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This Week in Anime – Why You Should Watch Backflip!!

[ad_1] This season has plenty to yell about, but if Backflip!! flew under your radar then now is the time to correct that immediately. Nick and Nicky look at the underdog series, its amazing choreography, and why its more than just a routine sports series. This series is streaming on Crunchyroll Disclaimer: The views and…

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This season has plenty to yell about, but if Backflip!! flew under your radar then now is the time to correct that immediately. Nick and Nicky look at the underdog series, its amazing choreography, and why its more than just a routine sports series.

This series is streaming on Crunchyroll

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.

Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.


Nick

Alright Nicky, we somehow wound up with a season where there’s TWO lavishly produced shows featuring color-coded team of teenagers practicing and perfecting an underappreciated artform, so we gotta figure out which one to cover first. Might as well resort to flipping-


…I was gonna say flipping a coin, but flipping a boy works too.
Nicky

Not just one boy! Six of them!


Out of all the anime this season, I really feel like Backflip!! truly surprised me. I adore sports anime but I feel like they can totally be hit-or-miss.
I also dig a good sports series, but yeah, the really strong ones can be hard to come by. Just look at the criminally under-animated Farewell, My Dear Cramer or the terminally dull Burning Kabaddi airing this season to see how stuff can go wrong. Which makes Backflip!! all the more impressive because holy shit I can’t think of many sports harder to animate than rhythmic gymnastics.

Yeah, sports live or die by their animation but especially when the sport is all about performance. With Backflip!! being part of a 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami commemoration project, it’s certainly got the strength to hold itself up as a prestige work. But god, if you don’t believe me just look for yourself.

I’m just in awe of it. Like we all recognized how ballsy it was when Yuri!!! on Ice did this with skating, but Backflip!! dares to have six of these fuckers jumping, flipping, and dancing around in its performances. It’s ridiculous.
Not only did the first episode blow me away with a fully choreographed performance, it’s got some great CG accompanied by these slick 2D detail shots. This is one of the most beautiful premieres in a stiffly competitive season, and the show doesn’t drop off from there either.

Straight up, my jaw was on the floor during that sequence. The whole premiere really is just excellently animated, adding life and energy to every character movement or expression. Really helps bring these goofballs to life:

It’s the exact kind of thing you want for your inspiring narrative. But what’s the show without a story? Shōtarō Futaba is an average directionless middle-school boy whose experience with sports mostly equates to sitting on a bench. When one summer day he wanders across some stray butts.


But they’re not just any butts! They’re GYMNAST butts, which are in the upper echelon of sports butts.

More importantly they’re attached to the men’s rhythmic gymnastic team at Ao High School, and their performance at the prefectural tournament is the first time Shōtarō really feels inspired by a sport.

And again, him feeling overwhelmed by the raw power of a performance is one of the few times I feel like an anime totally “earned” that dramatic kind of reaction. Unfortunately, because Men’s Rhythmic Gymnastics is a sport designed for six people, Ao High couldn’t get full marks with only a four-man squad, and they end up being unable to place this time.

Wouldn’t it be serendipitous if their four-man routine inspired a middle schooler or two to join their high school specifically for their club? But what are the odds of that happening? Everyone’s busy getting into the sports that already have cool anime to advertise themselves.

Shōtarō ends up attending Ao High but one of the other boy he happened to sit next to during the competition ends up applying to the club before he can even work up the courage, and it’s SUPER AWK cuz as he also happens to be a prodigy.



You can feel what he has to start comparing himself to even before he joins the club.

Don’t you hate it when Sasuke shows up to steal your sports anime protagonist thunder?

Fortunately, I actually rather like Misato as a rival because he’s mostly reserved instead of mean, and his technical proficiency ends up being a source of inspiration for our fledgling Shōtarō-kun instead of a real downer.

Shōtarō may be a newbie, but it turns out he has a sharp eye and a knack for replicating moves and poses he sees up close. Also every time he sees a cool gymnastics move it’s like he’s seeing the face of God.

