Run with the Wind
by Lauren Orsini,
How would you rate episode 15 of
Run with the Wind ?
The athletes take their marks. The announcers bark their instructions. In the stands, spectators loudly narrate the action, trying to predict the athletes' next moves. Sports anime fans have seen this setup before, in shows like Haikyuu!, Yowamushi Pedal, and Kuroko's Basketball. It's the standard arrangement designed to separate action from exposition in the scene, and it's the most traditional that Run With The Wind has played with its genre since it began. In “Place of Destiny,” the show casts aside its usual character-driven drama to put on a show for the cameras that follows more traditional sports anime narratives. It marks a shift in the show's goals and loses a lot of its sincere charm in the process.
Nobody expected the Kansei University track club to ever amount to anything. But now that all ten mostly-amateur members have earned a place at the qualifier, the world is starting to take notice. The boys get their picture in the paper. Haiji gives them a motivating speech while a cameraman catches it all on tape. The shopping center buys them matching sweatshirts. The group isn't just running for themselves anymore; the world is watching them too. Consequently, this shift in audience expectations alters the episode's trajectory. We don't really have time for individual narratives; Yuki's struggle with his parents hardly gets addressed, and Musa's speculation (last week I incorrectly guessed it was about Hana and Kakeru) is simply a moment of comic relief. Instead of individuals, we see the team as parts of a whole, which isn't as strong as when the show devotes its time to featuring their diverse perspectives.
Run With The Wind has always shone brightest in its moments of character development. With ten different runners to explore, there's tons of material to work with. I'd like to see the twins move beyond Kakeru's insulting but accurate dismissal: “They're practically the same person.” (Perhaps first love will change them?) But instead, this was a setup episode for the race. Haiji takes the group around the track, time passes, and then they actually commence running the thing. The loud and tense environment with the shouts and drumming of the oendan sucks us right into the moment. Still, it feels like a moment in a more genre-typical show. I've always thought that it didn't matter if the boys really met their goal, so long as they grew and changed along the way. Now their struggle isn't portrayed through the lens of character development but through the obstacles in the way of their ultimate goal. It's not really about how Haiji might feel if he trips during the race, but what would happen if he is unable to continue and they don't make it to the finish line. In the microcosm of this episode, we're made to care less about Haiji as a person and more about him as part of the team.
We learn all the information we need about the race through the shopping center denizens, because it's a time-honored tradition in sports shows to have onlookers explain the action to the viewer. Television, the newspaper, and the sheer number of spectators watching the boys have made this show's focus feel far less intimate. This week, the plot takes the lead and the primary source of tension comes from how the race itself will play out (next time). It's an effective way to convey a sporting event, but it's not the fresh character-driven story I'm used to getting weekly from Run With The Wind. I don't care about the Ekiden if the characters aren't giving me their own reasons for why they do.
Run with the Wind is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Lauren writes about geek careers at Otaku Journalist.
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