The Summer 2016 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Cheer Boys!! ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
Did you know this anime is actually based on a true story? Because I didn't! However, in retrospect, it makes complete sense. Despite its seemingly Free!-inspired manservice-sports-capade leanings, Cheer Boys!! delivers a surprisingly down-to-earth and relatable start to an unconventional sports drama that I found completely delightful.
While this certainly would never have gotten greenlit without the success of shows like Free! and Haikyu!!, Cheer Boys!!'s tone is completely different from its peers, starting right from the more naturalistic character designs, with facial proportions and body types much closer to those of your average young adult guy than a chisel-chinned fantasy object. The cast's dialogue and line delivery are also extremely natural and casual, only lapsing into slightly more goofy hijinks with the addition of Mizoguchi, whose stiff demeanor and awkward antics still ring closer to socially awkward guys we've all known in life than the more exaggerated behavior of his clear counterpart, Rei from Free!. These guys seem more like real people than not only most reverse harem casts, but most anime characters in general. I was immediately endeared to their struggles, low-key though they may be, and excited at the prospect of watching a sports drama that didn't seem to be grasping for all the same melodramatic tropes to hold my attention. Mizoguchi's behavior might not be outlandish as Rei's, and Haruki's angst might not be as deep as Rin's, but I appreciate the confidence this show puts in its more human take on the team sports dream.
Unfortunately, this humble earthiness can be a double-edged sword. For one thing, while the character designs themselves are refreshingly unique and human, the animation and direction are nothing to write home about. There are a few stellar cuts of muscular lads and ladies pulling off cheer-worthy acrobatics, but the rest of the show can be distractingly jerky and jagged, as the camera settles placidly behind our two leads having chill conversations. On top of that, I fully recognize that while the Cheer Boys!!' more realistic behavior makes them more attractive to me, that's probably not what the escapist market that largely fuels anime production is looking for from their pretty-men. This is definitely the kind of show where you can tell from one episode that it might not sell too great. But gosh-darn it, Cheer Boys!! has a ton of heart, and I'm excited to see these very normal dudes with very normal body types make their dreams come true through the power of cheerleading, provided the animation doesn't degrade so much that it sinks the strengths of the story.
I will probably never watch another episode of this series, but not because I don't think this a series worthy of attention or because it's a series clearly aimed at female audiences instead of me. In fact, I actually think this is one of the best debut episodes so far this season, and the approach being attempted here is an interesting one. I just don't find cheerleading as a subject matter to be interesting in the slightest.
Nonetheless, I like what the series is doing so far, and I especially like the way it is taking its subject matter seriously (Wataru's mildly humorous antics excepted). While the first episode does move slowly, it also firmly establishes its two leads as real-feeling people; their behaviors seem natural, as does the long-time and deeply loyal relationship between them. So do their relationships with their families and Haruki's internal conflicts over being genuinely happy for his sister's accomplishments in judo but also happy that he can't follow in her footsteps anymore due to an injury. Kazuki's rationale for wanting to pursue cheerleading – even if an all-male cheer team isn't a thing at all – is also sensible and well-supported; not only did his mother clearly make an impression on him, but (left unspoken here) it's also a way for him to maintain a connection with her. I also liked how Kazuki didn't feel a need to press the point that Haruki is a natural for a cheerleader even if he has a fear of heights that would make him unsuitable for the higher raises and leaps. The opener, which is shown at the end of the episode, shows a diverse array of characters eventually joining up, too, including a trio of delinquents who briefly bump into Wataru, so the real test of the series is going to be convincing integrating them into the mix as well
Another strong point in the series' favor is that it looks great. While it may not do anything special with how it chooses its shots, it makes a reasonable effort via both animation and straight visuals to show the glamor and appeal of cheerleading without going over-the-top. A highly attractive set of character designs also helps; Haruki and Nazuki are about as conventionally handsome as anime guys come, but Haruki's sister is no slouch, either.
Even if you aren't into cheerleading or female-targeted series, I recommend giving this one at least a sample. It might surprise you.
Cheer Boys!! is a bit unusual in that its characters seem more interesting when they're doing things completely unrelated to their sport of choice. Where the average sports anime comes alive once a game, match, or race starts, I actually found myself paying more attention to the mundane conversations between main characters Haru and Kazu. There's an easygoing chemistry between the two of them that really sells the idea that they've been friends for a long time. The show's ability to set up that dynamic in its first episode is an encouraging sign.
Haru's backstory is also somewhat unusual for the genre. He's coming into cheerleading after practicing judo for most of his life, which gives him a potentially useful outsider's perspective on the sport. Instead of the bright-eyed wonder of a complete newbie or the passionate expertise of someone who's been involved for a long time, he should be able to offer some clear-headed comparisons between his old sport of judo and cheerleading. This is mostly just speculation on my part at the moment, as Haru only gets as far as watching a cheerleading team perform in this episode. Even so, I'm interested to see if Cheer Boys!! can put Haru's perspective to good use in the next few weeks.
The issue with this episode is that it really doesn't do much to sell the audience on the appeal of cheerleading. The reason a lot of shows in this genre tend to drop the characters into the action right away is that nothing explains the appeal of a sport like getting inside the head of someone who's actually doing it. Without that “eureka” moment, Cheer Boys!! is forced to fall back on a lot of enthusiastic dialogue from characters who have little to no experience. Pairing that with some pretty ordinary animation means that I'm not especially pumped up to see the guys master their first routine.
