The Spring 2022 Preview Guide
Fanfare of Adolescence
How would you rate episode 1 of
Fanfare of Adolescence ?
Community score: 2.9
What is this?
There's a competitive, three-year horse racing academy that trains boys to become jockeys. Those who wish to enter must not only pass an academic test but a physical and fitness test as well. Yū Arimura is a former popular idol who becomes enamored with horse racing after seeing it for the first time, and wants to join the academy. Shun Kazanami was raised on an island, and only experienced horse races through radio broadcasts growing up. Amane comes from a high-class family in England, and his father is a former jockey. The show follows these three 15-year-old boys and others at the academy.
How was the first episode?
It's hard to believe we've gotten two such diametrically opposed sports anime in one day! While Love All Play was pure grounded realism, Fanfare of Adolescence leans to the opposite side of the spectrum, all high emotion and contrived drama. It stops just short of superpowers, although one of the characters does have a preternatural connection with horses. Which one is better depends pretty much entirely on your preferences, but I'm going to be real with you – neither is very good, albeit for different reasons.
Going in, I knew that one of the big challenges for Fanfare of Adolescence was going to be its animation. Horses are notoriously difficult to draw and even harder to animate, and modern anime have resorted to all kinds of shortcuts to get around this complication. They almost never look good and at times are even comically bad. But I figured, of course an anime about jockeying would figure something out! Recruit some talented animators who could draw their way around knobbly knees and long faces and bring some majesty to these beautiful creatures.
But then the first horse showed up and it was all awkward, uncanny CG and oh dear, this is not going to be a good-looking series at all, is it?
Not that it would be a good-looking show, even if Yuu's brain didn't explode into a LiSA Frank nightmare every time he thought about equids. There's a ton of bizarre camera angles, including shots of legs, crotch shots as characters cross their legs, and on-the-nose visual metaphors involving two paths going through the woods interrupted by visions of horses made out of cherry blossoms. No, seriously.
All of this is in favor of a supremely contrived plot. If Yuu has never been on a horse before, how the heck did he make it into jockey school? The script makes such a big deal about how hard the school is to get into, but is that just because of its standard entrance exam? Why is Waver Velvet one of his classmates? Why did cherry blossoms appear when Shun catches Yuu? Is this actually BL? Not that I'd be complaining if it was…
Fanfare of Adolescence operates on the same kind of logic as male idol shows, where nobody acts quite like a person and things happen just because rather than any kind of internal logic. It's silly, and while it should be a fun ride for the right kind of fan, I doubt it'll be a runaway success.
Sports anime often begin with someone being charmed by a sport they know nothing about and being driven to learn it. Fanfare of Adolescence takes this common framework and makes it about the lead singer of a popular teen boy band who decides to throw away his career and become a jockey. It's a convenient, if somewhat ridiculous, setup that makes him both hated by the serious jockey students and eager to prove himself. It's not great but it works well enough for a first episode—and it helps that the other students feel like people rather than walking tropes.
What really got my eyes rolling, however, was the back half of the episode. That these kids, who are “serious” about becoming jockeys, know nothing about horses is pure insanity and hurts me on a deeply personal level. Everything they do in this episode is wrong at best and life-threatening at worst. The scene of Yuu and Shun galloping double as they try to catch the reins of a panicking racehorse had me livid—and that's before it's revealed that neither had even gotten on a horse before. It's so ludicrously stupid that I can't help but wonder if the writers had ever even talked to a person who had any experience with riding a horse before. Then comes all the layers of metaphysical bullshit—i.e., ghost horses and listening to the sounds of nature—and this couldn't have rubbed me the wrong way more.
And yet, despite all that, I don't regret watching this episode. For all its misconceptions about horseback riding, it is a master class in direction. Nearly every shot in this episode is visually interesting. What could have been a normal scene of Yuu walking down the street is instead enhanced by showing him reflected through convex mirrors. Massive wide shots are used to show when he is lost, and moments of extreme emotion are effectively conveyed through close-ups on his mouth. And that's before we get into the breathtaking beauty of the surreal moments of the episode. At this point, if Makoto Katō directed an anime about buttering toast I'd watch it. Add in a score penned by Hiroyuki Sawano and I am left torn. Is it possible to watch an anime with a story you hate just because you love everything else about it? I don't know, but I have a sneaking suspicion I'm going to find out.
I'm going to have to use one of my ADHD Passes on this one, y'all. I'm on my meds, I swear, and I even had a half-cup of strong coffee just before watching Fanfare of Adolescence. I closed any distracting tabs, I avoided Wikipedia and Twitter at all costs, and I even put my phone in the other room. Even with my best-laid precautions, though, I had to restart this premiere three times just to get through the first ten minutes. My brain simply would not entertain the notion of being able to focus on Fanfare of Adolescence for more than a minute or two before it started to wander, keen on occupying my time with literally anything else. Twice, right around the time that the Psychedelic Ghost Horse showed up guide our hero Yu past The World's Most Obvious Visual Metaphor, I got up to do chores.
I'm not into horse jockeying, personally, but that doesn't mean that I'm going to automatically dismiss a show for having depicting subject matter that doesn't specifically cater to my interests. I care about ice skating about as much as I care about horse sports, and that didn't stop me from loving the hell out of Yuri!!! on Ice. The problem with Fanfare of Adolescence is not that it is about a niche sport. The show simply makes the same mistake that a lot of really specific sports and hobby shows make: It assumes that, so long as the main gimmick is covered and you've got a cast of vaguely handsome anime boys (and girl) to throw at the screen, the audience won't notice that you've completely forgotten to come up with a decent story.
