The Summer 2017 Anime Preview Guide
Fastest Finger First
How would you rate episode 1 of
Fastest Finger First ?
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How was the first episode?
It sometimes feels like there are two genres in anime with essentially limitless topical potential: slice of life and sports shows. Just like how basically any leisure activity can be turned into the premise for a slice of life show, pretty much any even remotely competitive concept can fuel a sports narrative. And so it is with Fastest Finger First, a show that sends us headfirst into the rousing world of quiz shows.
I was actually quite impressed with how well this episode conveyed the inherent drama of quiz shows. With a more mundane sports premise, the job of “why should we care about this competition” is largely covered - everyone can understand the stakes of a soccer game or boxing match, and at least has some idea of what makes a player good or bad. In contrast, a topic as specific as quiz shows demands a great deal of setup, where the audience must be taught what is impressive or exciting in order to be excited or impressed.
Fastest Finger First accomplished this very well in its first episode finale, a sample quiz show at a school assembly. Our hero Shiki Koshiyama is introduced to the push and pull of hitting the buzzer quickly versus waiting for question clarity through a series of small expositional interludes and handy example questions. New tidbits of information fuel both Shiki and the audience's growing understanding of the sport, ramping into a solid win that built directly on his established character. The show does a pretty stellar job of making his quest feel tense and ultimate victory earned, meaning Fastest Finger First is already succeeding in its most central of goals.
Unfortunately, the stuff surrounding that core, well-executed quiz segment is a little more rough. The show's look is clean, but not particularly visually engaging or well-animated. The episode moves through plot pretty efficiently, but none of the characters stand out. Perhaps most annoyingly, a stale panty-flash gag from the first third is reprised a good three or four times throughout the episode, making it clear this show's idea of comedy leaves something to be desired.
In the end, Fastest Finger First comes off as an unexceptionable but mostly reasonable sports show. If you're a fan of the genre or this particular topic sounds interesting, maybe give it a try.
A few years ago at a library book sale I picked up a copy of The Giant Quiz Book from 1938. It's very well-loved and basically Fastest Finger First in a book – filled with trivia and strange facts of varying levels of difficulty and absolutely a testament to how much fun it can be to participate in quizzes. That's something that this first episode hasn't quite covered yet, but it does do a good job of explaining the basic appeal to its protagonist. He's what's appealing to me about this show thus far – Koshiyama is so recognizable as the kid who just doesn't quite fit in that I really want to see him succeed. The scene where he wants to be the class library representative and can't get anyone to notice him is a perfect representation of what it's like in high school if you're one of the kids who slipped through the cracks. The girls who comment about it for the rest of the day, who probably aren't being mean, are immediately interpreted by Koshiyama as antagonistic, and he masks his disappointment at not having been chosen to be the library rep by saying that he wouldn't want to call more attention to himself by working with class beauty Mari. This fidelity to showing what being the outcast, but not the picked on, is this episode's greatest strength.
That isn't to say that there isn't anything else appealing about the show. I'm not loving the leader of the quiz club or Mari as characters, but given time, I think they might develop, and the show deserves credit for not having Mari smack Koshiyama when he sees her underwear. The quiz questions are presented in a way that the audience can answer along with, which I enjoyed – and I'm stupidly proud of myself for knowing the answer to the last question. That's probably intentional on the part of the series, and it will be interesting to see if it continues to make it possible for us to essentially play along with Koshiyama.
Obviously I'm much more interested in the actual questions and characters than the series gimmick about speedy button pushing. That's a bit of a concern, because there is a chance that, given the title's English version, this could become too much of an issue. Koshiyama has expressed concern about not being athletic, so the button speed could stand in for physical accomplishment. But I'm going to give this a chance – it appeals to my nerdy self and will give me an excuse to go back and read my giant quiz book again.
Maybe it's because I was a Knowledge Bowl geek myself in middle school, or perhaps it's the fact as a teacher I've helped coach contestants who remind me uncannily of Shiki and Mari, but I found myself enjoying Fastest Finger First a surprising amount. There's something about turning secondary school level quiz competitions into a high stakes sports anime that I find inherently charming and amusing. I don't know if this is a novelty that can sustain an entire series, but as far as this first episode goes, I'll admit I was thoroughly entertained.
Outside of my own personal background with the subject, there are things this premiere did well enough on its own. It's cleanly animated and produced, and directed with enough commitment to the silly premise to actually make things pretty intense once the quiz game ramps up. I also enjoyed the characterization of our protagonist, Shiki. He's an anti-social dork whose kind of hard to like, but I found that to be refreshingly realistic. He isn't a quiz prodigy because he's been gifted by the Gods of Mundane Factoids – He's just a kid who makes up for his inability to make real friends by burying his head in too many books. Like I said, I've known kids exactly like this, and while he might not make for the most charismatic leading man, he is the kind of character I'd like to see grow and mature as the story progresses.
