Lasts month’s OWLS tour really lit a fire under my behind. We’ve been getting a steady influx of really talented writers for the past few months that has reinvigorated everyone in the group. As a result, January was just a spectacular tour. I was a little afraid that we wouldn’t be able to live up to it but once again, these guys proved me all wrong! Not only is everyone continuing to bring out their A Game but they are ACTIVE. Did you guys notice – we almost had the month completely filled!
Huge props to everybody, I’m humbled and proud to be a part of the group.
February is the time when a young woman’s fancy turns to chocolate because it’s really cold and dark outside and there hasn’t been a statutory holiday in like forever! And since love is a battlefield our theme of the month is COMPETITION
In honor of the 2018 Winter Olympics, this month topic will focus on the theme, “Competition” because the Olympics is where athletes from all countries join together to compete in sporting events. Through these events, we see how “competition” brings out the grit, the teamwork, and the competitive spirit within athletes. This month, we will be exploring anime and pop culture media that discusses the good and the bad when it comes to competition and what it can teach us about ourselves and the world around us.
I am currently lulling my
mortal enemies esteemed opponents into a false sense of security in the Winter Games so I have some very topical first hand experience with this theme.
I really didn’t want to pick a Sports!! anime. Everybody would be expecting me to. It’s too on the nose, too obvious, too perfect. Sure, I batted around ideas of love triangle animes or workplace dramas but in the end, the simplest answer is often the best. And let’s face it, we all want to be the best!
Competition is an elaborate concept which is often presented in a deceptively straightforward manner. It’s an oddity when you think about it. As a species, one of our greatest strengths is working as a group, coordinating efforts so the whole can achieve things the one never could. And yet, competition is almost instinctive in us. We feel a need to prove ourselves in some way *better*, no matter how arbitrary that way may be, and we drive ourselves to painful heights and ill-advised ends to reach these goals. We add these touches of rivalry or contest to almost every aspect of our lives. They serve both as inspiration that allows us to soar above the rest and crushing pressure that shackles us to the ground. It’s unclear just how primal the urge to compete is but it is a very real, physical need that affects us all in one way or another.
I’ve rarely seen a series take the time to explore all the different facets of this concept. We usually only get one at the time and have it presented as a simplistic catalyst rather than a central thesis. However, I always enjoyed the nuanced and multifaceted way the classic Hikaru no Go treated the idea of competition and how it obviously affected each character in different ways.
For those of you unfamiliar with the series, the basic premise is that Hikaru is a generally carefree young man, with some serious hair style game, that meets and gets *haunted* by the spirit of a deceased Go prodigy from the Heian period named Sai, that had been bound to an ancient Go table. Initially, it seems Sai’s only interest, his only reason to exist in fact, is to play Go but as a disembodied spirit, he needs Hikaru to willingly act as his vessel. As Hikaru grapples with a whiny ghost that constantly pesters him to play Go, an odd relationship begins to form and Hikaru discovers his own love and talent for the game. When Hikaru enters the professional Go world, meeting a wide range of passionate players along the way, his life is chaned forever. As you can imagine, this is a highly competitive environment and rivalry is second nature.
It’s a great anime based on an equally great manga. I strongly recommend it. And although it is considered a classic of the Sports!! anime genre, it does handle most of the tropes differently which is what makes it both a perfect and unique representation of this month’s theme.
Hikaru and the thrill of competition
When we meet Hikaru he is a carefree, happy go lucky, overly energetic middle school boy. In many ways he resembles much more the classic shonen hero archetype than the short timid boys that usually serve as Sports!! anime protagonists. Hikaru is at that age. On the cusp of becoming himself. He is still searching for something to define him as a person, for some direction to head in. Up until his discovery of Go, Hikaru is a happy enough kid but generally aimless. He’s not particularly skilled in anything nor passionate about any specific pursuit. He’s simply ambling along a little edgy, a little frustrated, trying to make out what lies ahead.
Although the game of Go finally gives him a concrete aim to pour his energy into, a skill to sharpen and a discipline to practice, it’s his introduction to the highly competitive amateur and professional tournaments that give him a purpose. For Hikaru, competition is a driving force, his chance to prove himself to the world and in his own mind. He is being forge in it, slowly changed by it and as we see him grow up, he is more and more defined by it.
For Hikaru, competition is a formative part of his personality and experience. Both glorious victories and devastating defeats have shaped him more than anything else in his life and when we last see him, we know that he will continue to chase that thrill at least for some time to come.
