Annalyn’s Corner: Sports Anime and Joining the Team

Anime characters join clubs and pick up sports for just as many different reasons as we join things in real life.
Beneath the Tangles | Joining the Team

Last month, I started thinking about all the reasons anime characters get into sports—or any type of hobby or commitment, whether a school club, a job, or something as life-changing as religion. I’m the type who’s reluctant to make changes or try something new until I’ve thoroughly researched it and am fairly certain I won’t want to quit—or that it’s a flexible enough commitment that I can quit without too much shame. As a result, I’m sometimes reluctant to ask others to commit to or join something, too. In college, after I helped start a student club, I was always quick to assure potential members that we won’t demand too much from them, that we understand if they’re too busy to come every week, etc. Sometimes, maybe that was the right tactic. After all, you can’t expect everyone to be passionate about a cause, belief, community, or activity from the start. You certainly can’t expect them to dedicate much time or energy right away… right?

My hesitate way of approaching things is shared by some people but not all. And I think, really, everyone wants to be a part of something that’s big enough and important enough that it’s worth making some sacrifices for. We just have different motivations for making the decision to join.

I think the varied reasons sports anime characters join their clubs is a good sample of how varied people can be:

  • In All Out!!, Gion sees rugby as a way to be manly even as a short guy. He’s a fairly impulsive type, but once he’s in, he’s all in, complete with intense training. 
  • In Baby Steps, Ei-chan starts tennis because he wants to be fit and have a balanced life. He logically considers all options, and this one stands out. He spends more and more time and energy on tennis, until he realize that he wants to go pro. (Ei-chan didn’t join a school club, but he did join a community of people who took tennis seriously.) 
  • In Eyeshield 21, Sena is roped into joining the football team because the captain noticed his running ability. It takes a while, but eventually, he stops running from fear and starts running for more.
Hiruma, the captain of the football team in Eyeshield 21, ropes Sena into the club. (ep 1)

Hiruma, the captain of the football team in Eyeshield 21, ropes Sena into the club. (ep 1)

  • In Kuroko’s Basketball, athletic prodigy Kise plays against Aomine and knows he’s finally found a challenging sport. He plays for the challenge, but as his middle and high school career continue, his approach to basketball matures into deeper respect for the sport, his teammates, and his opponents. 
  • In DAYS, Tsukamoto just wants to be part of the team. He’s never cared this much about something before, and he loves that. Slowly, he becomes more personally attached to the game and success.
  • In Haikyuu!!, Hinata wants to fly high. In sixth grade, a short high school volleyball player inspired him with his performance on TV. He’s not tall, but when he jumps, he gets a spectacular view over the net. 
  • In Slam Dunk, Sakuragi joins the basketball team in order to win the heart of a basketball enthusiast. (I stalled this one after four episodes, but I’m pretty sure his motivations evolved.)

Here are some reasons NOT mentioned

None of them joined because they thought the sport would be easy. They expected benefits (health, fun, manliness, a girlfriend, not getting killed by the machine-gun-wielding captain), and in many cases, they might not have anticipated just how difficult the training camps would be. But they didn’t expect ease.

Gion trains in All Out!! as his teammates look on. (ep 2)

Gion trains in All Out!! as his teammates look on. (ep 2)

Granted, some of them weren’t initially passionate about the sport, and they could have, like a lot of players, dropped out after the first week of practice, once they realized how seriously their teammates took it. But in most cases, even if they didn’t share the passion at first, they knew the sports club was the real deal and wouldn’t let them half do it. They could have backed out once they saw how intensely other players felt about it—I’d certainly be tempted to. I’d say things like, “Oh, but I’m not worthy to be among, them to call myself one of them. I don’t have that time or energy or skill or even that kind of love for the sport.” I’d be afraid of their passion.

But that leads me to another point: None of the characters above joined the sports club because they were exactly like current team members and were sure to fit in. Sure, some of them identified with current or former team members, and that motivated them to join. Hinata, for example, started playing volleyball because he saw another short guy succeed at it. And Kise started basketball because he knew there were guys in his school’s club who he wouldn’t surpass within the week—they could actually have some mutual rivalries. But even those were just small similarities. And in many anime, the characters don’t even have that much to go on, not at first. Characters like Tsukamoto must learn to trust that the other team members—even though they’re stronger, more confident, and and overall different—mean it when they say they accept them and want to play with them.

Even the characters’ reasons for staying in the sports clubs are different… at first. Slowly, they come to share a love for the same sport. They each experience the sport a little differently. But they share it. And that’s what holds them together and helps them grow as individuals and as a team.

Real life

Some of the characters were asked to join a club. Some, like Ei-chan, became athletes after more private deliberation and sought the club or coach themselves. One thing they all have in common (even Sena, after the initial fear of machine guns ends) is that they had to make the decision to join in, pick up the sport, and go for it.

Now, at this point in the post, I could warm you up to various real life applications, starting with the relatively easy ones like hobbies and careers, then working my way up to religion. I certainly have a lot I could learn from these characters and apply to those areas of my own life. But I started thinking about this topic largely because of my Bible study homework, so I’m going to skip the easy stuff and go straight to that: what does it take to get you to make the jump from watching Christians and being vaguely interested in Jesus Christ to deciding to seriously pursue knowing Jesus yourself—and perhaps even following him for the rest of your life? If you’ve been a Christian for a while, what got you here, and what keeps you choosing to follow Jesus day after day?

