Today, let's run down the many merits of this season's hottest sports anime!
Hello and welcome back to Why It Works. As we move towards the end of the winter season, each week I find myself impressed all the more by a show that’s been chugging along ever since fall: the ambitious and beautiful Run with the Wind. I feel like Run with the Wind is legitimately one of the best sports anime in years, and absolutely deserving of far more attention than it’s been receiving. So today on Why It Works, I’m going to do my best to sell you on this impressive production, and join me for the last leg of its punishing race!
First off, it might help to know a bit about this show’s pedigree. Run with the Wind comes from many of the same Production I.G. staff that brought us Haikyuu!! and Welcome to the Ballroom, so you know the team have a clear understanding of sports drama. However, instead of an ongoing shonen manga, this time they’re tackling a self-contained story by acclaimed novelist Shion Miura. The story introduces us to Kakeru and Haiji, two college students with strong, muddled feelings towards running. Over the course of one year, Haiji will ultimately lead Kakeru and their eight other dormmates to train and compete in the Hakone Ekiden, a punishing ten part relay marathon across Japan. Of course, that’s only if they can manage to qualify for the marathon… and also each individually qualify by time… and also manage to be convinced to run in a dang marathon in the first place.
Haiji’s process of convincing nine surly college students to train for a marathon consumes the first portion of Run with the Wind’s narrative, and demonstrates one of its greatest and most unexpected strengths: its incredible ability to convey the pace and tone of college dorm life. Though all of Run with the Wind’s stars have their own stories to tell, much of this show’s characterization comes through in its brilliantly observed incidental moments, as Haiji and the rest bicker about classes, divvy up chores, and generally live their college lives. Though I wouldn’t call Run with the Wind a slice of life show, it’s able to capture a lived experience and sense of mutual friendship with a grace characteristic of the best of them.
These convincingly written daily scenes lead naturally into another of Run with the Wind’s great strengths: its incredible gift for sculpting sympathetic characters and rich, bitter relationships. With a ten person team, it’d be easy for half of Run with the Wind’s cast to get lost in the crowd, but each of them are given plentiful time to express themselves, find their own relationship with running, and ultimately contribute to a greater, loving team. Whether it’s King attempting to juggle marathon practices and job interviews, Kakeru engaging with the trauma of the past, or Prince simply trying to jog three miles without dying, every member of Run with the Wind brings something unique and worthwhile to the team, making its insistence that running is a team effort feel utterly convincing.
And then, of course, there are the races. By centering itself on an event as complex and intricate as the Hakone Ekiden, Run with the Wind is able to instill all of its athletic conflicts with a sense of both urgency and tactical intrigue. Our heroes compete in meet after meet, all of them desperately seeking a qualification-worthy time as their window to enter closes. And when it comes to illustrating these races, Run with the Wind’s formidable animation and direction take over, presenting frantic, ever-shifting competitions with incredible grace. From the unique stresses of their pace to their clear mental turmoil, Run with the Wind illustrates both the terror and the joy of running with every new episode.
In the end, all of these strengths come together in brilliant harmony, as the relationships Run with the Wind builds up so well express themselves as collective strength on the course. Having trained all of his dormmates into running machines, Haiji directs them with the firmness and respect of a beloved captain, their strengths matched to their race segments, trusted allies at their sides. And as one segment after another spills out, the journeys each of these boys have taken are validated in full, both their own personal strength and their commitment to this team clear in each pass of the reigns. It’s been wonderful watching this cast grow into a true team, and I hope you’ll join them for the last leg of their journey!
Let me know what you all enjoy about this impressive show in the comments!
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