Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
1 - 12 streaming
Natsusa has been playing rugby since elementary school and is now looking forward to a successful college career as a star player on his school's team. All of that is derailed in an instant, however, when the motorcycle driven by his friend Ibuki gets into an accident. Natsusa's resulting injuries prevent him from ever playing rugby again, but he decides to stay with the team nevertheless as a manager. His choice makes some people, uncomfortable, however, and it remains to be seen if there's any kind of future for him in the sport.
If you only sort-of find rugby interesting but really enjoy watching attractive young college-age men interact with each other in a variety of vaguely homoerotic ways, then do I have the show for you. number24 is more of a rugby show than Stars Align is a soft tennis series, but the sport still takes much more of a backseat to the character interactions than, for example, All Out!!, which is much more invested in the actual game. While number24 does add in more rugby playing as the series goes on, it's never truly the driving force behind it – it's more the backdrop against which three specific characters try to work out their feelings and friendships after one of them can no longer play the game.
Those three are Natsusa, Seiichiro, and Ibuki, a trio of childhood friends, although Sei and Natsusa have been basically inseparable for longer. Natsusa and Seiichiro began playing rugby when they saw their year-older friend Ibuki doing it, and by the time they all reached college, it had basically become their thing. All of that changed one day during Natsusa and Seiichiro's first year, however: Natsusa asked Ibuki for a ride on his motorcycle to pick up something he'd left at school, and during the trip they got into an accident. Ibuki wasn't seriously injured, but Natsusa was, with the result that when the show opens, he's just gotten out of almost a year's stay in the hospital and due to his neck injury can never play rugby again. In the meantime, Ibuki has quit the team and basically holed himself up in his apartment with a couple of cats while Seiichiro helped Natsusa get back on his feet.
As set ups go, this isn't bad. There's plenty of room for emotional character growth as Natsusa comes to terms with his inability to play the sport he loves while his friends grapple with their feelings of guilt about the accident. The problem is that the show is a little too ambitious for its own good – it doesn't have tight enough writing to be able to deal with the emotional fallout of the accident and the rivalry between two college rugby teams and the interpersonal dynamics of all of the teams' players and Ibuki's troubled family life and the various worries each and every character has. Had it picked just two or three of the plot points to work with, it would have been a much better show; as it stands, it's one that tries too hard to be too many different things all at once, with the result that it does none of them particularly well.
The strongest portion of the story is, hands down, the relationships between Natsusa, Seiichiro, and Ibuki, in part because those are backed up by a couple of the ending themes and their attendant images. The opening few episodes, which have a much heavier focus on these relationships, are among the most successful: we see what happened to Natsusa and how he tries to put it behind him along with the way that none of his teammates can quite believe that he's really okay with going from player to manager alongside Seiichiro's unwavering friendship and Ibuki's guilt. That question of whether Natsusa really is just shoving his own disappointment aside doesn't get truly dealt with until the final couple of episodes, and in some ways that works fairly well, largely because it leaves us analyzing his words and actions for things that he's not saying or anger that he's trying very hard to tamp down. Since he does sometimes show evidence that he's not nearly as okay as he's making himself out to be, there are a few definite rewards to watching the show in this way; every time he snaps at a younger player for not trying hard enough or gets angry at Ibuki for not playing at all, we can see that the person he's really angry with is himself for having mad a decision that turned out to ruin his career in rugby. He does harbor some resentment for Ibuki as well, but largely Natsusa appears to blame himself instead; it isn't healthier, but it certainly says something about how he sees himself and why he would try to stay involved with the team – in his own eyes, Natsusa is a leader and a star, and if he can't be that on the field, then he'll just have to make it work another way.
Of course, this self-view does make Natsusa a not particularly likeable character at times. That's a risk that doesn't always pay off, but the cast of number24 is so huge that it ends up working out, if only because there's always at least one Natsusa in a group that size. It also helps that Yu, the other team manager, balances him out so well – he's quiet and thoughtful to Natsusa's brash loudness, so the two play off each other effectively. Seiichiro's calm devotion to his friend also helps, as does the fact that Natsusa's occasionally abrasive outbursts do seem to be working in the team's favor as he helps coach and train them. There's also the nagging thought that he's amplified the more obnoxious elements of his personality as a means of coping with his lessened activity levels, which plays back into the idea of him desperately trying to live up to his own self-image and the self-recrimination that all three of the childhood friends appear to suffer from.
At the end of the day, however, number24 still comes across as a show that had the potential to really do something interesting with its characters and sport that simply didn't. It isn't bad; rather it falls into the “firmly mediocre” category, and with more time spent on the main three and peripheral two characters, it would likely have escaped even that. It certainly looks good enough (even if some muscles are a bit suspicious) and it definitely indulges in plenty of fanservice if you're looking for that (with the notable exception of one between-the-legs naked shot in the latter half where one of the guys is clearly a castrato), but while it tries, it doesn't try hard enough in the right ways to make it a true success.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : B
Art : B-
Music : B+
+ Some good effort put in, the main trio's story largely works. Nice enough to look at, good vocals and variety of ending themes.
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