The Fall 2018 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Hinomaru Sumo ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
I know little-to-nothing about the sumo wrestling, so I was interested to see if Hinomaru Sumo could educate me more about the sport and its culture. Unfortunately, this series seems to be sticking to the “if it ain't broke, don't fix it” method, as outside of providing what I can only assume are accurate examples of the sport's jargon and moves, Hinomaru Sumo is about as plain and uninteresting as a sports shonen anime can get.
My main issue lies within the titular Ushio Hinomaru, and it isn't so much a fault of his character as it is my own exhaustion with the clichés he represents. He's the same kind of relentlessly optimistic and obscenely disciplines here we've seen so many times before – there's almost nothing about his personality or motivations that feels even remotely original. He has some kind of tragic past involving a dead mother figure, and his goal of becoming the yokozuna of sumo has driven him to commit his entire existence to perfecting his physical form and technique. Ushio's only truly defining characteristic is that he's short, too diminutive to compete at a professional level.
Ushio's struggle against his own physical shortcomings could potentially make for an interesting character arc, but that's counterbalanced by my general lack of interest in both the story and action. So far, all we've seen of Ushio is that he's a nice guy that's obsessed with sumo, and he helps his new buddy Shinya rescue the school's sumo dojo from a band of hooligans. All of these story beats are too flat and familiar to be particularly engaging, and the few brief action sequences we get operate more on the suggestion of bravado over technically engaging fighting. While I suspect that the brief-but-impactful approach may be appropriate to capture the general feel of sumo wrestling, it doesn't make for the most exciting visual entertainment.
I also struggle to reconcile Ushio's personal struggle with the series' exaggerated shonen tone; here's a kid that apparently has to fight for every scrap of recognition he can get because of his stature, but he's also so stacked that he can withstand a direct barrage of fists to his face for fifteen straight minutes without so much as batting an eyelash. Plenty of anime can handle that delicate balance between superpowered camp and sports drama, but I don't think Hinomaru Sumo is one of them.
As far as Funimation's SimulDub goes, I found myself actually preferring the English track to the Japanese one. Some of the side-characters sound a bit weak (the villain of the episode, Yuma, feels particularly miscast), but Ricco Fajardo and Tyson Rinehart do a good job as Ushio and Shinya, respectively. The script can be pretty loose with the translations, but I appreciated the more casual flavor given to the dialogue, especially in Ushio's case. Lines like “My name is Ushio Hinomaru” become “The name's Hinomaru Ushio, good to meet ya!”, which helps communicate the character's “cool” attitude for those who don't catch all of the nuances of his vocal performance in the native Japanese. Though I'm still not fond of his overall character, Ushio at times feels just a bit more relatable in the English dub. I don't think I'd call this the studio's best effort, but interested fans will likely still enjoy what Funimation brings to Hinomaru Sumo's localization.
Aside from its sport of choice, there's little in the premiere of Hinomaru Sumo that genre fans haven't seen before. The story sticks closely to the basic genre formula, starting off with a fired-up protagonist with more than enough fighting spirit to overcome his apparent disadvantage. Naturally, Ushio also takes an unconventional route to join his high school team, starting by showing up at the wrong school and quickly jumping into an unfair fight with the resident teenage delinquent. As paint-by-numbers as that all feels, the presentation and storytelling are good enough to make it enjoyable.
Despite his status as the main character, I actually didn't find Ushio to be the most interesting member of the cast. He fits the hot-blooded hero role well enough, complete with an unshakable sense of justice, hints of a tragic backstory, and a complete lack of common sense. That's all well and good, but it doesn't really help him stand out amongst sports anime protagonists. For me, the more intriguing character here is Ozeki, the only member of the sumo team before Ushio's arrival. Ushio has a little more depth than the average “wimpy guy” character; while he's conveniently positioned as a bullying victim for Ushio to save, he also displays a willingness to do as much as he can by himself. While we as the audience know that Ushio will end up going to Ozeki's school despite initially having his sights set elsewhere, we get the impression that Ozeki isn't aware of that, and so it's encouraging to see him out recruiting new members with no guarantee of success. By the same token, the way he maintains his outdoor ring suggests that he really does care about the sport and is willing to endure whatever crap people give him for it. If we're looking for likable underdogs, my money's one Ozeki.
For the most part, this episode isn't much to look at, but it does manage to pull off a couple of neat shots during the sumo scenes. Whether it's deliberate foreshadowing or just a flashy stylistic choice, I like how Ozeki's DIY sumo ring is briefly transformed into a crowded arena during his bout with Ushio. It adds some visual flair to the scene, and it helps to elevate it beyond the mundane reality of two guys wrestling in a schoolyard. Later on, the stylized black and white shots just before Ushio turns the tables on Yuma help to ramp up the intensity of the scene and add some extra visual heft to Ushio's attack. Even if Hinomaru Sumo doesn't have the raw animation quality of an A-list title, it does at least have a good sense of how to breathe some emotion into its key scenes.
