The Spring 2022 Preview Guide
Love All Play
How would you rate episode 1 of
Love All Play ?
Community score: 2.8
What is this?
Ryō Mizushima joined his middle school's badminton team full of motivation — but without a proper coach, ended up in obscurity. Nevertheless, he did eventually reach the prefectural tournament on his physical strength. Now he joins the prestigious Yokohama-Minato High School's badminton team under the legendary coach Ebihara and surrounded by talented teammates. He strives to become a top athlete and take his high school team to the inter-high tournament.
How was the first episode?
Love All Play? More like Love No Play! Ha! I crack myself up. So clever. Because for a series about badminton, there sure are no badminton matches in the first episode!! Okay, maybe that wasn't that funny, but what can I say? When as little happens in an entire episode as with this one, my brain has way too much time to come up with corny dad jokes.
One thing I can say about Love All Play is that it is grounded. Very, very grounded. Pretty much every part of the first episode – from the recruiter talking to Ryo about going to play at Yokohama-Minato, to Ryo feeling torn about whether to go to a different school from his friends, to him having to convince his parents – plays out pretty much exactly how something like this would happen in real life. On the one hand, that can be nice; a lot of recent sports series lean on exaggerated personalities or narrative contrivances, so one with both feet firmly set in reality is refreshing, in a way. Ryo is a nice kid with nice friends who care about him, even as they're a bit upset and jealous that he got recruited for such a prestigious school. His parents don't want him to go to school purely on a sports recommendation instead of academic reasons, which is frustrating to him but fair. He has an older sister who supports and sticks up for him. He goes running to clear his head when he has a tough decision to make.
Yep, it's all pretty realistic… which is both a blessing and a curse. The script doesn't elide or exaggerate any of it, turning to neither narrative shorthand nor convenience. It depicts every detail so doggedly that I'm almost surprised it doesn't take place in real-time, or include Ryo attending class, walking home, futzing on his phone while pooping, and so on. There had to be some places to cut without diluting the emotional impact! Instead, it just drags on and on, going so long that the episode ends without Ryo ever actually touching a shuttlecock.
I really did want to see some badminton! The animation is smooth and glossy, lifelike with just the right amount of detail. Ryo's future teammates did seem a bit stock (you know they're teammates because they show up in the theme songs), but I wanted to know what the deal was with their future sempai, a talented semi-celebrity who, based on the way he scowls at the newcomers, probably has a bad attitude. But I can't really see myself watching further, so I guess I'll never find out.
Love All Play is a sports anime focusing on badminton, yet its first episode has very little badminton in it. While it may sound counter-intuitive, this is a great choice. All too many sports anime these days split their first episodes between introducing their main character and the sport itself—doing neither particularly well in the process. Here's the thing I think many creators miss about sports anime: it's not the sport that makes the show interesting, its the people playing the sport that do. The sport is the framework used to explore and resolve human drama. If you don't care about the characters, it doesn't matter how well-animated or tense your sports scenes are.
Love All Play takes this lesson to heart. It spends its time establishing our main character Ryou, his environment, and the fact that he stands at the first major crossroads of his young adult life: choosing his high school. Peer pressure is a real thing that can have an invisible yet significant influence on one's decision, and we see that in full effect as his friends want him to go with them to a mid-level school and continue the status quo—because of course they do. On the other hand, Coach Ebihara wants Ryou at his high-level private school enough that he offers a sports scholarship, but Ryou's father is against Ryou taking it as he had one in college but got injured—and is now forcing his past insecurities onto his son.
Yet, as Ryou tries to sort through all this pressure, there is at least one person who wants to guide him without adding more stress to the pile: his sister. She makes him focus on the real question—i.e., what he wants to do rather than what he feels pressured to do—and intercedes with their family to give him the space to do so. This is solid human drama and the fact that it is not resolved in the most obvious way only makes things better.
All that said, the final scene of the show put a bit of a damper on my excitement. As we watch Ryou be introduced to his new teammates, it's hard not to notice that each of them is very much a walking cliché. We have the energetic guy, the silly twins, the cool/stoic guy, and the over-serious rival. Ending on something so bog-standard after something so above average leaves me worrying that the best is now behind us—but I truly hope that's not the case.
By the looks of its premiere, Love All Play is a decent-looking series that showcases a team of likeable boys playing badminton. I was not aware that badminton was such a well-established sports institution that it would demand multiple anime adaptations, but between this, Hanebad!, and that Salaryman's Club show from just earlier this year, I guess fans around the world must be simmering with shuttlecock fever? That's all well and good, so far as I'm concerned, because I figure every sport deserves its day in the anime adaptation spotlight, no matter how niche they might seem to an inside boy like me.
My main issue with Love All Play is that, outside of depicting a unique sport that I'm sure will be interesting to longtime players or interested newcomers, the show doesn't have much else to offer for folks in the audience that want a good story to go along with all of the rackets and volleys. Our main character, Ryo, is defined by his meekness and general lack of ambition, and this whole first episode is focused on the “drama” of him trying to decide whether or not to join the premiere badminton team at the ritzy Yokohama Minato High School. There's some minor, barely addressed conflict concerning Ryo leaving his original badminton buddy behind, but it doesn't go anywhere interesting, and the rest of the dramatics feel forced.
