Fastest Finger First
Episodes 1-3

by Lauren Orsini,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Fastest Finger First ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Fastest Finger First ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
Fastest Finger First ?

A good anime can make any activity interesting, even competitive quizzing. Fastest Finger First delivers quiz bowl with the sports anime treatment, complete with an earnest newbie, descriptive bystander commentary, and plenty of dramatic speed lines. But what makes this summer show a stand-out is that there's nothing carbon-copy about it. From the female lead's vocal delivery to the show's loving rendition of an activity I know little about, a show that might seem middle-of-the-road to some is actually my pick of the summer so far.

By episode three, our hapless protagonist Koshiyama is in the second round of a quiz bowl he thought he was only there to observe. Koshiyama, we've learned, is a huge bookworm with loads of classical and literary knowledge, but he's not prepared for the fast-button style of call and response that makes up the quiz round—in which contestants buzz in even before they've heard half the question! It's fitting that this episode compares the rapid fire reaction time to karuta, since I'm already getting some Chihayafuru vibes here—a mixed team practicing a competitive activity that isn't quite a sport. Also, similar to Chihayafuru, there's a mythos around every step of the process—from the buzzer checks to the slashes with which Koshiyama's classmate, Fukami, marks her questions.

Fukami Mari is voiced by Umika Kawashima in her first leading role. She's been a supporting vocalist as well as a drama actress, and her delivery is markedly different from what you've probably heard in anime before. Her low alto is deeper than the average female lead's, and her delivery is more natural with fewer heightened inflections. It's getting a mixed reception, but I think it's perfect for the character she's playing. Fukami is in a tough spot—oblivious to everything but her passion for quiz bowl. She doesn't think about how inviting a boy to observe a competition on Saturday might sound to other people. She doesn't think twice about using her own stockinged thighs to illustrate the concept of zettai ryouiki. In short, she doesn't think of herself as occupying the sex object role that other characters try to put her into. Sexual and romantic comments roll off her back, the better to make room in her mind for quiz tactics. She is genuinely single-minded, and her voice acting matches that mindset.

So far though, the character I'm rooting for the most is Koshiyama, whose own curiosity about quiz bowl is driving the audience's discovery. It's hard to resist a kid who isn't great in social situations but can recite Agatha Christie's pen name and the plays of Wagner's Ring Cycle in order. (In a bit of dramatic irony, Koshiyama is clueless about the anime and otaku references that the audience is most likely to know. Really, since the questions presented are not exclusive to Japanese culture, half the fun of the show is trying to guess the answers before the characters do.) What's incredible is that in episode three, Koshiyama makes a huge etiquette error that, coming from anyone else, would seem pretentious and irritating. But since it's reflected as part of Koshiyama's unwavering quest for knowledge, it seems totally forgivable. Even the person who has the most to lose from this breach of etiquette, hotshot young quiz star Mikuriya, gravitates instantly to him. Mikuriya is also one of those characters that should be hateable, but his flaws make him human instead of horrible.

Fastest Finger First has been running in manga form for seven years and counting now, so there's no shortage of material for the anime to work with. What I found interesting is that it's listed as a seinen anime, which gives it a potential for complexity beyond your average shonen sports setup. It's just another of the ways that this show is unusual, but I see a lot of potential in this little-explored competitive sport.

Rating: B+

Fastest Finger First is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Lauren writes about geek careers at Otaku Journalist.

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