As an amalgamation of generic romance and a unique sporting gimmick, Hikari no Densetsu is the definitive shoujo sports anime. Take your typical high school love affair with all its ‘loves me / loves me not' teenage angst, add a handful of talented protagonists, and stir vigorously with a distinctive art form to make a wholesome, satisfying drama.
Whilst totally unremarkable in content, the protagonists' romantic trials manage to stop short of melodrama (an achievement in itself for most shoujo). I'd even go as far as to say that, in ditching the common love ‘triangle' for the ‘quadrangle', Hikari no Densetsu allows for a more interesting range of tensions than many other romances. Given that, what truly makes this anime worth following is its delightful portrayal of rhythmic gymnastics. With beautifully choreographed routines and personalised styles for the two lead females which come across well in the animation, the tense drama surrounding the competitions is enough to keep most viewers coming back for more.
Unfortunately, every silver lining has its cloud, and that goes for this title as well. Like so many anime before it and undoubtedly many more after, Hikari no Densetsu suffers from an abrupt ending; supposedly, the show never got the ratings it needed to continue in Japan, resulting in a rushed conclusion at episode nineteen. I guess this is not the worst flaw ever to have plagued a series, but Hikari no Densetsu is one of those victims that could easily have achieved more and certainly deserved better.
Considering that Hikari no Densetsu is a late-80s production, I'm sure it comes as no surprise to say it looks simplistic compared to newer anime - the everyday scenes of Hikari playing in her room or Natsukawa strolling down the street look acceptable, albeit not remarkable. As soon as the gymnastics takes centre stage, however, the characters glide across the screen in relatively intricate routines obviously designed with real-life choreography in mind. Such attention to detail is rare even today, and one immediate benefit is that Hikari no Densetsu's dated style still looks rather pretty.
Just like the animation, the music accompanying the gymnastics is exquisite; dramatic, sensual, or lively piano compositions really bring the tournaments to life, with Hikari's key theme being the most memorable.
As for the opening and ending themes, they are standard eighties pop ballads with high-pitched vocals and the prerequisite power drum beat; I listened to them once and then skipped them with subsequent episodes (they get repeated during some of the scenes anyway). Lastly, Natsukawa's band throws some cheesy glam rock into the mix; although entertaining to listen to, I doubt too many anime fans will actively seek to purchase the singles.
Outside of the tournaments, the main cast are usually engaged in intense romantic rivalry. In this instance, Hikari no Densetsu displays some convincing albeit stereotypical character interplay. First there are the girls: Hikari is the happy-go-lucky lead - and that is all there is to say about her. As a protagonist, her only remarkable trait is her talent at gymnastics. Hikari also has a supportive friendship with Hatsuki, her main rival for Ooishi's attention as well as in gymnastics. This amiable dynamic works very much in the series' favour; since both of them are kind-hearted individuals, I find myself emotionally torn as to who I really want to win.
Then there are the boys: Ooishi, a typical prince charming type who always knows the right words to say, also happens to be unbelievably good and, thus, annoying as hell; his naïve obliviousness regarding the two girls' heartache makes me wonder how he could be worth all the fuss. Fortunately, Natsukawa, an aspiring rock star and Hikari's admirer, provides the necessary relief by generally being as moody and abrasive as possible; moreover, he turns out to be one of the more sympathetic characters because of his commonsense understanding of everyone's feelings. Of course, my main regret regarding the two boys is that the hasty ending leaves their personal struggles largely unexplored.
Since Hikari no Densetsu was released more than twenty years ago in almost every language other than English, only hardcore connoisseurs of anime are likely to make the effort to hunt this one out. That said, if you're lucky enough to stumble across it by accident, be sure to beg, steal or borrow the copy; while Hikari no Densetsu may revolve around romantic stereotypes, it also offers the rare gift of pretty, captivating rhythmic gymnastics.
Hikari Uenaga is a member of Aiko Middle School's gymnastics team, and aspires to be a legendary contender in the world of rhythmic gymnastics like her idol, Diliana Gueorguiva. But the road to being a champion is fraught with difficulty, and only the strong survive. Using her inner strength and the support of love interest Oiishi and childhood-friend-turned-delinquent Mao, Hikari will tackle love triangles, intense competition with her teammates and peers and her own feelings as she aims for the gold.
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