The Fall 2018 Anime Preview Guide
Run with the Wind
How would you rate episode 1 of
Run with the Wind ?
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How was the first episode?
The first thing I wrote in my notes as soon as I finished Run with the Wind's premiere was: “Oh thank God”. We're only a couple of days into the fall season, but some of these premieres have been rough goings so far, so I was delighted to find that Run with the Wind's first episode has everything that a lot of shows have been lacking so far: Confident direction, a tightly-written and entertaining script, and Yuuki Hayashi has delivered a gorgeous musical score to boot. This is how you do a premiere episode right.
What I love the most about Run with the Wind so far is how finely crafted it is. The animation is good an all (this is Production I.G, after all), but even more impressive are the direction and sound-design. This is a series that is keenly in tune with the emotions of its protagonists, Haji and Kakeru, who are both very passionate people caught in very different stages of their young adulthood. Haji is trying to achieve his dream of completing the Hakone Ekiden marathon, even if it means tricking an apartment full of broke college-students into signing up for their school's hitherto defunct track-and-field team. The scars on his leg and his reserved nature tell us that Haji is harboring some baggage, but it isn't enough to stop him from eyeing Kakeru as he's fleeing from a convenience store he just stole a loaf of bread from.
The first time we see this pair meet, the camera is focused on Kakeru's dogged, single-minded determination: This is a man that just needs to eat. The only thing we hear is his heavy breathing, and the sound of his feet hitting the pavement. The score is sparse, a lonely chord or two amidst the buzzing of electric lights and the silence of the night, like a spell that Kakeru is casting on himself that is only broken when Haji happens to cycle by.
Contrast that with when we revisit this meeting from Haji's perspective; the camera distorts Haji's face as he beholds Kakeru's ethereal form, the music swells with twinkling bells, and it's immediately clear that Haji recognizes the gift that can lift Kakeru out of his rut, even if Kakeru does not. His goal in putting together a track team is still a selfish one, but Run with the Wind is able to deftly communicate a more layered and nuanced relationship being built between these two men, and almost entirely through the use of visuals and sound. That's no mean feat.
The rest of the script is fine; the other eight men living in Chikusei-so are all likable and share decent chemistry with each other, even if they are a bit broad. Withholding the reveal of Haji's true intentions from the entire cast for so long makes an otherwise typical introductory plot that much more interesting, and the visual and aural flourishes tossed in throughout elevate dialogue that is mostly about communicating the other guys' easy-to-distinguish character traits. Honestly, if it weren't for this episode's incredible aesthetics, the story itself here probably wouldn't be so impressive, but this episode is nothing if not a textbook example of how much execution matters in a project like this. I had no expectations of Run with the Wind before today, but I'm definitely going to keep my eye on this series this fall.
For a sports anime, Run with the Wind gets off to a pretty laid-back start. There is a non-zero amount of running in this episode, but it's nothing competitive, nor is there any heated declaration of rivalry. If anything, this premiere feels more like a slice of life comedy about an apartment building full of quirky tenants. Without that initial rush of athletic competition, it's hard to make a case for this show as a sports drama, but it does have a few things working in its favor.
For starters, the cast seems reasonably likable, though the necessity of introducing a ten-person team in twenty minutes leaves little room for anything beyond a single defining personality trait for each character. While that makes it hard to remember the supporting cast without resorting to titles like “quiz show guy” or “guy who smokes,” the information overload actually feels appropriate in the context of the story. Since Kakeru is tossed into this apartment building without any advance notice, it makes sense that he (and, by extension, the viewer) would be overwhelmed by the rapid-fire introductions. In any case, I like the general atmosphere of the building; it has the rowdy, chaotic vibe of a bunch of college-age dudes trying to live together in a cramped space. If you've ever lived in a college dorm or an overcrowded apartment, it makes for a relatable situation.
The only characters we spend any quality time with are ostensible protagonists Haiji and Kakeru, and unfortunately neither of them make much of a first impression. I'm a little curious about why Haiji is so determined to run in this particular marathon, but the way he springs it on the rest of the group feels kind of underhanded for a guy who's supposed to be the team captain. Kakeru is even tougher to get a read on at the moment; I'm not sure how seriously we're supposed to take his explanation of why he's been reduced to shoplifting from convenience stores, and this episode is needlessly cryptic about his running history. Either one of these guys could develop into a strong main character with a little work, but for now I'm feeling kind of apathetic about both of them.
Run with the Wind needs to answer two big questions in the next week or two. The first is whether or not it can make long-distance running feel exciting enough to succeed as a sports series. Without any direct competition in this first episode, this show's action credentials remain unproven. The other question is whether or not Run with the Wind can find time to develop its ensemble cast beyond their defining quirks. Assuming it can sort both of these areas out, I can see this growing into an enjoyable, possibly more low-key sports story. For now, however, the leisurely pace leaves too many question marks to merit a stronger recommendation.
I am not generally a fan of sports anime, but one thing that I can appreciate about the genre is that it exposes viewers to actual sports and sports events that they might not have even been aware existed. Such is the case with this series and relay marathons, which I'd never heard of before watching the first episode. They have apparently been around for a long time; the Hakone Ekiden has been run almost every year since 1920, so it's certainly a prestigious enough event to be worthy of fodder for a story. The need for ten team members comes from the race's 218 km course being broken into ten stages over two days.
