The Fall 2021 Preview Guide
PuraOre! Pride of Orange
How would you rate episode 1 of
PuraOre! Pride of Orange ?
What is this?
The Dream Monkeys is an ice hockey team based out of Nikko city in Tochigi. The team holds a hands-on instructional session in order to find new promising players amongst local junior high school students. Manaka is coerced into going by her younger sister Ayaka and childhood friends Kaoruko and Mami. After the intro session, the girls are enthralled with ice hockey and are eventually invited on to the team.
How was the first episode?
Well, that was an experience. Going in I knew nothing about this anime whatsoever. I clicked play and suddenly I was treated to some exceedingly well-animated hockey—and women's hockey to boot. For about the first minute, I was 100% on board with this show—totally ready to watch the trials and tribulations of a group of young women on the road toward a world championship. Then I heard the words “victory dance.”
Now, I suppose I wouldn't be surprised by something akin to an end zone dance like we sometimes see in football. Sure, it'd be pretty crappy on a sportsmanship level but it'd give these girls some serious personality if they were to rub their victory in the faces of the losers like that. And then I saw them in full idol group gear, singing and dancing on the ice. To be clear, the big shock here wasn't that this scene happened—it was the fact that this somehow wasn't a dream or delusion. They were really doing a fully choreographed pop song on the ice (without skates on, mind you). This is what we're in for apparently: an idol anime mixed with a sports anime.
The problem with the mix is that this anime is set in the real world—not a world where idol- hockey is already a thing. Thus, real world logic applies. In this setting, the core concept of this anime is completely insane. Can you imagine playing a sport as taxing as hockey for an hour—giving your all on the ice—before going to the locker room for a quick change and then doing a freaking concert? And that's before even getting into the logistics. I want to see the scene where the girl's coach goes to the opposing team's coach and says, “Hey, if we win, we're going to humiliate you by putting on an idol show celebrating us kicking your ass. That okay with you?” Or how about that same conversation but in front of The Women's Hockey World Cup committee.
What I'm getting at here is that my suspension of disbelief is utterly shattered by the core concept of the show. A middle school sewing club becoming hockey world champions? That I can buy. Not this though. If cute girls doing cute things is your jam, you may find enough of that to enjoy this anime. As for me, I'll pass. (Though, do tell me when they get into their first brawl on the ice. I'll watch that episode just for the novelty of the whole thing.)
Imagine this: you've just won the International Champion of Sports. You're unbelievably happy, but also sweaty and exhausted. What do you do?
Why, you go change into a cute lil outfit, do up your hair, and come out and do a choreographed song and dance for your audience to show your appreciation for their support. On the ice. In boots.
Yeah, this is a little much for my suspension of disbelief, even if everything I know about hockey I learned from Letterkenny.
To be fair, it's unclear whether this actually happens in PuraOre; after their little idol routine, the show cuts to four of the six girls in their middle school embroidery club. Two of them seem to be sisters, as they bicker about each other's technique while the other two members smile at them indulgently. Then they go bathe together in the sisters' family's ryokan. Then they eat strawberries from another girl's family farm, and the sisters bicker about whether strawberries are better plain or topped with sweetened condensed milk. Then one of the girls mentions she saw a flyer for a free hockey lesson and I am in a dead sleep on the couch because that was half the episode y'all.
When the episode finally makes it to the rink, we learn of Coach Yoko's plan to basically turn them into an idol unit that does victory dances after winning. The unstated part of her plan is to try to recapture her lost youth, because she obsesses over her wrinkles and also wants to put on her old uniform and go do the dance with a bunch of middle school girls. She has serious Dance Moms energy, and even has them do a dance move during their warm up stretches. She's absolutely rancid, even if she doesn't kick any trash cans.
I've seen actual hockey players praise the sports segments of Pride of Orange from the trailers, but honestly, the idol angle is just insulting. Idols are supposed to be cute, nonthreatening, and approachable, while athletes need to be powerful and competent; audience appeal should not be mandatory. Please don't stop and think about how this requires recruiting based on looks instead of athleticism and for all the girls to get through the game uninjured. Just give me the wheels, snipes, celly, girls, and leave the flouncy skirts for a more appropriate occasion. And definitely don't wear gogo boots on the ice, because that's a great way to slip and break a bone.
Somebody really needs to sit down and tell PuraOre! that it's ok to just be yourself. You don't have to try and juggle different identities because you think that's what everyone expects from you. If you want to be a sports show, be a sports show. If you want to be an idol show, be an idol show. But trying to be both at once has clearly left you stretched too thin, and it's going to wear you out well before you achieve much in either field.