We're talking about a main character who is throwing away the life of a professional pop idol and abandoning his fame to pursue a career as a horse jockey. How on Earth does a guy like that end up being the least interesting member of a cast that is comprised of other guys whose only defining features are their hair styles? When the hilariously sincere Psychedelic Ghost Horse showed up, and I finally made it through to the second half of the episode, I was hoping I might at least get some kicks out of the show's unintentional camp factor, but no, we can't even trust a goofy acid-trip phantom to stick around long enough to keep things interesting.
Instead, once the not-drama of Yu's arrival at Horse School is over with, we're treated to the similarly terrifying Actual Living Horses that the boys (and gal) have to deal with, and I'll give Fanfare of Adolescence this much: Even if the CGI horses look really awkward, I was kind of excited to watch them get all spooked and run around a bunch. I knew it was too much to ask for one of them to legitimately kick one of the characters in the head, although my hopes were briefly raised when ol' Yu somehow got it in his head that he could win a game of chicken against a 600-pund behemoth with stones for feet. Still, if nothing else, the show about horse racing was kind enough to have the riders and horses actually do stuff for a bit, and that kept my brain distracted long enough for me to get through the rest of the premiere relatively unscathed.
I didn't hate Fanfare of Adolescence, but it's tone and style are diametrically opposed to my own sensibilities, and it's going to take a hell of a lot more than C-tier characters and cookie-cutter cliches to win me over. I'm sure it will be just the thing for some folks, though, which means that, with any luck. Psychedelic Ghost Horse may yet ride again.
Let me start with what I really admire about this first episode: at the prestigious jockey academy our hero quits being an idol to attend, the token girl student is allowed to wear pants. That's right, her uniform is exactly like the boys' and no one is treating her ambitions as less than the boys' – in fact, they're much kinder to Eri than they are to Yu, the aforementioned former idol. It would have been so easy to take the typical anime road here and tart up her uniform, and that they didn't inclined me to take this a bit more seriously than I otherwise might have.
Although the phantom horse made out of sakura petals that guides Yu to the correct path to school is a bit much. As are the band-uniform look of the instructors, and Shun's preternatural nature skills that enable him to read the wind, stand motionless in the bow of a boat going full speed, and perfectly ride a horse for the first time ever while chasing another, spooked horse. There's definitely some imbalance in this episode, and that takes away from its more grounded moments, like the very real garbage poor Yu is getting for deciding to do something with his life that no one expected, and the body language of the horses. (Their ears, specifically.) It's hard to tell how closely this is going to stick to the realities of learning to work with and ride horses professionally and how much odd metaphysical stuff is going to get in the way of that.
The premise isn't bad, though, and it's not hard to get behind Yu's desire to do something different with his life. We can simultaneously see how he's very good at putting on a public face and how draining that is for him; one of his strongest moments in this episode is when he tells off the reporters at the end, preferring to be addressed by his real name instead of his stage name. His classmates' mixed reactions to his presence is also decently handled; most of them don't quite know what to do with him, while one is visibly annoyed by his presence, possibly suspecting that this is all some sort of publicity stunt. As with most sports shows, there are a lot of named characters all thrown at us right off the bat, but they're at least nicely color-coded for those of us with no memory for names. I don't love the look of the show, mostly because (ears aside) there's something just a little off about the way the horses are drawn and animated. This feels like a very middle-of-the-road introductory episode, and I suspect that your enthusiasm for horses may determine if you decide to follow it.
This show was going to have an uphill battle with me from the start. Not because of the premise – I'm not big on horse racing, sure, but I like sports stories and animals, so a series about horse jockeys certainly could be cool. No, my problem was with the title: Fanfare of Adolescence sounds like a fake, joke anime you'd see in a real show. It's flowery as hell without actually telling you anything about the story or characters, and you could stick the name on damn near any high school drama anime and it would fit just fine. It's a bad name and they should feel bad about it.
The other issue it ran into early on is that I just don't care about our main character's big conflict in this premiere. Arimura may be a perfectly nice guy with some ridiculous Horse Sense, but when his whole struggle is that he's suddenly quit being a super popular idol to become a horse jockey, and every piece of conflict through this episode is about the media hounding him, it's just hard to relate to any of it. I don't care about how his orientation is awkward because of all the press, or how some of his classmates think he's just doing this for attention. I want to see some gosh dang horses, racing or at rest, and get an idea of how all these characters relate to the creatures they'll presumably be working with for the whole season. Get to that instead of prefacing it with all this showbiz drama.
Thankfully, things do pick up a bit once a random accident sets a couple of horses loose, and our freshman jockeys have to try and wrangle them. It's certainly cliché, and the way it actually happens is rather ridiculous, but it lets us actually see the interesting part of this premise for the final few minutes of the premiere, at least. It's not exactly stunning material – Arimura and his new buddy ride a horse together, rein in a second, and have a hilariously over-the-top shiptease moment to cap it off – but it's a conflict I wouldn't find in any other sports show airing this season. And while the CG on the horses leaves something to be desired, it at least looks alright in motion and manages to sell the speed of the whole thing. It's a serviceable presentation of why you'd want to watch this show instead of any given show about cute anime boys in high school, and I wish the rest of this premiere had been more like it.
In all, the premiere evens out to being just sorta ok. It's not terrible, though it is fairly dull until somebody actually mounts a horse. The biggest flaw is that for all the focus on Arimura's character he doesn't really have much discernible personality, and his co-star is instantly more engaging as some kind of Horse Savant. I may stick around just to see if they can manage to leave the idol plotline behind after this, but for now it's iffy.
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