The novelty of the goal helps offset the lack of anything excitingly different or special about the cast. The obligatory foreigner is Tanzanian, which is definitely unusual, but otherwise the personality distribution seems standard for a motley array of characters coming together as an athletic team: there's a serious one (Kakeru), an otaku, a high-strung one, a lazy smoker, a trivia enthusiast, identical twins, and so forth. Most are formally but only barely introduced, so learning about them will take time and presumably the first major part of the series will be convincing a bunch of young guys to actually go ahead with Haiji's proposal. So far only Haiji's story looks potentially interesting; he has a scar on one leg suggestive of major knee surgery. The dynamics of the running scenes don't offer anything too special, either.
If the series has one thing special going for it, it's the use of sound effects to support the series' title. The sound of blowing wind – whether it's rattling a window pane, blowing into a room, or just in the background – is a recurring and well-used audio theme. The artistic style heavily favors a standard shojo look, with all of the cast members being long and lanky; granted, this is also a common feature of dedicated runners, but still. As an additional enticement for female audiences, the first episode goes out of its way to work in shots of ripped naked man-flesh. Also watch for a sharply-colored sunrise scene near the end of the episode.
I am clearly not in the target audience for this series, and nothing in the first episode convinces me to ignore that and watch more. Still, if a sports-themed series full of hunky guys rings your bell then this one might be worth checking out.
Starting stories with some variation of in medias res is a tricky proposition, and not one that works all of the time. Run with the Wind, however, manages to pull it off. In no small part this is because it perfectly captures the way that our protagonist Kakeru feels – he's running away after having stolen a sandwich when this crazy guy on a bike asks him if he likes running, and then next thing he knows, Kakeru's been moved into a run-down dorm with nine other college students and is sitting down to a thrown-together welcome party. He spends most of the first half of the episode with a look of confused stupefaction on his face, and since that's how I felt up to the eye-catch, it does a good job of throwing us into his character from the start.
Of course, the issue remains that we don't truly know what's going on until the point of view switches to Haiji, the young man on the bicycle who strong-armed Kakeru into the dorm in the first place. That's a bit off-putting, especially since we can feel Kakeru's confused anxiety for most of the first half, which isn't a great sensation. But by this point most of us have seen enough sports anime to know where this is heading – Haiji is clearly collecting runners for some sort of cross-country team and when he saw Kakeru running from the convenience story clerk, he knew he'd found his last runner…even if he didn't bother to tell Kakeru why he was being so accommodating of a sandwich thief.
Although this is clearly an introductory episode, and as many of them do, it crams in far too many named characters in a short space of time, Run with the Wind feels like it could be off to a good start. For one thing, the animation looks good, especially with the details of running on the balls of the feet and the smoothness of little movements. For another, the characters are all distinct, which is especially important with so many of them – they all have not only different hair styles, but different heights, figures, and face shapes. Even better, facial expressions are nicely mobile – they are exaggerated to more fully convey the emotions of the characters, but not to the point where they appear ridiculous, which feels like is suits the more serious tone this episode seems to be going for.
And it does feel serious – apart from the goofiness of the literature major with the (perfectly respectable) enormous book collection or the litigious law student, it seems like both Kakeru and Haiji have issues in their backgrounds that are likely to inform their characters and the story going forward. That Kakeru has been reduced to theft after losing his apartment deposit playing mahjong could be a warning bell, and Haiji's clearly had a major operation on his knee, which may prove more difficult to overcome than he's making it out to be. This definitely feels like a show worth keeping an eye on, not just if you like attractive guys playing sports (and taking baths), but because it looks like it could have more going for it than just that.
Look, I may be predictable, but it's not like I don't have standards. Just because a show is a small-stakes character drama with an emphasis on precisely capturing lived moments doesn't mean I'm guaranteed to love it. It also has to actually be good at those things! Its characters have to be convincing people worth caring about, its chosen moments must genuinely illustrate something fundamental to the human experience, and its aesthetic sensibilities must possess a grace of execution and unity of purpose that elevate its drama from the mundane to the sublime, therefore illustrating that the mundane contains the sublime. And all of this preamble is basically to say that Run with the Wind absolutely gets there - not only is it a perfectly Me production, but it is a largely stunning example of the form, offering the strongest premiere yet of the fall season.
Run with the Wind demonstrates its grace and overall coherence of execution right from its first moments, opening with a night dash where our lack of context actually draws us even further into the spirit of the moment. Most shows are hesitant to let their night scenes be truly dark, but here, the utter blackness of our protagonists' surroundings amplifies the sense of both intimacy and confusion. Shouts of “stop, thief!” in the background only amplify the disorientation of the moment, and then we jump directly to one of our leads introducing the other to a full dorm house, smartly harnessing our sense of dislocation to emotionally situate us with newcomer Kakeru Kurahara.
Those dorm introductions occupy a great part of this premiere's run time, and consistently demonstrate Run with the Wind's effortless efficiency of characterization, energetic storyboarding, and wonderfully expressive character animation. By the time Kakeru's dorm tour culminated in a group housewarming party, I already felt like I knew all ten of the college students who lived there. It's no surprise to me that Run with the Wind is based on an actual novel; the confidence of this show's writing and scene-to-scene narrative pacing is one of its greatest assets, and aligns perfectly with the show's tendency to illustrate characters more through incidental shared moments and tonal context than overt exposition. This episode builds up its characters so well that by the time we reach the ending, Kakeru's new companion Haiji simply declaring that “I'm going to win over all the guys” felt like a thrilling hook all by itself.
There are other things I could gush about in this episode, like its phenomenal sound design/soundtrack, or its willingness to center itself on a character as messy as Kakeru, but those are basically all just more expressions of its fundamentally stellar writing and mastery of tone. I feel a little hesitant throwing out a five this early into the preview guide, but I frankly didn't have any complaints about this premiere, and am already eagerly awaiting the next episode. I'm very happy to start the season with a show this strong.
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