I’ve watched a lot of anime this year. Maybe to the detriment of other aspects of my life. I know I sure watched a lot less western television as a result, and maybe played fewer video games too. It’s enough that I feel like I need a break from it for at least one season. But regret it? Not a chance. While it hasn’t been the most amazing year for anime, there have still been at least ten shows this year that I loved enough to talk about them on this list.
And for anyone that’s been keeping up with my blog throughout the year, I have to wonder how much this top pick will come as a surprise to them or not.
#1: Ahiru No Sora
Originally aired 2nd October 2019 to 20th September 2020 | 50 Episodes | Based on the manga by Takeshi Hinata | Sports
I’ve found myself speaking about Ahiru No Sora a few times over the course of the year, it’s been difficult not to when the series ended up running for as many episodes as it did, much to my own shock when I realised it myself. What started out as just one more show on my roster of seasonal anime from late 2019, this series ended up being a mainstay in my weekly watchlist for most of the year.
Except when I forgot about it and ended up watching a bunch of episodes of it back to back. Which, honestly might be the best way to go about watching this series.
I feel like I’ve been watching and writing about anime on here long enough to stop calling myself a newcomer at this point. Although there are still a bunch of pockets of the medium that still elude me, to make me realise their charm and appeal. Before Ahiru No Sora, sports anime was one of those genres. Sure, I’d watched Megalobox a few years back, but that was as much Cyberpunk as it was anything else.
This anime was the first proper sports anime I’d invested time into, and it was about Basketball of all things, a real-life sport I have pretty much zero interest in. And yet, the combination of its ragtag collection of delinquents, just looking for some kind of redemption, the underdog main character who keeps defying everyone’s expectation or the show’s depiction of the sport, making every move seem badass and impressive. They all got their hooks into me and kept me watching.
And before I knew it, we were 20 episodes in and I was utterly invested in these characters and their journey of wanting, no, needing to play basketball. All of the members of the main cast have some history with the game, something that makes playing it of nearly divine importance to them. Something I’d imagine practically all other sports anime do as well, but it was all fresh and new for me, seeing these characters go from being a disorganised collection of bad-tempered layabouts into a proper team.
Throughout the course of the series, the team plays just three proper games, with a couple more short practices matches early on. During each one, discovering something about themselves, their limitations and the ability to perform as a team. Of the main starting five players for the team that come together by the series half way point, they’re all very talented individuals, but all have their own shortcomings as players.
Sora’s diminutive height being the prime example, and despite how hard he was worked to overcome that disadvantage, there is only so much he can achieve on his own as a result of that. Which is how the team slowly learn that they need to rely on one another. Something that comes harder to some than others. Kite, for example, is the most talented individual player on the team, but struggles the most with trusting his teammates, because he’s so used to playing as an individual.
Little by little, the team start to learn and function better as a team. Which is something I don’t think would have been portrayed anywhere near as well has this been a shorter series. Because this is a 50 episodes series, it’s able to take a slow burn to developing the characters and showing them grow and accept one another over the course of the runs. Coming to a point at the end where they really to begin to trust one another.
Here’s the part where I spoil the entire series for you.
Because by the time the series is over, despite the huge individual talent of the players in our team, they fail to win a single game of basketball throughout the series entire run. It’s something I’ve seen frustrate people commenting on Crunchyroll videos nonstop over the course of the season, threatening to drop the series if they don’t start winning soon. Personally, I love this choice.
There are so many anime out there about the highly talented protagonist going out there and winning again and again against all odds, but there’s something real, something raw about the events of this anime. In that despite the individual players on the team being amazing at some aspect of the game, they aren’t going to do it on their own. And despite giving it their all and slowly coming together to shocking their opposition, the game is ultimately a marathon, not a sprit.
And so each and every time, they end up coming up short. Learning to accept these defeats becomes a massive part of their story arc. Because of course this team wouldn’t show up and be able to embarrass more experienced teams despite only being together for a few months at most. Because this anime treats everything as real, even the opponents.
During the long, multi-episode games that take place, we get a look into the history and motivation of the players on the opposing teams. And they have just as much passion, sweat and tears invested into the game as anyone on our team do. It doesn’t vilify the other guys, it treats everyone as a real person, all of which have a deep love for the sport.
This pick really tops my list for sentimental reasons more than anything else. I certainly think its a well made anime, with a lot of the animation during the game looking amazing. The series knows very well, through its build-up, it’s music choices and it’s shot how to make anyone watching it feel excited for basketball, even me, someone who basically cares nothing for the sport.
I loved watching this show over the course of the year. In 2021, maybe I’ll make the effort to get into some more sports anime, and enjoy them more than I could ever enjoy Ahiru No Sora. But for a good duration of 2020, it was a constant companion of mine and something I loved watching because it felt so much more real to me than so many other anime I’ve watched before.