Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
BD/DVD Part 1
Gion and Iwashimizu are first year students at Jinko High School, and they're both starting with baggage – Gion's got a complex about his (lack of) height and Iwashimizu's still feeling guilty about having hurt a friend in a middle school rugby game. Neither of those things are going to stop them from joining Jinko's rugby team, though, at least not for long. Jinko's trying to build up a decent team after years of lackluster performance and enthusiasm. It may be an uphill battle, but with Iwashimizu's skills and Gion's unbridled enthusiasm, they may just get the boost they need.
If there's one thing All Out!! does well, it's showcase a variety of male body types. There's a wonderful lack of uniformity to the way the show's nearly all-male cast is drawn: different heights, different musculatures, and even attention to how those various bodies add muscle are all showcased. The art isn't pretty or even particularly polished when it comes to faces (and there are some very odd ones), but the variety of builds is impressive, not to mention something we don't often get to see, sports show or otherwise.
That's why it's too bad that the storytelling isn't quite keeping up with the character designs in terms of either innovation or pacing. The plot is fairly basic: a ragtag group of athletes, spurred on by the addition of a few plucky and talented new first years, is able to overcome their past defeats with the help of a fantastic coach and sheer determination, winning the approval of their past nay-sayers. Replace “rugby” with “volleyball,” “soccer,” or “baseball,” and you can pretty much pick your previously made title. Not that there's anything particularly wrong with this base plotline, because there is something very appealing about watching the dark horse come from behind to win. But All Out!! doesn't enact the plot as smoothly as it might have, throwing too many characters in our faces without taking the time to really develop most of them, giving the feeling of a story stretched too thin in order to incorporate as many cast members as possible.
The ostensible main characters are Kenji Gion and Sumiaki Iwashimizu. We enter the story with them as they begin their first year at Jinko High School, where they both end up sort of falling into the rugby team. Iwashimizu, who is tall and muscular, initially has no intention of joining: he played rugby in middle school and dislocated his friend's shoulder during a practice game, leading to a loss later on and overwhelming feelings of guilt. He's hyper aware of his size and feels that it does him a disservice, making people think he ought to be playing sports when he'd rather not. Gion is also uncomfortable with his appearance, but for the opposite reason: his lack of height causes people to treat him like a little kid, and he feels emasculated by it. He loves the idea of rugby the minute he learns about it: a decidedly masculine-presenting sport where his height won't stop him from succeeding if he's strong enough. Ultimately the two end up joining Jinko's team, which is in hard shape after two years of being ignored by their faculty advisor and a lack of a real coach.
It's interesting that the two main protagonists resent their bodies so much, because that's not something we get to see often in shows featuring boys. Gion's unhappiness with his height continues even after he begins to play, and he seems to blame it for his lack of playtime during actual games. This doesn't lessen his devotion to his new sport – in fact, he's the one who seeks out a real coach for them – but it grounds his anger in something he's been feeling powerless to deal with for his entire life, giving him both a leg to stand on as a character and also a more relatable tragic past than tends to get featured: there are no dead close family members or horrible tragedies, just something that's gotten him bullied and teased that he can do absolutely nothing about. We can see that to a degree in the episode thirteen flashback of how present-day team captain Sekizan ended up playing rugby in the first place, as what draws Mutsumi (his year mate) to begin pestering him is his tall, muscular build. Ultimately Sekizan joins despite Mutsumi's assertions that someone built like him should be playing sports; he does so to support Mutsumi as the only person on the team actually putting in an effort – in other words, for emotional reasons rather than physical, which is behind Gion's joining as well.
This first set of episodes seems to be largely setting the Jinko team up to succeed in the second half. That's why it's a little frustrating that we as an audience learn so little about the sport. There are a few moments where someone actually explains something to Gion, but for the most part, we simply see the boys running around, slamming into each other (or in poses that could easily be interpreted as homoerotic without the knowledge of the game to tell us otherwise), and occasionally dropping a rugby term into the dialogue that isn't defined. The result is that I came away from the show with my basic rugby knowledge still limited to “don't build snow forts on the rugby field,” and while anime is hardly an educational medium, the lack of explanation renders the show more confusing than it needs to be.
Despite this it's clear that All Out!! is trying. There are distinctions made between the violence inherent in the sport and just beating up on someone for non-rugby related reasons, which is important, and an effort is made to show us just how much adversity these kids are facing from their own school, which clearly doesn't care about their success. (Their advisor is toxic, not even putting in an effort to help the team.) There are moments of humor that are genuinely funny, such as first year Sekizan's reaction to receiving a love letter in episode thirteen, and the boys act like boys, not men who are for some reason in high school. Since this often creates a juxtaposition between their muscular physiques and their actions, it's both an entertaining choice as well as one that reminds us that these are still kids who could use some adult supervision and help. They do put in major effort to help each other, though – Kamo, the other short guy on the team, goes out of his way to help Gion, and upperclassman Matsu always has a word of advice for anyone who needs it.
The dub and sub tracks are largely comparable, although each has one standout voice that may help you to make your viewing decision. In the dub that's Christopher R. Sabat as Coach Komori, largely because he inflects a bit more humor into his lines than his Japanese counterpart, which gives the character a bit more personality. In the sub, Yūsuke Kobayashi's Sekito is particularly wonderful, with an impressive range that makes him a tough act to follow. The animation is fairly average, but if you're looking for tight butts, bulging leg muscles, sculpted pecs, and the odd crotch shot, this show certainly does deliver.
All Out!! isn't the best sports show out there, mostly because it suffers from not actually explaining the sport it's about. Its low-side-of-average animation and overwhelming cast of named characters don't help, but it does do enough things right in terms of team building and body types to make it interesting nonetheless. It's a good rainy day kind of show when you just want something on to keep you occupied.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : C-
Art : C+
Music : C
+ Lots of different male body types, makes an effort to develop its cast, second half becomes more engrossing
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