Are all forms of winning the same?
Is being number one the only goal people should aspire for in sports? If you’ve ever watched a sports anime or sports in general, you’ll notice that a lot of what determines whether a team or an individual is successful is how many championships or individual awards they win. Winning means getting more exposure and fame, more money for athletes, coaches, facilities, and it bolsters value. It allows you to be recognized as the best, as it also means you’re not losing. Run with the Wind as a series tackles these same concepts, but instead of saying the same thing of "There’s only one winner," it shows that there are all sorts of ways to be a winner without worrying about being the absolute best.
Sports anime have a tendency to follow the same trajectory. The characters want to win whatever championship lies in front of them. Run with the Wind went a slightly different route by just wanting to make the Hakone Ekiden be the goal - not to win the race, not to win all of the competitions that would stand in their way, but to just make the race. There were never delusions of grandeur when Haiji introduced this goal to them. He just wanted everyone to have the opportunity to run with him in this spectacle of a race. However, the toxic mindset that winning is the only thing that matters in sports would eventually show up when the twins thought that that's what they were aiming to do: win the Hakone Ekiden.
It’s by no means a surprise that the twins would seek to challenge why they aren’t aiming to ultimately win. Despite the fact that the Hakone Ekiden is a tough race full of elite athletes, it makes sense that you’d enter the race hoping to win, even with the odds stacked against them. After all, why would you work so hard if winning the race isn’t the idea? The harsh reality is that they weren’t even ever set up to win the Hakone Ekiden.
What makes Run with the Wind work so well is that it’s been grounded in realism. This ragtag group that Haiji has assembled shouldn’t be able to win the Hakone Ekiden with less than a year of training and preparing. However, that leads into being an actual victory, because outside of Haiji, Kakeru, and Nico, the rest of the group didn’t have long-distance running experience to reliably get them to be in a big race such as the Hakone Ekiden.
Take, for example, Prince. The manga aficionado is someone that you’re not going to look at and say he’s built like or looks like an athlete. When he begins his journey toward running, he can barely keep up and is completely exhausted anytime they finish a simple run. His continued struggles put the team at risk of not qualifying for the Ekiden. It gets so worrisome for the team that Kakeru asks him at one point to just quit the team.
Yet at the beginning of the Ekiden, there he is on the starting line kicking things off for Kansei because he was able to put in the hard work to get his time down enough to qualify. He deserves to be there with everything that he did, and the team believes in him enough to have him be the starter. All of that in and of itself is an incredible accomplishment and should be a personal victory for him. Despite finishing last, he finished his section. He did what many racers weren’t able to do - run in the Hakone Ekiden.
These kinds of victories can be extended to all the non-runners on the team. Despite the fact that they most likely won’t win the overall race, they were a part of an elite group of runners that can say they ran the Ekiden. Plus, you have victories such as the twins realizing the wonders of the sport and determining whether to continue, Musa successfully combating stereotypes, Nico regaining a long lost love for running, and Shindo not giving up during his section despite his illness nearly making him collapse.
So, where does this leave Haiji and Kakeru? Where do they achieve victory in this series? For Kakeru, it becomes his rivalry and desire to beat Fujioka. Victory for him will be if he’s able to defeat Fujioka in their section and post a better time than him, which is certainly more traditional. As for Haiji, he’s already achieved victory. He got this team to the Hakone Ekiden. He got them to agree to run in the first place. They got to the starting line. They ran. They fulfilled his dream which inevitably became everyone’s dream.
With the newer push within sports to move away from the toxic idea of victory being the only thing that matters, I'm curious to see if more shows in the sports anime genre head toward what Run with the Wind has done. It’s a grounded and more realistic approach that doesn’t focus on winning it all, but instead showcases the individual victories that happen along the way. You can certainly still have your "team/player strives to be champion" stories, but there are definitely opportunities for stories such as Run with the Wind to thrive in this genre.
Did you watch Run with the Wind? Who was your favorite character? Whose "victory" did you find the most relatable? Let us know in the comments!