I feel this way when I see some sick-ass animation, too.

If this kid ever watches the Olympics live he’ll straight up experience the climax of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

But yeah, I do actually like Misato. He’s the quiet type, but it’s the awkward turtle kind of quiet where you can tell he just has no clue how to socialize with most people. Plus he’s a good foil to the three different flavors of loud doofus that are their senpai.

Shōtarō doesn’t get discouraged by the other members being better than him when he’s starting out. He fears his inability to keep up because what he wants most is to feel like a part of the team. It’s fortunate for him that his team, his coach, and the manager are fully dedicated to supporting him in his efforts to get onto their level no matter how much he fumbles.

Of said team, my favorite is definitely Watari. Mostly because he’s such an earnest, tryhard dipstick who wants to both be a cool gangster AND do graceful flips in a leotard.


But also because I love his taste in movies. I don’t even know what “TRUCK DAD” is but I’m ready to start a religion around it.

I’m particularly fond of him for his cooking skills. Also for the fact that his bark is clearly bigger than his bite and he always ends up apologizing swiftly. Most of the jokes around the characters are simple but the timing of the banter is always so quick that I end up feeling charmed and giggling anyways.

It very much hits that Haikyu!! sweet spot where the characters are dedicated athletes, but also impulsive teenagers living partially unsupervised, so they get up to weird stuff, joke on each other, and just generally become a friend group alongside being teammates.

They’re all pretty much archetypes with specific hobbies and family backgrounds that play into jokes, like the team captain being a musclehead obsessed with his family’s fish cake business. Then there’s the more mild vice captain with a plant obsession, or the trendy ladies’ man of the group being obsessed with a particular idol.

Specifically beef tongue-themed idols which…yeah sure. My friends are currently obsessed with horse girl idols so why not?

Even the coach is kinda peculiar, in that he seems to be a MAJOR Wife Guy™, but none of the members have ever seen his wife and they all think he’s making it up at this point and are too afraid to ask.


What’s even stranger is he was apparently a way more intense and competitive guy when he was younger. The stories we hear about him as a high school gymnast clash pretty heavily with the ladiback, quietly supportive guy we see now.

Kurikoma is the female club manager of a mens’ sports show. She knows why she’s here.


In other words, she’s not utilized very much but whenever she is, she’s Good.

But if that half-dozen or so boys isn’t to folks’ taste, worry not, there’s a whole rival team of boys to ship them with have them hang out with. Including this Kyubey gijinka:

The introduction of this mischievous white-haired child creates another push but also another rival for Shōtarō in particular. He’s a lot different from Misato in that his playful nature pushes Shōtarō out of his shell right after meeting him, getting him to “feel” rather than think. He’s actually an even more fierce natural-talent than Misato and his desire for competition makes him a little threatening, even. Also, he used to go to school with Misato and calls him “Misa-pon” which is very cute.


And the first time we meet him he’s trolling children in a game of tag. He’s a little shit, basically.

Also good cuz he’s 100% opposite personality of Misato and it gives us something to focus on while Misato still remains a bit of a mystery about himself.

Misato doesn’t even stay in the Cool Boys sports dorm with them because he goes home every night.

Yeah they’re still keeping their cards close to their chest with Misato. We can ascertain there’s something going on with his home life, and a brief flashback shows a teammate getting hurt in the past, but otherwise he’s just an enigma with a pretty face.

It’s also implied that he picked Ao High because of a history with the coach but I’m sure that’s stuff that’ll come with due time.

Meanwhile, Mashiro’s teammates are busy starting their own rivalries with our home team, including this man who seeks to seize the means of Idol Production.


The rival team makes it pretty clear that our team still has a lot to strive for still. They pretty much outclass them in everyway, but it’s nice to see them fight or bond over their similarities. I enjoy the two meathead redhead coaches taking everything to the logical extreme, including seeing who can do the faster backflips. Then there’s also the episode 5 where they do “Double Hide-n-Seek” but they’re both so stupid that everyone keeps waiting around at school in small groups for hours.


