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?
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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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