Run with the Wind
by Lauren Orsini,
How would you rate episode 20 of
Run with the Wind ?
Before we get into the torture extravaganza that was this week's Run With The Wind, let's go into a bit of background on the very real brutality of the Hakone Ekiden.
During the 2014 Hakone Ekiden, a Kenyan exchange student to Yamanashi Gakuin University suffered a stress fracture during the second stage. After valiantly attempting to continue the run on a fractured bone for several kilometers, he eventually dropped out—disqualifying the entire team. The other Yamanashi Gakuin students still ran their stages, just while wearing a yellow sash of dishonor. There are no alternates in the Hakone Ekiden, and it's only recently that the brutal race has allowed water breaks for athletes. All this despite that the Hakone Ekiden runners are among the fastest on Earth: there were more sub 2.08 runners in the 2018 Ekiden than in the United States' entire history. This intensity comes at a dire cost; runners enter the Ekiden as Olympic contenders and often exit permanently injured.
Think about that while you watch Shindo's miserable crawl.
This week's episode title, “Even If I Break,” is hardly a metaphor. Rather, its storyline is a laser-focused critique of the more unsavory aspects of the Hakone Ekiden. This episode begins on the lighter side with Joji's romantic musings, but the comedy doesn't stick around. Instead, it quickly progresses into Shindo and Haiji's roles as victims of Ekiden and the punishing culture of Japanese discipline, in running or other pursuits.
The Los Angeles Times criticized the Hakone Ekiden as “sadistic.” While college-age athletes risk their health in bad weather, the rest of Japan gathers around the TV with lavish New Years' dinner and drinks. This contrast hits home for Shindo's family when they see the reality of their son's suffering as they sit cozily at home. As the music and visuals fade and the sound of Shindo's ragged breath becomes the only thing we can hear, his agony is palpable. It's easy to relate this to your most vivid memory of severe illness and try to imagine running 20.7 kilometers in that condition. This dramatic arc is portrayed as a battle between Shindo's mind and body, and even as his teammates breathe a sigh of relief when he refuses to give up, this dire situation doesn't sit well with me. It's awful that the announcer lauds Shindo prioritizing the race over his health as “demonstrating he has the strongest will in the country.” Run With The Wind is a feel-good anime story and Shindo is okay, but in real life, he could have been seriously hurt and this dangerous risk shouldn't be celebrated. “Why are we so desperate to keep running? Why can't we stop doing something so painful and difficult? For our friends. For our goals. For ourselves.” My one issue with this emotional episode is how strongly it continues to push this message of hard work and teamwork over everything else.
I don't have much to say about Joji's small drama (and I've already said my piece about Hana, the one girl in the show, being defined only by her relationship to the boys), so let's move on to Haiji. Shindo's ordeal has Haiji thinking about his own relationship to prioritizing perseverance over health or common sense. We learn for the first time that Haiji was the coach's son, so he never questioned the coach's methods even when they left him seriously injured. We know how this affected Haiji, and it's why we can't simply applaud Shindo or accept that the Hakone Ekiden is flawless the way it is. There's a dark side to this persistence and hard work, and it's never more apparent than after they witness Shindo's visceral sacrifice. This is the most difficult episode of Run With The Wind so far, but also the most striking portrayal of what's at stake. It's a master lesson in reminding the audience why they care about the outcome so much.
Run with the Wind is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Lauren writes about geek careers at Otaku Journalist.
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