The Fall 2016 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
What is this?
Keijo is an exciting new sport for women: competitors fight on round floats known as “Land” and must try to be the last girl standing on her feet while they try to knock each other down and into the water. The catch is that players can only hit each other using their breasts or buttocks. The sport is so popular (and lucrative) that a school has opened up just for the training of Keijo players, and recent high school grad and star gymnast Kaminashi Nozomi has managed to secure a place there. But talented as she is, Nozomi's got some fierce competition in the form of judo champs, skilled Keijo players, and women who are simply bigger and better-endowed. It's going to be a brutal battle if Nozomi wants to make it in school, let alone win her way to the top of the ranks. Keijo!!!!!!!! is based on a manga and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Thursdays at 12 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
So here's a fun fact. Keijo (or as I used to call it, "pool butt sumo") is not actually a fantasy sport made up to provide the premise for this fanservice anime. It's also not played only by sexy women. Not unlike kancho, it's mostly a weird children's pasttime where people try to knock each other into the water or off a log or whatever the case may be using only their asses. All this anime version did was add the boob component and jack up some arena-sized hype for it as a globally beloved sport, but you can see references to this weird little game in plenty of other anime, including the recent Haven't You Heard? I'm Sakamoto. (I guess we should all just be glad there's not a kancho anime.)
Anyway. Butts. Butts and boobs. Boobs and butts. Keijo!!!!!!!! is totally contents-as-labeled, and weirdly enough, that makes it a better show than it really should be. Unlike a lot of battling-girls anime, Keijo earns a lot of goodwill by treating the concept like a fun sport the characters pursue out of passion, not some weird war where they all want to tear each others' limbs off, pine after some boring harem lead, and languish in their own tragic backstories while the camera ogles their ripped-up panties. Most of the girls are already becoming friends, and their battles have an inviting atmosphere to them that eases the tension, impossible-to-avoid voyeurism notwithstanding. Keijo!!!!!!!! also treats the rules and tactics of its sport just seriously enough that you can follow the fairly well-animated action. It's not just an endless parade of disconnected body parts, you can follow the girls' moves and strategies just as well as in any other solid sports anime—those strategies just happen to revolve around T&A. So yeah, it's not for everybody, and it's not exactly a good show or anything. (The artistry outside of some fluidly animated butt attacks is shrugsville.) But this is perfectly fine entertainment for those seeking a little guilt-free sleaze.
There's not much more to add, so I'll close out with another fun fact. At the Warner Bros. Japan panel at this year's Anime Expo, the A/V system wasn't working at all for the announcements the group wanted to make, and they only had one translator with them whose English was a clearly shaky second language. They wanted to explain that they were producing a new anime for the fall, Keijo!!!!!!!!, but weren't having much luck explaining the concept without any visuals, so a couple of these Japanese producer guys in their 40s decided to just get up and mime the idea until we figured it out. It was definitely the highlight of the panel.
Anime and manga has produced numerous weird concepts for supposedly-popular sports over the years, but this one ranks pretty high on the Most Ridiculous ranking. What makes it even more ridiculous is that, despite serving as a blatant exposition for fan service, it actually kinda-sorta establishes some credibility as a sport.
At essence, Keijo is really just a variation of sumo wrestling with limited-contact rules. Just like sumo, a competitor loses when she gets knocked out of a ring (platform in this case) or is forced to touch the ground (platform) with some part of her body other than the soles of her feet. Adding “dunked in water” into the “knocked out of the ring” just adds an extra, entertaining twist, much like in those Ninja Warrior competitions, as does making the platforms float on water rather than being fixed on dry land. (Same thing.) Doing it in swimsuits isn't that big a deal, either; after all, male sumo wrestlers are only minimally covered for decency in their bouts and there are even Olympic-level non-water sports where female competitors commonly wear body coverage no more substantial than swimsuits. (See beach volleyball in particular.) It also looks like the sport, at least to some degree, retains the sumo tradition of having its competitors live and train in stables.
Of course, the whole “boobs and butts contact only” aspect is an undeniable sex appeal play, and that's always going to get in the way of taking the sport too seriously. Even so, I actually found the action scenes interesting from a tactical standpoint, and can appreciate that the creators put some serious effort into thinking this out rather than just making it a big, dirty joke. Although the kind of chest-bumping seen in the screenshot is part of the sport, it doesn't seem to be a commonly-used ploy; perhaps the butt attacks are more controllable and directional, or perhaps it has to with women having a lower center of gravity than men. Or perhaps it's just because butt attacks look cool! Either way it makes for some unusual and potentially dynamic maneuvering. I'll be curious to see if the series actually expounds on this at some point.
The personality distribution of the initially-established cast looks like something that would be fairly typical for a shonen action series; nothing too exciting there, but nothing inherently bothersome or problematic, either. The artistry and animation also aren't anything special, but they don't overplay the fan service, either. The series is clearly looking for a balance between its fan service and sport elements, and I may actually stick around to see if it can pull that off. I think the series may actually have something here with its approach.
I don't think there's any getting around the fact that Keijo is, well, exactly what it looks like. As an excuse for all kinds of fanservice, it's actually sort of impressive in its creativity. If you're looking for boob-on-boob contact, it's a legitimate move in the show's fictional sport. If you're looking for girls in swimsuits, they're the default attire for all players since the matches take place on floating platforms in a pool. If you're looking for conversations where female characters make detailed comparisons of one another's figures, they're clearly just trying to assess the competition. In its own ridiculous way, it's an inspired premise.
