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Review

by Caitlin Moore,

Farewell, My Dear Cramer

Streaming 1-13

Synopsis:
Farewell, My Dear Cramer
Sumire Suo and Midori Sonozaki, as the best players of their respective teams, were rivals for all of middle school but become friends after their final match. Nozomi Onda is a talented athlete who, as the sole female member of her school's soccer club, was never allowed to play in official games and doesn't even intend to join the girls' team in high school until her coach urges her to. Naoko Nomi was once a star athlete, but women's soccer in Japan on a national level is currently in a sorry state, suffering from a lack of interest and resources. These four meet on the practice field at Warabi Seinen High School, as part of its thoroughly unimpressive girls' soccer team.
Review:

I cannot begin to describe how excited I was for Farewell, My Dear Cramer at first. I'd already read the prequel manga, Sayonara, Football, so I was geared up for the kind of sports anime I'd been wishing for for years: a female-led story where the girls are genuinely athletic but not ruthlessly sexualized, with strong personalities that weren't diluted or filtered to make them palatable for male audiences. I have been wanting to see series that portrayed women's sports as powerful and as unflinching as men's sports have been depicted for decades.

And make no mistake – Farewell, My Dear Cramer wants to be that series. Its primary cast is messy and loud. Its first minutes comment on the sorry state of women's soccer in Japan, since the manga premiered shortly their team rose to prominence on the international soccer pitch. Its last episode is a call to action, imploring the world to take women's sports more seriously. However, within the context of the full series, it feels almost cruelly ironic.

Why? Because for the majority of its run, Farewell, My Dear Cramer looks like hot ass. No, not the kind of hot ass where the camera spends too much time zooming in on characters' butts. It's the kind where the production has been severely neglected by a studio stretched too thin, made by too few people in too little time with hideous results. You see, LIDEN FILMS aired three series in the spring of 2021: Tokyo Revengers, which was based on a best-selling manga; SEVEN KNIGHTS REVOLUTION: Hero Successor, which was basically a mobile game commercial and likely had a powerful production committee; and finally Farewell, My Dear Cramer, with its themes of how marginalized and neglected women's soccer has become compared to its male equivalent, which fell to the bottom of the priority heap and received such a poor production that it actively hampered the series' ability to tell its story for much of its run.

On a base level, the first two-thirds of the show just looks bad. Not in a way that can be explained by poor storyboarding (though there is plenty of that), or bad directorial choices (this too), or overambitious stylistic experimentation (okay, there's none of this), but in a way that completely fails the basics of animation. The colors are over-bright and completely flat, with no shading whatsoever, meaning there's no depth of field and the characters look like they're just moving across a two-dimensional plane. The staff did a horrendous job adapting manga artist Naoshi Arakawa's character designs for animation, with eyes set so far apart they're downright fishlike, hairstyles that resemble antennae more than anything that grows out of a human head, and lips that look like a toddler got into mommy's lipstick. It doesn't matter if they go off-model, because they look strange regardless. The awkwardness of the design is emphasized by how the storyboarding tends to frame the characters: standing stock still and facing the camera from the hips up.

Arakawa tends to be very technical when writing about hobbies, expecting his audience to keep up without leaning heavily on explanation from the sidelines. Because of this, visual storytelling is paramount to understanding the flow of the action on screen, and Farewell, My Dear Cramer completely and utterly fails at it. The aforementioned flatness robs the games of any sense of where the characters are positioned, so it's impossible to follow the flow of the game. And I use the word “flow” loosely – the animation is so stiff it's laughable. You almost never see the girls interacting with the computer-animated ball, so there's no sense of their power or athleticism. They will quite literally run up to it, and then stop and stand still before awkwardly swinging their leg at it. Now, I don't watch a lot of real-life sports, but I'm pretty sure that's not how competitive soccer players kick. Sixth-graders in PE class who don't want to be there? Sure. Gifted high school athletes? Pretty sure they can kick the ball while still running. Heck, most four-year-olds have the coordination to kick a ball while still running. But these girls can't, apparently. Hell, it's so weightless that when I paused on a shot of the team doing pushups, they looked like they were hovering.