His preoccupation with seeing Mari's panties is the kind of weird fixation a lot of other anime would make annoying, but I found the dweeby, distracted way Shiki handled it to just be another realistic detail of him being an actual 14 to 15-year-old kid. Of course he'd be an awkward mess around Mari – she's the kind of intense and immediately impressive girl that would totally make a kid like Shiki weak in the knees. This is especially impressive seeing as she's managing to make buzzer-based school quiz challenges look interesting.
All of that being said, this is an incredibly niche approach to a school sports anime, and your ability to enjoy Fastest Fingers First will depend entirely on your willingness to follow a relatively unlikable character into a hobby that many would describe as the epitome of lameness. If that's the case, yeah, you'll want to avoid this show. There are some out there, though, who will be like me and enjoy this unique take on a familiar genre, if only they are nerdy enough to understand that Quiz Bowls really are deeply and fundamentally cool.
There have been attempts over the years to turn quiz games into something exciting (see the 1969 Disney movie The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes), but without the glitz and flash of a game show they aren't any more exciting to watch than a spelling bee. But of course that's not going to stop anime from trying its damnedest to get the concept to work, and with typical sports-style anime flair, too.
Or at least, that's what this new series seems to want to be. Unsurprisingly, the path to quiz game greatness centers on a nondescript, bookish lad who's practically being coerced into learning the ins and outs of quiz games, such as how much of a question you have to hear in order to be able to predict what the question is asking for and thus buzz in early. Naturally he's going to have a hidden talent for the game, and naturally there's a pretty girl involved who is already an enthusiast to entice him along, help him break out of his shell, and (presumably) be a potential love interest. There's also a knowledgeable if also overbearing team leader and both the opener and closer show off an array of colorful characters, no doubt mostly fellow (and sometimes rival) quiz enthusiasts.
What the first episode lack is a compelling hook. I suppose seeing Shiki gradually come into his own could be interesting, but that isn't enough, or different enough, on its own to keep my interest here. Character designs and technical merits aren't enough to be a draw, either, and what fan service there might be is described to us rather than shown. There are also already signs that the series is going to resort to overblown dramatics to heighten the tension in the quiz matches, but I just found myself rolling my eyes over those scenes.
It's possible that I'm just being too cynical here, and I think that in my youth I might have enjoyed this concept more, as I was heavily interested in trivia games and game shows at that age. I also do want to be clear that my low score here is much more an “utter lack of interest” markdown than a “poor quality” score. Maybe this concept can work, but frankly, the concept is the problem.
Fastest Finger First (or Nana Maru San Batsu if you prefer its Japanese title) brings a somewhat novel idea to the usual school sports club formula. As the characters point out on several occasions, a competitive quiz bowl is open to a much wider range of participants: physical fitness isn't a big deal, and the participants don't all have to be the same gender. That gives this series room to include a wider variety of characters, which should work in its favor. Unfortunately, this first episode doesn't really have the strong execution needed to take advantage of its premise.
In the show's defense, it does at least get some of the basics right. Nerdy protagonist Koshiyama is quickly set up as the kind of person who could excel despite a lack of experience. Much like how Onoda's long trips to Akihabara made him a believably talented cyclist in Yowamushi Pedal, Koshiyama's bookworm background gives him a broad base of knowledge for answering trivia questions. The quiz bowl demonstration is also an interesting scene, as it's presented in a way that gives the viewer a chance to answer the questions along with the characters. The possibility of audience participation has the potential to make Fastest Finger First an unexpectedly immersive series.
Of course, that's assuming it can make the viewer care about the characters, and this first episode doesn't accomplish much on that front. Koshiyama is painted as too much of a hopeless dork, and he lacks the earnest enthusiasm that often makes this type of protagonist interesting. Love interest and apparent quiz bowl veteran Fukami also comes up short in the personality department, and her role in this episode is mostly limited to pointing out Koshiyama's potential as a competitor. Club president Sasajima is loud and eccentric, but that's about it at the moment. This episode's attempts at humor are also fairly weak; did we really need yet another entry on the “nerdy protagonist accidentally sees girl's underwear” list?
If you enjoy trying to out-guess the contestants while watching a TV game show, then you might have some fun playing along with Fastest Finger First. On the other hand, you could do a lot better if you're looking for a more cerebral entry in the sports anime genre. Chihayafuru offers mixed-gender club competition with a more immediately compelling story, and there are plenty of actual quiz shows out there that don't require sitting through stale comedy antics.
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