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A common theme in many mangas and animes.
Sports anime have formed a vital part of the medium since its earliest days-the sublimated conflict of a sporting event, allowing both dramatic tension and a finishing line for which the opponents can strive, is readily appreciable by a younger audience. One of Aesop's Fables was adapted by Sanae Yamamoto in his single-reel Tortoise and the Hare (1924), but the first identifiable "sports anime" was Yasuji Murata's Animal Olympics (1928), in which a duck successfully wins the 800-meter gold, besting a bulldog, hippo, and camel. Inspired by the Amsterdam Olympics of the same year but played largely for laughs, the short film also includes a polar bear attempting to pole vault, and a cheating pig, whose attempt to win the hurdles with the aid of a balloon is brought crashing back down to earth through the intercession of an elephant's well-thrown javelin.
As war loomed in the 1930s, sports anime ironically clung to an American import, with animals competing again in Yasuji Murata's Our Baseball (1930) and Seiichi Harada's Baseball in the Forest (Mori no Yakyu-dan, 1934). Firmly supported as a wholesome pursuit by the postwar Occupation forces, the game returned in Sanae Yamamoto's Animal Great Baseball Battle (Dobutsu Daiyakyu Sen, 1949). The same year saw Hideo Furusawa's Sports Tanuki (Sports Kotanuki, 1949), in which a Japanese raccoon dog competes as a jockey in a horse race.
Real-world sporting events, particularly ones such as baseball, pro wrestling, or sumo, which could be covered by a single, unmoving camera, were early ratings draws for live-action TV, which had the effect of discouraging animators. Early TV producers followed the lead of Osamu Tezuka in Astro Boy, who saw that anime's true potential lay in showing audiences sci-fi and fantasy-things they would not get so easily from live-action. However, experiments in anime sports inevitably followed the national hysteria surrounding the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, in which the Japanese women's volleyball team took an unexpected gold medal. This success would generate a vast wave of sporting manga, which, once proving their popularity in print, would tempt producers to buy the rights for anime adaptation.
Although the protagonist of Harris's Wind (1966) dabbled in many different disciplines, the first true TV sports anime did not arise until Star of the Giants (1968)-tellingly, a show about the real-life Yomiuri Giants baseball team, part-owned by the same conglomerate that also owned the broadcaster, NTV. SotG pioneered techniques that have become mandatory in modern anime-framing a sporting contest with the zooms and freeze-frames of martial arts combat. Before long, many sports were represented in anime, including volleyball in Attack Number One (1969), wrestling in Animal 1 and Tiger Mask (both 1969), boxing in Tomorrow's Joe (1970), soccer in Red-Blooded Eleven (1970), kick-boxing in Kick Fiend (1970), tennis in Aim for the Ace (1973), and the self-evident A Karate-Crazy Life (1973) and In Praise of Judo (1974). Almost all gravitated toward the common sports story-plucky outsiders winning against overwhelming odds, often in the face of personal bereavement, with family members and coaches seeming to have the life expectancy of the average rock drummer. Later seasons would replay the same story, but at a regional, national, or international level. In an interesting curio, Road to Munich (1972) used animation in order to bypass Olympic competition restrictions concerning the use of players' images for "professional" purposes.
As merchandising began to play a bigger part in anime production, sports anime began to favor activities that offered better toy potential, most notably vehicular stories such as Speed Racer (1967), Machine Hayabusa (1976), and Arrow Emblem (1977). Baseball shows made a brief return in the late 1970s, only to be drowned in the merchandise-oriented sci-fi and fantasy of the 1980s. With most sports now relegated to one-shots or videos like Progolfer Saru (1982), baseball hung on by introducing romance, particularly in series based on the works of manga creator Mitsuru Adachi, such as Miyuki (1983), Nine (1983), and Touch (1985). Other producers embraced commercial pressures with original cunning, making shows with improved foreign sales potential, such as the soccer favorite Captain Tsubasa (1983), which had guaranteed export audiences around the world, despite comparably little domestic interest. The more merchandise-oriented used sport as their excuse rather than their reason, with Olympic mascot shows like Eagle Sam (1983) and Misha the Bear Cub (1979), or completely unrelated releases that sought to exploit newfound awareness of event locations-it is no coincidence that Twelve Months went into production in the year of the Moscow Olympics, nor that Yawara enjoyed a revival in time for Atlanta. Arguably the most successful use of sports anime clichés in the late 1980s was not a sports anime at all, but the sci-fi pastiche Gunbuster (1987).
Since the early 1990s, sports anime have featured periodic revivals of baseball, soccer, and volleyball, among a scattering of ever stranger attempts to push the envelope with more obscure pursuits, such as the fishing of Grandar (1998) or the speedboat racing of Monkey Turn (2004). Producers have also shied away from real-world games, preferring fantastical concoctions such as Battle Athletes (1997) and Eyeshield 21 (2005). Modern children nowadays are less likely to play catch than they are to engage in more sedentary activities, such as the board gaming of Hikaru's Go (2001) or the pachinko of the same year's Pachislo Kizoku Gin, though Prince of Tennis (also 2001) bucked the trend. The act of playing with a computer has itself become the subject of anime inquiry, from Running Boy (1986) to BPS (2003). The greatest change, however, has been in a marked increase in martial arts tales, thanks to their relation to computer gaming-the ubiquitous Streetfighter II (1994) and its clones. It could also be argued that "collecting" is the new sport, be it of digitized monsters or animals in Pokémon (1997), or of cards in Duel Masters (2002). Sports even made its way into erotica, in the form of the volleyball-themed Angels in the Court (2001) and the rhythmic gymnastics of Princess 69 (2002).