It's extraordinarily frustrating, not just because of the thematic irony of a production about how women's sports are neglected by society being neglected by its own studio. I wanted the world for the main trio of Sumire, Midori, and Nozomi, or at least a watchable anime. All three have strong personalities, and it's so fun watching them interact with each other, their teammates, coaches, rivals, and the rest of the world around them. They're weirdos! Not in the exaggeratedly comedic way of, say, the cast of Asobi Asobase, but in the way that unbridled passion tends to make people weird. It's gratifying to see characters like this existing and thriving, unsexualized and without being required to make gestures at cuteness or femininity to make them appealing and unthreatening, a struggle that even real-life high school athletes face in Japan. The supporting cast is sizable, and if not every one of them was memorable, the few that were stand out just as much.

It's through their eyes that we see just how disrespected women's soccer is, as they search for opportunities to play and a space to practice, constantly muscled out of the way for resources by the boys' team. It's a harsh reflection of gender dynamics that are common in sports across the world, where even championship-winning female athletes rarely receive the recognition, pay, or access to resources that their male counterparts do. It's in their voices that they plead for a better future, one where girls can be themselves and love soccer without constantly having to fight for their right to exist. The only reason they aren't broken by the current system is their own resilience and stubbornness, and at the same time they feel the weight of the pressure on their shoulders as representatives of their sport and are trying their best not to crack under it.

The voice actors do an excellent job, both when the characters are being goofy and messing around and in moments of great tension. Aoi Yūki is a modern treasure, so it's only natural that she brings the necessary energy levels to the hyperactive and domineering Midori, and Tomoyo Kurosawa is a perfect fit as the space cadet Sumire. However, I must give a special shout-out to the husky-voiced Miyuri Shimabukuro as Nozomi, a prodigy who loves soccer but struggles to play nice with others.

Around episode nine, just in time for the climactic game, the animation improves just enough to be considered adequate. It actually looks properly rendered and shaded, instead of like someone half-assedly slapped flat colors onto line work. There's a decent sense of momentum and weight as well – they even show feet connecting with the ball! It's a good thing too, because the match lasted four episodes and if I hadn't been able to properly follow what was happening, it would have been a dull slog regardless of how emotionally invested in the characters I was. The tension carried through to the finale, which consists mostly of dialogue as the cast discuss the show's thesis.

Farewell, My Dear Cramer, by all rights, should have been a hit; or at very least, it shouldn't have been an outright flop. I know the audience exists, but in the current, oversaturated industry, few people will give the time to an anime that even the studio that made it doesn't seem to care enough about to put any kind of resources into. I include myself in that number; I didn't watch past the first couple episodes, even when I had been so excited for it, until the time came to review it. It's just not fair.

Grade:
Overall (sub) : C
Story : B+
Animation : D-
Music : B

+ Lovable cast of messy, quirky teenage girls; a serious examination of the subpar treatment women's sports teams receive; a girls' sports series that has no interest in fan service or cuteness; great performances from the voice cast
Extremely visually unappealing and so poorly animated that it actively interferes with the story

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Production Info:
Director: Seiki Takuno
Series Composition: Natsuko Takahashi
Storyboard: Hirokazu Hisayuki
Episode Director:
Kazuya Fujishiro
Norikazu Ishigooka
Teru Ishii
Yasushi Muroya
Chihaya Tanaka
Fumiaki Usui
Masahiko Watanabe
Tetsuya Watanabe
Sōta Yokote
Unit Director: Hirokazu Hisayuki
Music: Masaru Yokoyama
Original creator: Naoshi Arakawa
Character Design: Eriko Itō
Art Director: Yukihiro Saitō
Sound Director: Yota Tsuruoka
Director of Photography:
Haruka Gotō
Kōhei Tanada

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Farewell, My Dear Cramer (TV)

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