The final summer of middle school, Shotaro Futaba discovers boys gymnastics and is completely enamored by it. Shotaro ends up going to Soshukan Private High School (aka Ao High) and decides to visit the boys gymnastics club. He's greeted by very unique senpais and a star gymnast named Misato Ryoya. Dedicating your life to something you love during your fiery days of youth...of course, there is frustration, and fights, but see how these boys work together as a team towards a similar goal in this drama about sports and youth.
Let's Fly While We Can *spoiler-lite review* "I don't like sports anime" Right now, you're looking at a quote attributed to... me, about two years ago. I've come a long way since then, huh? I mean, you're reading this review, and you've no doubt looked at the score, so you must realize my opinion on sports anime changed a lot since I first said those words. However, it wasn't really because my feelings on it changed overtime or anything like that. As time went on, the definition of what I thought of as "sports anime" broadened by a very wide margin the more I explored the medium in my long-continuing anime journey. I used to think that sports anime were one-note battle shounen, painted to look like a set of sports competitions, wherein if you didn't know about the sport beforehand, there really wasn't anything there for you except for an artificially generated sense of excitement and competition because the sport was all there was. For some people, maybe that's all they need, and maybe that's okay with them. That might be all they want out of anime. They might just need to look at some anime boys acting nothing like real life boys and getting way too friendly with each other, smacking a ball around while inspiring music plays, and that sets them for the rest of the week and implants the subliminal message into their brains to write fanfiction and make yaoi fanart of said heterosexual boys being not so heterosexual, with some not so clever "ball" metaphors thrown in. You just pictured Haikyuu, didn't you? Yeah. I'm a mind reader. But that's not what I want from my anime. I'm not a competitive person. I get nothing out of watching people compete for the sake of competing or winning against one another. I don't care about any sport in real life, I never played one, I prefer single-player sports like hiking, fishing, things that get me more in touch with reality, not less. I want something where you can feel the realistic and grounded feelings of the characters, where you can feel the passion and hard work of participating in a sport, the subtleties of what it means to play that sport, and what that sport means to people, while also being nothing more than an activity when it comes down to it, an activity that can build character and bring people together, where people still have their own hobbies and interests. Enter Bakuten!! Shotaro Futaba is a high school freshman who, like any high school freshman, has no idea what his purpose in life is. He could really go down any road, he doesn't think he has a ton of distinguishing characteristics, and one of his hobbies is reading dictionaries. Perhaps he might have become the world's most boring salaryman, still reading dictionaries on his time off for the rest of his days. But the wasteland of his undetermined future is washed over in possibilities when he witnesses a Men's Rhythmic Gymnastics team perform and is inspired. That's where the story begins. I say story like it's something special, but a story doesn't need to be unique to be effective, it's all about how all the elements come together to elevate the parts beyond their sum. The Story of Bakuten is one of those stories. It doesn't have countless twists that will have you on the edge of your seat, it has the same story as any sports anime. A team wants to win a competition. It's the individual experiences and feelings the characters go through that makes the story effective, as well as the special connections the characters share that feel so genuine and beautiful, yet so fleeting. They only have a limited time together to practice this sport and they all share such a passion for it. For them, Rhythmic gymnastics is flying, and there's nothing that encapsulates the whole sport better than a single backflip, hence the title of the anime. They were all brought into the game by the art of the backflip itself. Backflips are sort of the Backbone of the anime's themes, so to speak. Futaba has no experience at all in Gymnastics and he joins this team of veterans in the sport who all are basically perfect on their own, if only they had more members they could actually win competitions. Futaba and another character, Misato, joining, completes the main cast and provides two unique points of view into a team of already interesting characters. Futaba, the newbie, and Misato, the veteran who is heavily burdened by responsibility. Futaba spends most of the anime getting to know the others, and improving his skills. For a whole, he doesn't quite get it, and struggles to do even a simple handstand without losing balance. Misato is already a pro and must instead confront his insecurities about his skills, and deal with the pressures of his day to day life, while adjusting and trying to warm up to the rest of the team. For Futaba, it's a combination of his team, Misato, their coach, and a member of their rival school's team, the extremely competitive prodigy Mashiro of Shiro high (I wonder which came first, him or the school), that helps Futaba develop into a dilligent member of the team and helps him develop his skills. Modern problems require modern ways to flex on the haters The plot follows Futaba's journey all the way to the emotional climax of the season where everything he's been through with the team results in a sort of payoff that really touches me. For Misato, it's more of a long-con process of cracking his hard exterior and getting to the sweet juicy kuudere center until his penultimate episode. I won't spoil you his development, but it's one of the many reasons this show is at the top of my list. Among the other characters, besides the aforementioned Mashiro, who is notable only because he's adorable and is voiced by Ayumu Murase, there really isn't anyone else that stands out. That isn't to say they're bad though, they all kind of stand out in their own way, on the same level so to speak. Onagawa is into a Japanese Idol from a girl group, and wants to be the team ace. Watari likes samurai movies and totally isn't based off wasabi despite his hair color. Shichigahama is the captain, and loves... food? And Tsukidate is the glassesed one who likes bonzai trees. What makes those small