Episode 5 also ends up being a whole tone exercise of: WHO GAVE YOU THE RIGHT TO MAKE THIS SPORTS ANIME SO SPOOKY?!
Legit there’s some startling solid horror direction here. It’s ultimately played for comedy but god damn:


It shows off how good the background and lighting team really are to pull this off. AND THEN IT’S NEVER EXPLAINED!!


Only real regret is we never got to see any of them trying to outrun the ghost guard with backflips.

It’s a great tone departure and character build-up just before the start of the Big Competition!

Also, props for exactly capturing the tenor of idol discourse. It’s like they ripped this straight from my Twitter feed.


Even with our resident Soar-boy’s best effort to keep up with the group. It’s only expected that’d he’d hit some sort of emotional slump.

It’s something any newbie runs into eventually, and the team does everything they can to be supportive while he runs himself ragged with anxiety. Well, except Misato.


Is there such a thing as backhanded reassurance?

He doesn’t mean it, he’s just Peak Socially-Awkward Ace. Since Shōtarō highly values his opinion it doesn’t help him much. Throughout the show, the others point out that Shōtarō is actually well-suited for gymnastics. His experiences trying and failing in other sports make him well-rounded and he picks up quickly that he’s technically proficient, which leaves the only thing blocking him is his mentality.

Also, dude, you went from 0 to Prefectural Tourney in a couple months. You’re doing amazing by any standard. Gotta let yourself climb that curve.

When it’s not showing off the cool moves, some of the best shots are simply dedicated to capturing Shōtarō’s mentality, and it doesn’t skimp. It’s wonderfully composed with gentle character animation and graceful colors. Even when Shōtarō is visually sinking deep into his anxiety right before The Big One we get blessed with this little moment to give him the confidence he needs. Narratively, there’s not much original about Backflip!! from other sports anime but whatever it does, it executes with passion and style.


Those are the moments that really sell me on Backflip!!. The rest of the time it’s a fun, wholesome sports show that’s easy to watch, but when it steps on the gas it becomes damn near transcendent. And then of course there’s that performance…

Please at least check out the performances. I also want to highlight the CG direction in particular. I’m a proponent of using whatever tools in your shed in order to make great anime, but I’ve never quite gotten over how stilted anime CG is. Dance and action especially are where I see it, even most idol anime use motion-capture and CG and it doesn’t quite gel with me. Even if I can sometimes tell that the models are different in Backflip!!, the camera-work and the direction of these sequences are also just on point and it makes me wish more anime would catch-up to that kind of excellency.

CG’s come a long way, and is absolutely necessary to do what Backflip!! wants to do on a TV budget and schedule, and they do a damn good job with it. It’s near constant motion for six different characters for minutes on end, each with their own noticeable ticks, believable physicality, and the kind of dynamic direction you can only really get in animation.

It’s a welcome argument for why we should continue to get more animated sports dramas over any other medium. Sports dramas aren’t based in fantasy so you can argue that they’d be nearly identical if created in live-action, but when animated they can look and feel just as fantastical as any action spectacle. Animation can bring us closer to the feelings of the characters in a way unfeasible in anything else.

Like, where else would I be able to see the literal sweat droplets so beautifully flying off of this boy?! Whoa!

If nothing else you have to admire the skill and artistry it takes to bring this kind of full body sport into animation. Backflip!! may be simple and archetypal of its genre, but it takes all of those ingredients and crafts a wonderfully pleasant show that manages to standout even among the other 10 great shows I’m following this season. Anyone who likes sports anime owes it to themselves to try it out.

For what it is, Backflip!! soars with confidence and doesn’t falter in its landings. It puts a big ol’ smile on my face whenever I watch it. I’m sure it’ll be a great show to fall back on for those wanting something inspirational in their life.

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