way but it has been quite a number of episodes now).

Review Episode 49:

There are parallels and then there are parallels and this episode takes it to the extreme in the set’s final moments yet I guess it was kind of needed is Kageyama and Hinata were ever going to get over their previous loss. While there’s definitely a refocus of Hinata, the other characters aren’t forgotten and the whole team work very hard for every point they get (as do the opponents).

Haikyuu49.JPG

This was a fairly thrilling conclusion to this game and then I had to remind myself this wasn’t meant to be the last game in the tournament but how do you top that?


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Haikyuu Episode 46 + 47

Review Episode 46:

While the first set may have been satisfying but not thrilling, the writers shake things up again with the new player on the Aoba side. He’s a wild card for both Karasuno and the audience and his playing style is kind of intense (if a little erratic).

Haikyuu46

It kind of looks like this second set is lost, but who knows. This show has managed to surprise me with an outcome more than once so anything could happen in the next episode. My only concern is that Hinata seems to have just vanished into the team at this point doing little to stand out and that’s probably the first time this whole show where I can honestly say I don’t remember what Hinata did during an entire episode.

Review Episode 47:

Second set was a loss but I don’t think anyone cares. Go Yamaguchi. Seriously a great character moment.

Haikyuu47.JPG

Hinata has kind of become a cheerleader for the time being and still isn’t doing much but Yamaguchi more than made up for it. And now of course we’re heading straight into a third set so I guess we’re meant to feel really tense. Mostly I just kind of enjoyed watching and I don’t really have a lot of care about who is going to win (horrible I know). Let’s see what happens next.


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Haikyuu Episodes 44 + 45

Review Episode 44:

There’s really not much to this episode. Aoba plays Date and while its interesting enough mostly we’re just waiting to see who wins so we know who Karasuno are going to be playing next.

Haikyuu44b

After the Iron Wall goes down we see just how concerned some of the first years are about matching up against Aoba again. It’s kind of nerve destroying watching the characters deal with their anxiety but eventually they are ready for the game and move out and that’s where the episode ends. There’s a lot of tension in this episode, though mostly from the anticipation of what is coming rather than what is happening. On that note, next episode.

Review Episode 45:

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It’s good to see that nothing has changed between these two. Seriously, they can be incredibly childish at times. Still, they were off to a good start even if I had to question whether Hinata and Kageyama are on the same team.

Haikyuu45b

That final point though really does shake things up going into the next episode. Anyway, the game itself was close and unresolved but to be honest not that thrilling. However, what it lacked in thrills it made up for in satisfaction. Seeing everything come together was really nice and while it didn’t make for the most exciting of games it definitely made you feel happy for the characters.


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