- Genre: Sports!, comedy, school, drama
- Episodes: 24
- Studio: GONZO
People think sumo is all about girth. The biggest guy wins! And as usual, people are all wrong. Sumo is a delicate art and wrestlers take their strength from their spirit. Ok, delicate is not the right word. Art may not be the right word either. Forget that sentence. Point is, it’s not about the guy with the biggest body but the guy with the biggest spirit and Hinomaru has the hugest spirit ever. Of course, your body still needs to be at least 173cm in height to make it to the professionals but who cares about little things like rules and empirical measurements. As long as you can wrestle with your whole heart, everything else will fall in place. Right?
Hinomaru sumo is an anime that caught my eye as soon as it was announced. Not only was it in my beloved Sports! genre, but the novelty of exploring the world of sumo, a field I know absolutely nothing about, made it even more interesting. I went in with cautiously good expectations. I figured it would be a nice distraction that may get a bit boring in places but generally would provide me with all my beloved genre tropes. It’s always odd when you get surprised by getting exactly what you expected.
One of the aspects that may turn off some viewers is the art style. By necessity, character models are fairly squat and large. A sumo wrestler build is very peculiar and when you try to illustrate it in street clothes, you end up with a lot of people looking like their wearing mascot suits. It takes a bit of getting used to after all those delicate and elongated characters I’ve gotten used to watching. But that’s not a bad thing. It really added some individuality to the series and a touch of realism that made me feel much more connected to the world of sumo than I would have been otherwise.
Also, to quote the show itself, no one looks cool in a mawashi belt. I’m a child, I know, but I found myself giggling at the costumes for way longer than I care to admit. But that silliness was appreciated and the show treats the entire world of sumo with a lot of respect and a touch of playful chiding, that can only come from an author that truly loves the sport.
Much like boxing, sumo is a fairly anaerobic sport. There’s a lot of standing around or grappling that involves little movement and the ring itself is rather small. As such the series does not feature much spectacular animation but I did appreciate the attention to physics during matches. Art consistency was quite good as well. So, although I can’t say the animation was spectacular to watch, it was well done.
If there is one thing, I can fault the visuals of Hinomaru Sumo for, it’s the lack of variety. There are very few costumes and the mawashi belts worn for both practice and matches are very similar from one team to the next (yes there are sumo teams). Moreover, there were very few backgrounds. Going over 24 episodes worth of screencaps it looked like all of them could have come from the same one or two episodes at most. That’s how similar everything looked. The weird part is, I didn’t really notice much as I was watching the show.
And the reason I didn’t notice is because Hinomaru sumo is a very good Sports! anime with everything that entails. What I mean here is that the series tightly follows the generic Sports! anime template (except that the title is missing an exclamation point). Hinomaru himself is the prototypical genre protagonist, right down to his boundless enthusiasm and love for the sport, and his diminutive stature. The supporting cast is made up of the usual archetypes as are the rival teams. No one is unusual enough to merit being singled out and if you’ve watched a lot of series in the genre, you will recognize all these characters.
The structure and evolution of the series are pretty much the same as well. Little underdog team that has to start from the bottom and prove itself while relying on a single start player. Lots of practices and an early upset leading up to a multi-episode tournament arc. Strip out the details and you can apply the broad strokes of the plot to dozens of other shows. Even the rhythm and humour are exactly what you would expect.
Really the only novelty is the fact that it deals with the rarely represented world of sumo wrestling. Which is absolutely bonkers by the way. I still can’t get over the fact that it’s an openweight division. Meaning that theoretically, competitors can over a 100lbs difference. How can this be even remotely safe? I don’t think it is. Even in animated form, it was a little scary to watch. Sorry, I started rambling a bit there. Point is, sumo is rather interesting and if you don’t know anything about it, this anime is a very good introductory course.
But let me get back to this review thing I was doing. I just spent a whole lot of time telling you that Hinomaru sumo was “just” your basic sports anime. Now let me tell you what that means. I was planning on watching an episode or two of this show in the evenings and combining it with something that has a deeply interesting story but needs to be spaced out a bit. I figured I would watch the Garden of Sinners movies throughout or start Mushishi. I was convinced that Hinomaru sumo would simply not be stimulating enough to sit through 24 episodes in a row.
And this is where I was wrong. I devoured this show. I couldn’t put it down. Sure, part of that is due to the pleasant familiarity of the narrative construct and my own inclination towards Sports! tropes. I found it comforting and fun. But it’s also really well paced, never lingering too long on any particular confrontation or set back, easily sweeping you up at the moment. I found myself cheering for those boys in earnest. Sure, they may have been a bit stereotypical. Yes, most of them have paper thin motivations and only one or two traits to form their personalities but heck, they are endearing. I haven’t enjoyed a Sports! series this much in a long time. So if you like the genre for something other than the bishies, then you should not skip Hinomaru sumo. It will remind you of the fun Sports! can bring.
Oh, and before I forget, do yourself the pleasure of listening to the second OP and pay special attention to the lyrics.
Favourite character: Takani Shiho!
What this anime taught me: Everything I know about sumo
When life gives you lemons, ask for sal and Tequilla
Suggested drink: Sumo in a Sidecar
- Every time anyone makes a philosophical sumo themed speech – take a sip
- Every time anyone mentions “nationals” – think about the Glee episode of Community
- Every time Reina cares about her brother, a lot – raise an eyebrow
- Every time Chihiro laughs – take a sip
- Every time anyone says “Yokozuna” – get a snack
- Every time Kirihito has scary shiny glasses – gulp
- Every time we see the kitty – take a sip
- Every time Hinomaru is on fire – get some water
- Every time they have unusual training drills – stretch
- Every time Kei loses a match – booooo
- Every time Kei wins a match – finish our drink
- Every time anyone is or could be a “national treasure” – take a sip
- Every time anyone says “spirit” – blink
I’m still trying to find the best way to share my screencaps with all of you. So far having most of them on imgur (here) and a little sampling in the post seems to be the most practical way to go. Let me know if you have a better suggestion.
Also, let me know if you watched Hinomaru sumo. It’s a little show with a big heart and I think it deserves better than to be completely ignored.