Still, Cheer Boys!! has a friendly atmosphere that's hard to ignore. The guys seem likable enough that I can see myself sticking around for a while just to see what kind of people they end up recruiting for the team. The issues with the sport's introduction aren't terminal, and they should clear up once the characters actually start practicing. While there's definitely room for improvement, I'm cautiously optimistic about this one.
A cheerleader once told me off for saying that it was a performing art as much as a sport. While I still see a lot of similarities between modern dance and cheer (and had meant the comment as a compliment), it's hard to deny that there is something really impressive about the flexibility and power required to pull off a cheer routine. It can be breathtaking. That's clearly what Haruki thinks when he sees male cheerleaders for the first time about halfway through this episode – raised in a judo family, he not only didn't realize that men's cheer was a thing, but he also didn't have any idea how athletic and impressive it is. Of course, that's still not enough to instantly rid it of the stigma he seems to feel it has, which was something I appreciated about this episode perhaps even more than the cheer routine itself: Haruki, unlike many main characters, isn't the one jumping into this headlong. He's reluctant and embarrassed, and that isn't going to just disappear because his best friend Kazu and some weirdo they gave a flier to are all gung-ho about starting a team. That may change next week, but I get the impression that Haruki is the kind of person who really thinks things over. Kazu comments that whenever Haru executed a throw in judo it looked as if he was being thrown as well. That indicates that he's empathetic to a degree and considers how others feel. At this point he's willing to join Kazu's club because he cares about Kazu and “I don't want to” looks like too thin an excuse. I think (and hope) it will take him some time to really want to be there of his own volition.
Of course, none of this explains how he's going to conquer to very large problems: one, Haruki had to quit judo because of a shoulder injury. While doubtless the two sports use different muscles, but what if he falls? And there are still going to be some similar strains, so how is he going to be able to, for example, help to support another teammate with a bum shoulder? Of course he might be the guy on top of the pyramid, seeing as he's relatively small, but that raises the other question of what he's going to do about his fear of heights. If I had to guess, I'd say that the former is going to be largely ignored in favor of the latter, but it'll annoy me if the physical issue is never brought up.
What Cheer Boys!! does well (apart from the cheer scenes) is showing the relationship between childhood friends Kazu and Haruki. Kazu appears to have largely gone along with Haruki in terms of what they did when they were kids, but now that Haru can no longer practice judo, he wants to both help him to find something new and to have Haru do what Kazu wants. In a nice parallel, Kazu's deceased parents met doing cheer in college, while Haruki initially only got into judo because his parents are enthusiasts. Now that his sister Haruko has become a champion, judo is effectively “her thing,” and Haruki is Free! to pursue something else. It feels as if he was never really thrilled with judo for its own sake in the first place but instead simply did it because that was what you did in his family. Now Kazu wants to try something that was important to his parents (and at the same age they did it; this series is happily not set in high school), and Haruki has to decide if he'll go along with him. By the end of the episode they are joined by the enthusiastic Mizoguchi, a slightly older business major, who made the split-second decision to join the minute he saw a flier, and it's clear that more guys are on their way in future episodes. This is a good thing because Mizoguchi's one-note character could get really annoying very quickly if there aren't more people to balance him out. (In this episode, he's pretty funny.) If the show can pull a Haikyu!! and keep all of its teammates distinct and important, as well as maintain an honest-feeling character arc for Haruki, Cheer Boys!! really has potential.
I enjoyed the first episode of Cheer Boys!!, and not because this episode really sold me on the magic of cheerleading. The show doesn't really have the aesthetic punch to make that possible - the animation is fairly limited, art direction mundane, and direction more functional than inspired. The episode also didn't move quickly; Haruki only makes the decision to embrace cheerleading at the very end, and most of the episode is taken up with mundane conversations between him and his friend Kazuma. But in the case of Cheer Boys!!, those mundane conversations were actually the best part.
This episode's greatest strength is that Haruki and Kazuma both feel like real people, with a clear friendship expressed in both overt and implicit terms. Haruki's insecurity about his place in judo, where he feels like he's really only getting by based on his family name, is established naturally all across the first half. We first see Haruki and Kazuma cheering Haruki's sister on as she snatches a win for her school, and then witness the awkward distance between Haruki and the other judo teammates. The following conversation between Haruki and his sister feels grounded in a fondness with just a slight edge of jealousy, and later on, Haruki is talked down from his frustration through a wandering conversation with Kazuma on his apartment roof. These conversations don't proceed as a series of necessary narrative beats; they match the rambling tempo of real conversations, with their slow pacing establishing characters and their relationships in naturalistic terms. Nothing is hidden here - these friends have known each other too long for that, and so they're quick to articulate their feelings and actually consider the feelings of each other.
The natural conversational style that helps this episode stand out could also potentially be considered a weakness; very little actually happens in this episode, and there aren't really any hooks to push the audience forward. And as I mentioned previously, the show really isn't much to look at; the character designs are attractive enough, but so far the show has mostly just been two or three characters standing still and talking to each other, the camera keeping them both flat in frame. The allure of cheerleading also isn't really expressed here - the idea of Haruki having a “powerful cheering style” isn't grounded in anything we can perceive, and the sequences that are supposed to sell us on the majesty of cheerleading aren't dynamic or well-animated enough to really work. But solid dialogue is a valuable thing, and means Cheer Boys!! begins with a reasonably strong platform for a character-focused sports show.
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