Depending on how it plays out, this could be an entertaining departure from the slender guys and girls who normally populate sports anime. It's definitely going to require a baseline interest in manly men having manly fights, and I wouldn't expect it to do anything too fresh in the narrative department, but it looks like a good time nevertheless. As long as it does a good job of filling out the team with compelling characters, this one could be worth keeping an eye on.
You could almost substitute sumo with any other sport and get the same episode as we have here. That's not necessarily a bad thing; many a good sports anime has begun in a similar way, with the underdog protagonist getting his ragtag team together so that they can move on to eventual athletic glory. That it's sumo, a sport that I've seen get made fun of more often than I've seen it taken seriously, does add some interest to the proceedings, however, especially if the skin-and-bones guys of a couple of this season's other male-lead premiers aren't working for you aesthetically.
What's a bit more interesting here is that our super talented sumo champ, Ushio Hinomaru, does face an actual physical handicap, or at least one that, unlike other short sports protagonists, could actually keep him out of the game. As Ozeki, the high schooler Ushio meets when he goes to visit (the wrong) high school says, professional sumo wrestlers have to be at least 167 cm (5 foot 4) to qualify; Ushio is, by Ozeki's estimation, around 160 cm (5 foot 2). Many boys do keep growing in high school, so Ushio could get those extra seven centimeters, but if he doesn't that's not something he can overcome with sheer willpower. The idea that all of Ushio's skill and hard work could ultimately be for naught adds a bit of tension to the story that will bear keeping an eye on, as it could give this series its edge.
Otherwise this is a perfectly fine, easy to watch premier. Ushio's hotblooded but very likable, from his quick willingness to help someone one the train (I'll eat my hat if she doesn't turn out to be his love interest, assuming there is one) to his total inability to understand why it might not be the best idea to run around in just a gakuran and mawashi belt, the special sumo loincloth. The art isn't terrific and I really do hope we get an explanation for those scarf-like scars on Ushio's shoulders, but watching people get blown away by his compactly muscular body or him calmly taking down the thugs who were bullying Ozeki makes it relatively easy to ignore. This seems like it could be an entertaining sports drama to follow.
Clocking in as this season's first traditional sports property, we've got the unsurprisingly sumo-focused Hinomaru Sumo. In this first episode, we're introduced to Ushio Hinomaru, a boy whose tremendous passion for sumo may have unfortunately run aground on his diminutive stature. Ushio doesn't let that dampen his spirits though, and in fact, his fighting spirit is basically the dominant force of this entire episode. I haven't seen any sumo dramas before, but I've certainly seen plenty of hot-blooded sports spectacles, and Hinomaru Sumo is looking to be a fine example of the form.
In terms of narrative, Hinomaru Sumo's first episode goes through a pretty genre-classic setup, as Ushio finds his way to Odachi High School and saves its sumo club from a bunch of loitering delinquents. The story is archetypal, but sturdy in its construction, and I found the fast friendship between Ushio and the cowardly Ozeki pretty convincing. The characterization here is all pretty binary “fighting spirit!”-focused stuff, but the episode doesn't waste any time setting up its main variables, and naturally integrates backstory on Ushio's past successes and height issues into its ongoing drama. Ushio's passion for sumo is genuinely infectious, and I greatly enjoyed the final duel between Ushio and head punk Yuma. If you're a fan of shows where burly men defeat their enemies in glorious combat and then immediately form friendships based on those battles, Hinomaru Sumo is absolutely your sort of thing.
In terms of aesthetics, Hinamaru Sumo is a little light on animation, but its general art design is expressive and appealing. Ushio himself has an emotional range mostly spanning from “joyous fighting spirit” to “vengeful fighting spirit,” and the show does a great job of bringing his intimidating presence to life. I also liked the show's rare but welcome visual embellishments, like how Ozeki's practice ring transformed into a stadium the moment our competitors collided, and the black-and-white sketches used to convey Ushio's final charge. Hinamaru Sumo isn't a flashy production, but it's a very sturdy one, generally succeeding in its aesthetic goals and occasionally impressing through style flourishes.
“Not flashy but very sturdy” basically describes Hinamaru Sumo as a whole. Its narrative seems unlikely to surprise you, and it lacks the animation pedigree of top tier sports dramas, but it's an engaging story told with consistent polish. Hinomaru Sumo probably won't make a believer of anyone who's not already into sports anime, but it's a very solid example of the genre.
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