That dichotomy really is the defining feature of this opener. PuraOre! is trying to walk a tight rope by combining a hot-blooded team sport series with a bubbly idol production, and the result so far feels like a show lacking any focus or identity. Despite ostensibly being about a hockey team, there's little focus on the actual sport for the first half of the episode, instead following our nice but thinly written quartet of cute girls as they banter at their embroidery club, then chat in the hot springs, before retiring to a bedroom to lightly argue about the best way to eat strawberries. Yes there's an imaginary(?) sequence at the start with the girls winning a game as the All-Japan team before transitioning into a choreographed dance number, but that's totally disconnected from the actual plot of the episode. It's a proof of concept as introduction, basically, and the only actual ice hockey we see is a truncated beginner's lesson from the coach character, who for some reason plans to trick the girls into being both hockey players and idols.
And I just do not get why the character or the show itself feel that is necessary. If you want to make an idol show, just make one. Yes, every new idol show needs a gimmick to pitch itself on, but right now it feels more like the show is embarrassed to admit what it's actually about. Or on the flip side it wants to be a full-fledged girls' hockey show, but has so little faith in that premise getting attention that it's tacking on the idol nonsense as a cynical way to hedge bets. Either way, it leaves PuraOre! feeling too slight to really grab you.
Especially since our actual characters just don't offer much to care about. The girls are all cute, courtesy of BanG Dream! producer Craft Egg, but none of them have displayed much personality. Like okay, the two sisters argue and tease each other a bit, in a very soft and toothless way. One of the girls likes embroidery more than the others and also is the first to really click with ice hockey. But beyond those scraps of character traits any of our (currently) six girls could be swapped around and I wouldn't be able to tell the difference. And that's the real death knell here: whether idol or sport, this kind of show lives or dies off its characters, and if you can't give me so much as a morsel of a reason to care about these kids, I don't see the point in sticking around.
As of this episode, PuraOre! feels like it can't decide what it wants to be, and has ended up being about nothing much. It's a shame, because the productions values are generally good. The hockey looks good, if not expertly directed, and the 2D dance number at the beginning is fine too. But the overall show feels stitched together by a marketing department trying to build a money printer out of spare parts.
I can't decide which part of the opening of PuraOre! strained my credulity more: that Japan beat Canada or that after their win, the girls did an idol dance number on the ice wearing dress boots. Okay, the first one is just me being annoying; I'm contractually obliged to express such disbelief by my Canadian cousins, but the second was more or less my warning that this show was not going to be the serious women's sports series I was kind of hoping it would be. Well, that and the fact that everyone inexplicably had their first names on their jerseys rather than their family names.
In any event, PuraOre! is more a CGDCT show than a sports one. Even were the team our heroines join not called the Dream Monkeys, there's a level of fluff to this episode that's fairly inescapable. In part that comes from ostensible lead protagonist Manaka; president of her middle school's embroidery club (which her grandmother was a member of), Manaka is rather more interested in eating senbei and hanging out in the family outdoor hot spring than almost anything else. She's perky and enthusiastic about virtually everything, and it's her idea that she and the other three embroidery club members give ice hockey a try, basically just because. It all feels very calculated to appeal to a specific audience, as does the fact that lead coach (I assume) Yoko has aspirations to meld ice hockey with idol groups as a way to garner more interest in the sport. Cursory research shows me that hockey is considered a minor sport in Japan, so her drive to bring in more spectators is understandable, even if her thinly veiled attempts to teach the girls dance steps in the guise of “stretches” isn't.
None of this is to suggest that ice hockey is incompatible with more traditionally feminine pursuits like dance or embroidery, because I could see how the skills from those could transfer fairly well to the coordination and balance required of hockey. It's more the way that the episode frames things that's an issue. For one thing there's not much hockey at all, but more importantly we don't get a real sense that most of the cast is even really all that keen on it. Manaka basically drags the other three girls along and she's so enthusiastic about everything that it's hard to see hockey as a specific interest for her. The two girls who show up from another school have more potential on that front, as does a new character introduced after the ending theme (probably the opening theme stuck on the end), but as an introductory episode for a show about girls' ice hockey, it really feels lacking and more like Ice Hockey Idols than anything else. That's fine if that's your cup of tea or looking for a new thing for cute girls to do in a cute way. But if you were hoping for a more serious sports story, or even interestingly animated hockey action, I suspect that this may not be the series you're looking for.
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