It's impossible to tune out that focus on boobs and butts while you're watching Keijo, so you should be able to tell whether not this show is for you within a few minutes. If you don't have an interest in, or at least a high tolerance for fanservice, there's really no reason to stick around. Sure, there's a storyline about plucky heroine Nozomi setting out to seek her fortune in a popular and high-paying sport, but the narrative doesn't seem to have much of a purpose beyond moving the characters from one match to another. While no one's particularly annoying, the cast is fairly shallow; each girl has one or two obvious personality traits and that's about it.
On the other hand, Keijo looks like it might do fairly well as a fanservice series. While the animation in ordinary, conversational scenes is nothing to write home about, the visuals kick into high gear during the matches. As absurd as this sport may be, there's a strong sense of movement to the girls' various attacks. Character designs are generally all right, and the elaborate obstacle course for Nozomi's final exam shows a little creativity in its complexity. Perhaps most importantly, the fanservice in Keijo doesn't feel overly mean-spirited. There's no mistaking this show's intentions, but at least it doesn't seem to revel in the misery or embarrassment of the characters. As artificial as it may sound, the conceit of having everyone sign up for the sport knowing full well what it entails makes it all a little more palatable.
So, yes, Keijo is as ridiculous as you might expect it to be. It does, however, have that willfully idiotic charm that often defines some of the better fanservice shows out there. As long as it doesn't get too slimy with its writing and direction, it could be a good source of dumb fun for the right audience. If it sounds like your cup of tea, give it a shot.
I'm not generally a fan of fanservice shows, and that goes beyond the fact that I prefer my shows without fanservice in the first place. That aside, most fanservice shows just aren't very good in conventional terms - weak characters, weak narrative, weak aesthetic design. They aim to fulfill their function as a dispenser of boobs or cute boys or whatnot, but outside of that function, they offer very little to recommend themselves. The fanservice itself is generally considered “enough.”
Keijo does not suffer from that problem. Keijo is absolutely, one hundred percent a vehicle for fanservice, but it's also something more than that - a hot-blooded shounen sports show, featuring fiery characters with superhuman athletic abilities. It just so happens that the sport all of Keijo's heroes are applying themselves to is, uh, Keijo, the sport where you try to knock other girls off a floating raft with your boobs and butt.
The combination of over-the-top fanservice and classic shounen action made Keijo's premiere hilarious almost from start to finish. Keijo doesn't just use its sports premise as window dressing for the fanservice - it utterly buys in to its hot-blooded aesthetic, featuring dramatic on-screen titles for attacks like “Butt Guillotine” and applying cliche lines like “she's fast!” to sequences of characters slamming their butts into each other. Pulse-pounding sports action is Keijo's principle dramatic mode, and it is extremely good at applying what is already funny in that genre to its own butt-focused priorities. By utterly embracing the tenets of its butt-wrestling world, Keijo stands as one of those rare fanservice shows that's funny and exciting enough to be enjoyable for people not watching for the fanservice.
That said, Keijo still isn't necessarily a great show. This first episode started off with a bang, but it remains to be seen if the show can draw just as much humor and entertainment out of its one big trick going forward, particularly since framing butt-wrestling as the principle dramatic conflict makes it hard to draw much emotional weight out of anything. The show will have to think up new jokes, and the jokes that existed outside of the central genre disconnect here were pretty bad - pratfalls, groping, and jokes about characters' weight. The show also has some generally mediocre art design, and though there were some solid cuts of animation for the big butt-battles, there were also lengthy still sequences throughout. Keijo's first episode was surprisingly fun, but its battle has only just begun.
Was Scorching Ping Pong Girls too tame for you with good ol’ Munemune-sempai? Do you feel that your usual sports anime has a distinct lack of girls smacking each other in the face with their butts? Does it seem like breasts would make ideal weapons in a battle to shove each other into the water? If so, then Keijo just may be the show for you. Taking place in a world where girls participate in a sport that involves touching each other (violently) only with their boobs and butts to shove each other off of floating platforms, or at least off of their feet, this is less the introduction to a sports series and more an excuse for, well, boobs and butts. But it's okay, because women are falling all over themselves to compete for spots in the one (?) school that specializes in training keijo players, so clearly they're taking power from this. (I think Susan Douglas might have a few words on that subject.)
Basically, this is a fanservice show that's making an effort to cover that fact up, or at least excuse it, but creating a sport and claiming it's all about that. I definitely appreciate that attempt, and to a degree I'm even impressed that the original manga author was able to create a game so perfectly suited to his purposes. There's also something to be said for the fact that during the one full match we see, heroine Nozomi is clearly shown with a bruise from her opponent's steely behind, because this is the kind of game that could really hurt a player. On the other hand, breasts as a weapon? Really? That just sounds needlessly painful, as well as a thin excuse to focus on bustier ladies in the artwork. Plus breasts are composed primarily of soft, fatty tissue, so they really wouldn't make great for powerful attacks. Of course, if all you need is an excuse for women to grab their own breasts and smush them up against other women's, none of that need be considered.
That's probably my main gripe here. Fanservice shows exist, and that's fine – I have no issue with the fact. But Keijo can't quite decide if it's a straight fanservice show or one that wants to also create a new sport and justify it as legit, and that's where it falters. I'd almost have preferred there not be a school at all, just ladies training on their own, because that really would have felt more honest. Also, I'd really like to see a women's sports story that runs more like, oh, Taisho Baseball Girls or Princess Nine – about actual females playing an actual sport. But Keijo is at least making an attempt at creativity. It's not a pool I'm going to swim in, but if it's boobs and butts you're looking for, this is the place to find them.
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