The Gymnastics Samurai
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 10 of
The Gymnastics Samurai ?
The Gymnastics Samurai has done a comprehensive job so far of laying out its central themes: Performers being motivated in their activities by the influence of others versus their own ambitions. The past few episodes especially have really hammered on every aspect of that driving the characters. I do appreciate conceptual consistency in a show like this, but there's a chance of it becoming too repetitive if all it does is continue to reiterate the same points in more and more detailed examples. Therefore I'm pleased with this latest episode instead taking the opportunity to use all those ideas as decoration for prioritizing the plot. It makes sense as we head into the season's endgame, setting us up with a strong feeling of momentum as we encounter some real story shake-ups.
I remarked last week that, with the revelation of the pressure of being a ‘genius’ causing Leo to flee the ballet scene, it was disappointing that we didn't see Minamino at all to draw a more direct connection between their obvious similarities. Well it turns out I just needed to be patient, as the Bandana Prince's part in this episode is all about driving that particular point home. The omnipresent sight of the cameras and eyes on Minamino combined with the expectations espoused by the commentators mirror Leo's previous flashback, along with the way those same narrators immediately turn around and start negging him the instant he makes a slip-up. It's the kind of off day that even those of us who aren't gymnastics geniuses can relate to, and mostly drives home how much time Minamino spends inside his own head, and how that can be a drawback when you're just trying to shake off jitters that pile up from your own efforts. That is reinforced by the reveal that his conspicuous single arm-sleeve has contained a message to himself, urging his quest to become #1 in gymnastics. But then there's the compounding complication that his coach catches, that as the day went on Minamino also found himself distracted by Jotaro's successes.
Continuing to contrast Minamino's performance with Jotaro's in this latest competition is as much about illustrating the mistakes one can make when under pressure as it is about showing how much further one can come in pushing themselves for the sake of others. The most obvious point is Jotaro sticking a landing that Minamino previously failed, but the gulf between them widens even further with Jotaro's final move. His self-stabilizing landing, especially with his sprained ankle, is highlighted as ‘something you can only do with experience’, rewarding the age that had previously been a source of so much professional skepticism around Jotaro, and sharply challenging Minamino's ongoing assertion that the Samurai has nothing left to bring the world of gymnastics. The direction of how this is taken by Minamino is a smart one, since he's the one internalizing this as a challenge, rather than coming off like some example of a seasoned veteran putting a young upstart in his place. I appreciate The Gymnastics Samurai's general aversion of a real generation-based conflict, with Jotaro specifically leaving Minamino's antagonism as one-sided: Jotaro is competing only against himself, his past efforts, and his own body for the sake of his loved ones watching.
This episode branches out that core concept on other character-based outlets to show how that drive can work even for the younger, less-experienced gymnastics generation. Takizawa's dorky efforts to court the seemingly-oblivious Ayu has been an amusing little sub-plot throughout this show, and it surprisingly gets a big payoff here. First off I have to admit I'm sympathetic to anyone who immediately falls in love with a girl who slams him into a counter, tells him to go to hell, and threatens him with an ice pick. But more than succeeding at impressing Ayu, the point here is that incorporating that motivation into his efforts is what drives Takizawa to such a successful performance, surpassing even Minamino in his event! It's a hard demonstration of the show's philosophy, and enriches characters whom I don't necessarily think needed this kind of development for the show to feel complete, but quite pleased to see anyway. The portrayal of these various gymnastics efforts are bolstered by the direction and included commentary keeping the audience well-informed along the whole way. It's almost certainly the most even coverage of the sports material in the show so far, necessitated by the sheer amount of contrasts we're supposed to be looking out for. In that respect I feel like we've watched the show's ability to portray the gymnastics performances improve as much as the characters' routines themselves.
The successes of all that preceding gymnastics-competition content thus made me a little disappointed by how this episode lets itself end. Some of the setup is suspect enough, with Grandma Mari seeming a bit too cavalier about Rei going off with some mysteriously-suited stranger to supposedly see Leo. But I can accept that in facilitating the conversation that needs to happen between these two. Unfortunately, there's not much to the competing motivations for Leo choosing to go back to ballet or staying to watch Jotaro's gymnastics; it's simply a push-and-pull argument between him and Rei. I can respect the way it's trying to tie into those consistent themes, with Leo feeling like this is what he needs to do in the moment as opposed to being there for Jotaro (ironically ignoring that seeing Jotaro's gymnastics would also be something good for himself), but conceptually there's not really any new ground covered compared to the way things branched out for the characters at the competition. The most we get is the textual declaration that 'Sometimes, expectation can be a heavy burden', which feels pretty extraneous given how well the past couple episodes illustrated that visually. But even with that landing stumbling as much as one of Minamino's here, I still have to regard this as a strong episode. That's mostly down to this sports anime having its best actually-sports-centric entry so far, in a show that truly feels like it's just continued to improve in its second half.
The Gymnastics Samurai is currently streaming on Funimation. Save on Anime Streaming Subscriptions with Funimation.
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