Those of you who are newer to my column may be raising your eyebrows at me now. “Whoa there, Annalyn. I thought we were having a nice chat about sports anime. And now you’re asking me what it would take to get me to follow your God? Oookay. That’s a bit of a jump, Preacher. I’m outa here.”

I hope those of you who’ve followed my writing have a tamer reaction, maybe more, “Okay, Christian geek friend. Where’s the connection this time?” (Though if you’ve really been paying attention, you probably caught on a while ago.)

Please, bear with me.

The connections (because I’m a multifaceted geek)

See, I’ve been doing a Bible study on 1 Peter with a few dozen ladies from my church. (That’s the first of the two letters we have that was written by Simon Peter, one of Jesus’ twelve initial disciples and a key part of Christianity’s first years. He’s the dude who denied knowing Jesus in the night leading up to the crucifixion—even though he’d promised about twenty-four hours earlier that he’d never, ever do that. He was impulsive and passionate, and he matured into an inspirational leader and teacher.) 1 Peter is written to members of the Church around Nero’s time—an era when Christians were wrongly accused of starting the fire in Rome and some were used by Nero as human candles. Many Christians had fled their homes, scattering to keep safe (great for spreading the gospel to places they wouldn’t otherwise go, but not so great for raising a family or having a normal life). If they wanted an easy, comfortable life, their God wasn’t the right one to be worshiping. They were dealing with a lot of persecution and fear, and they needed some encouragement.

By now, you might see one of the connections between topics, although sore muscles and intense persecution are hardly comparable sufferings.

But there’s more. One of the key ways Peter encourages Christians is to remind us of the bigger picture: of Jesus Christ, who suffered and died before us and is now raised up, alive again and ruling in heaven; of the Jesus’ coming revelation, when he returns to earth and establishes his eternal kingdom; of the glory and grace he’ll share with believers then, and the grace he extends to us now; and of our role and community with other believers right now. This section especially stands out to me:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; one you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9–10, ESV; see also vv. 3–5 in the same chapter)

Basically, we’re a part of something bigger. We’re from a multitude of different cultures, and some of us might not even be in the country we once called home (I think of refugees in particular), but all Christians are one people, and we are all Jesus Christ’s, and he is ours. And we have a purpose. We’re part of “a royal priesthood, a holy nation”—like Israelites and the Levites in particular, we’re meant to have a relationship with God and to be “holy” (set apart) in order to point others toward him.

These verses hold only part of Peter’s encouragement to Christians to stick it out, whatever suffering we encounter. We belong to a team—a family—and our hope is set in the same future glory. We have a purpose, and we’re striving in it together. And, together, we’re following Jesus Christ, for his glory.

The main team from Haikyuu!! huddles up. (ep 10)

The main team from Haikyuu!! huddles up. (ep 10)

This inspiration isn’t why I initially became a Christian, but it’s certain helped me stick around. I think, if I hadn’t become a Christian at a young age, Peter’s encouragements would still grab my attention today. Because while part of me is hesitant to jump on board with anything that requires commitment, the other part of me only wants to believe or join something if it’s worth a big commitment. I think of us long to be a part of something bigger. That’s one reason why anime can so enthrall us; we get to experience grand adventures and great team victories by proxy. But when it comes time to make that leap—apply to a job, dive into a relationship, or most importantly of all, commit our lives to a God that some people say doesn’t exist—we back out. I back out.

I need people to confront me at this point. Often, that just means asking me why I’m so hesitant to start or to join something. Usually, the other person can easily point out my wrong thinking, and how my excuse isn’t really valid in the long run. The other person might also be able to encourage me by saying that I really am welcome, that I don’t have to become “better” or more passionate at whatever it is before I start. I think, if I were hesitating on the edge of faith, I’d need this push: Christianity isn’t nearly as satisfying as a spectator sport. You can always walk away from Jesus later, but once you get to know him, I think you’ll be eager to follow him as your Lord, Savior, and God. Ask him to make his existence and love clear to you, if that’s what it takes, and be open to his answer.

So, non-Christians, especially those who have read this blog for a while now, I ask you again: What would it take you to seriously consider getting to know Jesus Christ better—and maybe even committing your life to him? If you have questions, hit me up on Twitter, and nag me here if I’m not following you yet, so we can direct message. If you don’t have a Twitter, we can connect via email and probably Discord now, too—just ask, and I’ll give you my contact info. I won’t preach at you, I promise. I just want to hear your story and, if I can, answer your questions.

Christians, if you’ve been hesitating to obey God in some matter (specific or general), or if there’s something else in your life you’ve been hesitating to make the jump on, what would it take to get you to take that first step?

And, everyone, if you’re a Christian or otherwise devoutly religious/spiritual/whatever-word-is-cool-in-your-faith, what influenced your decision? Was there a specific step that started it, or was it so gradual, it’s hard to identify the decision as a single moment?

If you’re a political or social activist, or if you’ve made the jump into a career or hobby that took a big decision, what inspired you to say, “yes, I’m doing this”?

I’d love to hear your answers, if you want to comment. Otherwise, maybe you’ll gain something from mulling over these questions privately, as I have.

Annalyn, known as Alexis to the outside world, is a lifelong lover of fiction. Growing up, books kept her attention, but anime stole center stage halfway through high school. If she isn’t consuming, writing, analyzing, or thinking about some form of story… she’s probably distracted. But she might be editing, dancing to K-pop, or hanging out with family.

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