Sai and the spirit of competition
Sai has known and thrived in competition all his life. He is a Go Master and as such competition is an inherent part of his being as well as his ultimate downfall (he was murdered by a jealous rival). After centuries, competition is the only way of life Sai knows. It’s the most comfortable and natural state for him. He longs for it desperately even though a real challenge is almost impossible to find at his level. Without it, he withers. For Sai competition isn’t a simple incentive, it is the ends unto itself.
Sai relates to everything in the world in terms of a contest. Even if it’s one he has no chance of loosing. Competition creeps into all his actions and taints all his relationships. He even feels the competitive towards Hikaru who is his young pupil (and something of a son or younger brother). Sai simply doesn’t know how to exist without competing and he isn’t particularly interested in learning either.
As the story progresses and it becomes increasingly clear to Sai that he will not be able to simply go on as he has, the thought of casting aside his competitive nature and taking a step back from contests and rivalries is actually painful to him. When he finally relinquishes the spirit of competition it unravels his very ties to existence. Sai isn’t prone to competition, he IS competition.
Touya and the burden of competition
Finally, my beloved little prince Touya, a tragic antihero if ever there was one, has known nothing but competition. As the very gifted son of the current leading Go master, he’s trained to follow in his father’s footsteps his entire life. He’s never enjoyed the game for the simple pleasure of playing (only winning). Every aspect of his existence has been in some way limited by competition and expectation.
The world of professional Go is an odd place. The game is usually played alone but you can occasionally form loose 3-man teams. However, as there is a very limited number of Go players that can rival the skills of a professional, you unavoidably end up practicing with players that are destined to become your rivals.
Touya has done very little else than practice Go. All his friends are just future opponents. This inescapable reality has isolated him from his peers and robbed him of the chance of forming any real ties with those around him. The weight of competition has also tainted his relationship with his father leaving him completely rudderless.
For Touya, there is little joy in winning. It is a simple reality. An end he must reach because that is what everyone wants of him. He has been seeped in imposed competition since before he could truly grasp the reality of it and has been trying to support the load ever since. He believes competition to be an inescapable reality. He simply doesn’t know of any other way. Yet, he is slowly trying to find something beyond it. He knows that he needs to find a balance, a way to live with and despite the constant competition before the weight finally crushes him.
A double-edged sword (why is that a bad thing?), competition can be a myriad of things. The exact same competition is an inspiration for Hikaru, a necessity for Sai and an affliction for Touya. Like most things, competition is what you make of it and I am the very best at competitiveness!!!
This said, I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this group. All the OWLS posts have been fantastic, and even I am not quite so delusional as to declare myself the OWLS winner. I did have a T-Shirt printed that says that…
Point and case: Takuto’s post on the current Olympics is about to come out. I hate posting so close to Taku (I mean it’s an intimidating follow) but man I love reading his posts!
In fact, have you read:
- Feb 1st: Moonid – Do You Like … Glory?
- Feb 2nd: Pop Culture Literary – Variations on Tropes and Themes: Competition in Anime
- Feb 3rd: Auri – Stronger Opponents Bring Out A Stronger You: Aoharu x Kikanjuu
- Feb 5th: Nice Job Breaking It, Hero – How a Scoundrel from the Slums Became an Icon: The Rise and Fall of Joe Yabuki
- Feb 7th: Matt-in-the-Hat – Clannad: Competion with today and past life
- Feb 9th: Let’s Talk Anime – Is it Really the Best to Be ‘The Best’: My Hero Academia
- Feb 10th: Archi-Anime – Welcome to the Ballroom: The Spirit of Motivational Rivalry
- Feb 12th: Mel In Anime Land – Winning Through Competition and Hard Work
- Feb 14th: Shokamoka – Kitauji High’s journey on getting the most out of the Regionals
- Feb 15th: Yaoi Playground – Pinned! A Competition of Ego
- Feb 16: Matt Doyle Media – The mirror and the fertilizer – Megumi Tadokoro and the competitive world of Shokugeki no SOMA
- Feb 19: Animepalooza – Rivalries in Yowamushi Pedal
And coming up we have Crimson which is probably going to have her signature mix of impressive writing and lovably warm tone. Man, I got sandwiched between two amazing bloggers. This seems unfair. Next up we got more incredible OWLS:
…Well, at least I still got the t-shirt.