It's a new golden age for sports anime...and rightfully so.
Recently, there has been a resurgence of sports generated anime series. We have Kuroko no Basket, Free, Diamond no Ace and Yowamushi Pedal that jump-started this new wave for the genre. While I find KuroBas to be quite jarring for its unrealistic take on Basketball, Free with its Fujoshi vibes, it is Diamond no Ace - the slow burner among the four - that truly gives justice and a feel of realism to its own sport.
This spring, we have not one but four sports series (though I'll only be posting three for my First Look): Baby Steps, Haikyuu!!, and Ping Pong...and I was blown away by every single one of them.
Tennis is my favorite sport. Aside from Football (not the NFL, okay) this is the only game that my wimpy, un-athletic self, is completely familiar with - like the back of my hand. Although I'm guilty as charged for not having seen The Prince of Tennis...but so what. Baby Steps is going to be a good anime, and I'm not saying this out of my self-confessed love for the sport, but because the story looks promising as a whole. Our main guy, Eiichirō, is this very technical and ritual driven kind of character. His smart's doesn't come from an innate genius but through his adherence to rigorous studying habits, learning things in all angles, making notes of them until everything is practically stamped to his brain. Which makes tennis a perfect sport for this High School nerd. I enjoyed the first episode - too close to love actually - with the exception of Natsu, the main female protagonist of the series. I have problems with her character and she has managed to annoy me in so many ways. It's early to say but we'll see how things will turn out for the future episodes.
Don't get me wrong here, but I only like volleyball when it's played by women. In my opinion, it's our sport, and I'm not really a fan of the men's division of this game (just like with women's basketball). But Haikyuu is a whole different thing and it's surprisingly good for a men's volleyball anime. We have a little red head guy for a protagonist, who dreams of becoming the best player for the sport, only to fail miserably from the tournament in the first episode. Well that sucks for him, but a good start for us. He then became obsessed with training right after in preparation for moving in to high school, only to be surprised that he will be teammates with his former opponent...tsuzuku! Since this is made by Production I.G. I'm hoping they won't turn this one into a fest of absurdity and impossibility just like KuroBas. If they keep it up with the same path as Diamond no Ace then we'll be in it for a real treat because the characters are poised to be interesting.
After watching its first episode, Ping Pong became my favorite out of the three sports series this season. I hated it the whole time based on the preview because of its animation. But alas, it's marvelous. I was comparing its creative values to The Tatami Galaxy, thinking maybe they have the same team working behind the screen, and I was right - they have the same director: Masaaki Yuasa. It takes a while to get used to his unique style, and I believe it's an acquired taste, especially if your idea of anime is all shiny and moe. But in my opinion, the story is what truly counts here and not the gloss. I'm glad they have a Chinese voice actor playing the Chinese guy because it gives the series some sense of credibility. And they have the best OP and ED songs. I'm positive about Ping Pong. Just don't mind the animation, okay.