by Lauren Orsini,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Cheer Boys!! ?
A family emergency arc may seem a little out of place in a sports anime, but Cheer Boys!! has never had a problem mixing in a little bitter with its sweet. This week's episode depicts a surprisingly touching story of family and friendship without becoming too cloying. The animation continues to operate on a shoestring budget, so I've given up on this show looking consistently good, but the plot is strong, balancing sixteen dynamic characters while effortlessly carrying over several ongoing storylines from week to week.
Everyone's been acting strange this winter, but Kazu's acting the strangest of all. Some mysteries are solved right away, like when it turns out Gen's intentions toward Ichiro's little sister are solely platonic, while other matters—like that of Sho's biggest fan and Haru's sister's defensive mood—continue to eat at us even after the episode is over. But the most pressing mystery was resolved today: why is the tirelessly motivated team captain missing practice? Sakuma suggests that Haru look for his old friend at the hospital, and sure enough he's hit the nail on the head. Kazu's grandmother isn't doing anywhere near as well as Kazu implied. In fact, she has forgotten her own grandson.
Anyone who's seen a loved one suffer from dementia knows that this is one of the most painful illnesses to watch somebody go through, especially since they can't take any comfort from you, a person who is now a stranger to them. When my late grandfather-in-law was suffering from dementia, we had to accept that his reality is different now, and we had to embrace it. If he thought we were long-dead relatives, we'd play along to help him stay happy and calm. Still, it was hard to feel so easily erased, even though we knew it was the disease's fault, not his. So to me, it's a perfectly natural progression that Kazu would start a cheerleading team and spend hours and days and months practicing his mom's routine from long ago. Anything to bring back the past for his grandmother, to get that spark of recognition from somebody he dearly loves. His situation is instantly relatable and human. I deeply appreciate Cheer Boys!! giving Kazu a happy ending—even though it's not the one he wanted. Dementia doesn't have a happy ending, and it would have been tasteless to show that kind of resolution. Instead, the support system Kazu discovers in Haru and the team is bittersweet and beautifully illustrated.
I mean illustrated in the editorial sense, of course, because this episode looks pretty bad. It's almost embarrassing to see how it cuts corners to show as little of the cheer routine as possible. But this late in the game, I know better than to be here for the action when the melodrama is where it's at. Circling around this episode's thoughtful and sensitive story, we can see bigger arcs consistently making themselves known. Sho's about to have some sort of reckoning, and the tension is about to break between Haru and his sister. I'm also looking forward to seeing what's going on with the Yankee three, who have also been acting odd. I wish Cheer Boys!! had more time to devote to its massive cast, but I appreciate its ability to gently hone in on one story at a time, giving it its due while setting up plenty of upcoming excitement just out of focus.
Cheer Boys!! is currently streaming on Funimation.
Lauren writes about geek careers at Otaku Journalist
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