quirks matter is that they don't comprise these characters personalities, nor does the sport they're a part of. They're individuals, which sets them apart from most casts of sports shows. They feel like without Gymnastics, they'd still exist, much unlike the casts of Kuroko no Basket or Haikyuu, where they basically play with their balls in their sleep like they're slam dunking a touchdown, or whatever. Also, their dynamic is fabulous. Not only with each other, but with Shiro high's team as well, where they all get on each other's nerves but have something in common at the same time. However, they're not all as developed as they could be. That's a bit of a mark against the anime but it's not a big deal. There's also their coach, Shida, who is probably the most interesting character of all. He got the most devleopment by far. He's someone who used to be a part of the sport for the wrong reasons and was a bit of a shitstain in his past, but became this inspiring, kind figure who dispenses clearheaded wisdom more often than a clearheaded wisdom dispenser. His experience is what allows the team to excel and enjoy the sport, and he kind of gets to experience the joy of it again through them. It's inspiring. There's really a point of view for everyone here. Some people might take issue with the fact that the performances in this anime are CGI. I don't know why they would, since it's some of the best CGI I've ever seen in anime, no joke. It doesn't look robotic, it looks almost like real people performing those moves with how natural they look, it looks better than watching an Olympic performance and the shading is excelent. The Animation in general is spectacular, with a great artstyle and a lot of polish on many of the more emotional scenes, with a pencil-line style for the character outlines, a nice pastel color palate, and a shiny yet not too gaudy sort of atmosphere. The sound is great, a lot of the soundtrack has vocalization, which is something that always gets me immersed in an episode. This anime is just great. It's a perfect example of how an anime can capture the passion people have for a sport, while still staying detached from it and being its own thing, telling its own story and dealing with experiences anyone can relate to. It far surpasses Haikyuu and Kuroko no Basket, and has much better focus and grounding in reality than those shows. It's what all sports anime should try to be. And to think I was going to pass it up because of so-called "cgi gymnastics". I'm so glad I didn't, and neither should you. If you like sports anime, hell, if you like anime in general and you're looking to expand your definition of sports anime, I'd fully reccomend this one. 9.5/10
I started watching this on a whim, thinking it would be another so-so sports-centered series. Fastforward to a few hours later and I finished watching the series in one sitting!!! There were times when I can't help but think majority of the characters were similar to those Karasuno High boys from Haikyuu!! which is not a bad thing, I asure you since I love those boys. The story's pacing wasn't too slow nor was it too fast; it was just right and each of the characters are interesting as we discover more about them in each episode. The sense of humor was what sold me to sticking with the series from start to finish. And the drama wasn't even that heavy, which was I really enjoyed 'coz sometimes some of the other sports-centered series I've seen were heavy on the drama surrounding the students' lives; this one touched on some drama but it didn't deter from keeping the audience's interest.
From the first flip to the last, it’s easy to tell Bakuten!! was made with love. Make that a whole lot of love and a whole lot of respect: for its story, its spotlight sport, its characters, and most importantly, its audience. Right off the mat, the show already knows how new and unfamiliar rhythmic gymnastics is so everything about its reveal is gentle and soft. When the rules are explained and the choreography is shown to us, you feel the passion and excitement behind them, like the show is just bursting to tell you all about this fantastic new sport and why you should fall in love with it. And you do fall in love with it. Both you and main character Futaba Shotaro both, whose plucky, wide-eyed view of the sport isn’t as corny as I make it sound. He’s earnest, passionate, and honest so it’s easy to see things from his perspective – which, simply put, is that rhythmic gymnastics is the greatest thing to ever exist in the whole entire world. What makes Bakuten!! so pure is the way it executes things. Of course, this being a sports anime, the bulk of this lies squarely on the sports action and money shots. Thankfully, unlike other sports anime that handle their newbie audiences just a little too carefully, Bakuten!! shows the routines in their full, inspired glory. It doesn’t bombard you with excessive commentary, reaction dialogue from outsiders, and all other kinds of technical terms. Instead, it rides entirely on feeling and dance, hoping that by showing instead of telling, it takes you to the air and – to borrow the show’s term – lets you soar. That all the characters are a joy to watch is the icing on this already-fulfilling cake. Everyone complements each other well. Their minor quirks inform us of their actual personalities: the yakuza movie buff is the most loyal of them all, the plant-arranging vice-captain is a soothing presence on the team, the idol fanboy is laidback and chill, and so on. Meanwhile, your main characters only have to be themselves to keep the story going, which, for anyone watching this and falling in love with it like I am, is really already more than enough. So sure, the CGI is jarring, but only at first. It’s not a complete distraction from the performances and before you know it, you’ll feel your heart start to race and you’ll feel the chills start to run up your spine. You’re hooked, bait, line, and sinker – and that’s just all in the first episode. By the time you reach the twelfth, I guarantee you’ll end up wishing for more. And because there’s not a wasted minute in any of the episodes, you’re left packed and full by the time the series wraps up. It’s a great feeling to have for any anime, but for sports anime in particular also you would think, especially since there’s only so much you can do to make a sports story break free from the formula. Bakuten!!, as quietly impressive as it is, still plays by the familiar rules and story beats. But who wants to keep track of all of that stuff when you’re having such an honest good time with it the entire time it’s on?
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