When Ryo's father becomes almost comically angry at the prospect of his son attending a prestigious high school on the strength of his athletic skills, my first thought was “Geez, did a shuttlecock kill his parents in a dark alley, or something?” I wasn't that far off—the guy apparently lost out on a track scholarship because of an injury—but it's never a good sign when your jokey head-canon ends up being more compelling than what's happening on screen. I kind of liked how Ryo's sister stood up to their parents, since I'm always down for wholesome sibling dynamics, but it also serves to emphasize how much of a wet blanket Ryo is.
I get how that's the point of his character arc, and while there's nothing about Ryo's introduction here that is awful, it's nevertheless quite boring, to me. I was especially irritated by the chintzy soundtrack, which kept insisting that Ryo was going through some real intense drama, but c'mon. It's a badminton anime. We all know he's going to play badminton. Let's get on with it. If any of you Sports Boy Anime fans keep up with this one, let me know if it develops any of that missing spark in the coming weeks. Otherwise, I'll be moving on to [insert clever badminton related pun here].
There's something...off about this premiere, though not in a particularly intriguing way. Have you ever sat down to type something on your computer, not paying a lot of attention, then suddenly realize your fingers were just off the home row keys, and you've been typing gibberish in the shape of regular words? That's the feeling I got watching this premiere. It wears the form and performs the expected movements of an average high-school sports show, but somewhere in its construction things didn't mesh properly, and the result is an uncomfortably stiff and empty start to what looks to be a perfectly middling badminton show.
Part of the problem is that across this whole premiere, there's maybe a combined 45 seconds of badminton action if you don't count the opening animation. That's just not going to cut it if you want to get the audience invested in your particular sport, and what we get instead is a flat and inert little drama about our nondescript main boy wavering over taking a sports recommendation to a big fancy school. And the scant few moments of sports action we do get are just...not right. For all its flaws, last season's Salaryman's Club was able to capture the impact, speed, and high-octane energy of high-level badminton matches. Here, things are stiff and slow by comparison, and it makes it a lot harder to buy into how our wet noodle protagonist just loves badminton so, so much.
Though those sequences are likely a product of an overall struggling production. Even with the lack of any big set pieces, the rest of this episode struggles with pretty much any movement, up to and including characters talking. There's a stiffness to everyone's body language and faces that prevents them from ever feeling expressive, and a strangely slow pace to the editing that makes any conversation feel more disjointed than it should. Taken together you have a character drama where none of the dialogue feels right, and the result is oddly alienating for such a mundane show. Even if these characters weren't already dull as dirt, that would kill basically any dramatic potential all on its own.
As always, my benchmark for a sports show is if I'd rather watch another episode, or just watch the real-life sport it's showcasing for the same amount of time. I'm by no means a badminton expert, but I would most certainly rather watch a match than sit through another episode of Love All Play going through the motions.
Some first episodes throw you right into the action. This is not one of them. That's not inherently a bad thing, though – Love All Play opts to start by establishing its protagonist and his situation, and since that stands to be a major factor in how he fits in (or doesn't) with the badminton team he's going to be a part of in high school, it feels like the right approach. Ryo only started playing the sport in middle school, and that's only because his best friend got suckered by the cute girls' team, so it really does feel like a shock that he gets scouted by an elite high school for a sports recommendation. If he accepts, he'll get to bypass the entrance exam, which as all seasoned anime viewers know is a lot of stress taken off of his plate.
What I like about this episode is that the recommendation doesn't immediately solve all of Ryo's problems. If anything, it creates more of them, because not only is he at risk of alienating his friends who didn't get offers, but his parents, rather than being happy for him, angrily tell him that he's not accepting the recommendation. This feels like the most surprising element of the episode, and even if his dad has decent reasons for his veto (Mom just seems to be going along with Dad, and that almost makes me angrier), he's still actively crushing his son's opportunities. It's older sister Rika who wins the family MVP award as the only person who's thinking about what Ryo might want and being supportive of his choices.
That feels like foreshadowing, because Ryo's first meeting with his new high school team (as a special invitation for five lucky middle schoolers before they enroll) looks like it could be rocky. There aren't really any surprises with the teammates in terms of character; Ryo's idol, Kenta, looks to be a raging asshole, there's a Kageyama lookalike, bouncy twins, and a kindly team captain to round the whole thing out. The badminton angle is at least a slightly less common sport to use (although last season had Ryman's Club, so it's apparently gaining popularity), but otherwise this episode looks to be setting up a regular old sports show. That said, the very introductory nature of the episode means that this is going to require another episode or two to determine how much you'll enjoy it, because this is very much a bare-bones setup. But it looks pretty good (even if it has a fixation on close-ups of faces) and it isn't hard to get behind a character like Ryo. Simply put, there's nothing overtly wrong with this episode even if there's nothing overtly right either, and if you're hankering for some boys playing sports in shorts, this very well might fit the bill.
discuss this in the forum (309 posts) |
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history