Sports and I could never be allies. Though I love running, I could not find a sport that I could commit myself to. This is in part due to disinterest and in part due to my laid-back personality.
For someone from typical middle class family studying in a suburban town in Southern most tip of Tamil Nadu , emphasis has always been on studies. Not that there was any discouragement, but there had never been any encouragement either. When I look back to my school days, I don’t remember actively participating in any sports. Rather I sucked at most of them, be it high jump, long jump or shot put. That was when I realised, I lack hand and leg coordination and it is necessary to do well in sports (I could have overcome that with practice, well like I said I’m lazy). Nevertheless I managed to stay afloat in physical education classes.
Even though I sucked, I loved watching people sweating it out (I studied in a convent, so it was only girls who practiced, just saying). Sometimes I stayed back and saw my classmates dribble, putting their all in a javelin throw and jumping with all they have got. I had always been fascinated by it, but never regretted not playing it myself. Then Kuroko no basuke happened.
Kuroko no basuke is a Japanese animation (anime) series about basketball. I started watching it for two reasons. Of all sports, I have always been partial to basketball. Second reason, I was running out of good romance anime and looking for something different like sports-based anime. Being an anime lover, Kuroko no basuke seemed like a wise choice. The anime follows the story of six basketball players, who are unbeatable in the game positions they occupied- centre, two guards and two forwards. You could call this team ‘the winning team’, for they have never lost. After junior high school, the six separate and join different school teams. But they vow to meet in the ultimate basketball tournament in high school, Inter High, to determine the best among them.
It was action packed as you would expect with a lot of nail-biting moments and too many made-up techniques to add drama to the story. But the best part was there was no slump in the series despite running for close 75 episodes. I enjoyed every single one of them. I loved the sportsmanship exhibited by the players. It helped that they were easy on the eyes, tall, athletic and tanned (They were built, come on). Investing so much time, say close to 25-30 hours, it is only natural that I learnt the rules. But I got much more than that. I learnt to love the game for the sake of the game rather than for players. I now have a newfound respect for the players, for the stamina they need to built. This is was the first anime series I binge watched. It was the first time I wished I knew how to play basketball.
After this I saw Haikyuu!, another sports anime about volleyball. It again was very similar to Kuroko no basuke with clashing matches and battle of strength and techniques. Maybe it was too similar to Kuroko no basuke or maybe volleyball does not interest me as much, because after season one I dropped Haikyuu. But I did manage to understand how the game is played. There are six players. You need two spiker, one attacker, one for defense, a setter and a libero or middle blocker. Since it is a team play, you need to master six skills – serve, pass, set, attack and block and a hell a lot of practice.
By the time I finished the two, I was too much into sports anime. I loved the rush and nail-biting competitions only sports could render. But there were not many that would hold my interest for long. They were all either basketball, baseball or volleyball animes. So when I came across Free!, it was refreshing. The anime was about swimming. Unlike the other two, it was more about characters’ love for water than about competitions. It showcased why loving the act of swimming is more important that winning the match. It showed the beauty of different strokes – breaststroke, butterfly stroke, backstroke and freestyle. I fell in love with it, though there was not much in terms of story (A few weeks later, I found myself enrolling in swimming class. But that is a totally different story).
Lastly, I want to talk a bit about Japanese card game karuta. Recently I saw an anime Chihayafuru about three karuta players, who also happened to be friends. It does not fall under regular sport anime because it requires much more mental stamina than physical one. But the effort, knowledge and technique this particular game needs is on par with that the regular sport.
Karuta packs are divided into two groups, those that are descended from Portuguese cards and those from Eawase. Eawase was originally played with shells but were converted to card format during the early 17th-century. It is said that the earliest indigenous karuta was first invented in the town of Miike in Chikugo Province at around the end of the 16th century. The Miike Karuta Memorial Hall located in Ōmuta, Fukuoka is the only municipal museum in Japan dedicated specifically to the history of karuta. Chinese playing cards of the money-suited and domino types existed in Japan from at least the late 18th century until the early 20th century. Their games would influence those played with the Hanafuda pack.
This is how the game is played. Karuta cards have 100 poem verses written on two sets of cards. Verses from one set would been sung during the game. The basic idea of the karuta game is to be able to quickly determine the associated card out of an array and then to grab the card before it is grabbed by an opponent.
But like any game, it is not as easy. First of all you need to know the verses by heart. When a verse is sung, you need to quickly determine where its associated verse is before their opponent does. It cannot be done unless you are well-versed and has quick reflex. The entire anime is about how the three players mature and their journey into the world of karuta.
Somehow watching these sport animes made me feel these games are not just for fun. Though it is known that sports help in building team spirit and cooperation, watching them helped me understand that it also makes you resilient. For as many matches you win, there is much more you lose. By losing, you try harder to become better. For that you need to get over your loss, up your determination and practice even more, until it becomes a habit. It is a quality you acquire only by being a part of team, mostly sports. Now I wish, I had started watching anime when I was a kid and not when I’m in my twenties.
But then the lesson here is: you should play more, more seriously. Play as much as you can whenever you and you should enjoy it. (I meant sports and nothing else, mind you).