the sports movie

The Sports Movie… or Sports Movie Anime That Could Be About Classical Music Instead.

In The Karate Kid, a plucky underachiever finds a crazy teacher (Miyagi), a crazy girlfriend (Elizabeth Shue, whose character was absolutely crazy to be with Daniel-san… she was rich, pretty, and popular, yet she chose to hang around a loser with no friends except a crazy bald Japanese guy… mmm… maybe I could argue that Elizabeth Shue was the typical anime haremette prototype, then I remembered she broke up with him in the second movie… as usual, I have no point), overcomes his self-deficiencies (being a weak loser), vanquishes his enemies (the awesome Cobra-kai), and becomes a champion (without his mom’s help in dressing him, to boot!). That is in essence the Sports Movie.

In any Sports Movie, there is always the plucky underachiever with a weakness. Either through his crazy teacher or crazy/wet blanket girlfriend, that underachiever rises up and becomes a winner. Maybe even go on to make a sequel where the formula repeats, with bigger stakes. Rocky. Mighty Ducks. The Replacements. Remember the Titans. Unnecessary Roughness. Youngblood. Invincible. Mircale. Rookie of the Year. Gridiron Gang. The Great Debaters. Million Dollar Baby. A League of Their Own. Hoosiers. The Karate Kid.

They’re all the same. Maybe instead of overcoming racism and/or sexism, they’re overcoming poverty or an injury or whatever. (Note that I’m talking about Sports Movies and not TV shows with sports backdrops… Coach, FNL, Playmakers, etc are all relationship shows with sports backdrops rather than sports shows.) They’re all overcoming something, with the help of their coach or a loved one or both, and they’re all in it to win it. But, ultimately, it’s the same Sports Movie formula.

Last weekend, while I was battling a cold and was hopped up on copious amounts of cold medication and chicken noodle soup, I decided to borrow some manga to read. The result? I plowed through 10 volumes of Nodame Cantabile on Sunday alone. And that is the inspiration for this post.

While I was reading Nodame Cantabile, I realized that it’s no different from a typical Sports Movie. It has all the requisite parts. There’s the plucky underachieving heroes. In this case, it’s a pair of loons: Chiaki, the quasi-asshole who can’t get on a plane, and Nodame, the crazy girl. Both underachieve because of their respective weaknesses, and, as the story goes on, they conquer their weaknesses. They acquire various coach-like characters, including each other, Stresemann, and Harisen. They go off and combat various “villains” from Jean to A-Orchestra to Nodame’s slovenly livestyle. It’s a great Sports Movie, only it’s about relationships and classical music.

I never really got this feeling from the anime as it (rightly) focuses on the music, and the anime doesn’t go far enough in the story. But through the manga, it’s clear that it’s about the ascent of Chiaki and Nodame to greatness, both in terms of music and as a couple. They grow both ways and with each other (seeing actual plot interweave in shoujo must be like finding moralistic tones in fanservice). But it’s always about the next trial and how to overcome the next trial. Chiaki’s first concert. Nodame’s first contest. Chiaki’s first contest. Chiaki’s first job. Nodame’s first salon party. Chiaki’s first time piloting a VF-1. It just keeps going. Repeated. For over 100 chapters. And counting. I project by chapter 250, they’re playing John Williams with the Boston Pops Orchestra because (1) Britannia should be the final boss and (2) Tomoko Ninomiya would have run out of script ideas.

And that’s the beauty of Sports Movie Anime That Could Be About Classical Music Instead (SMATCBACMI) rather than Sports Movie. With the Sports Movie, there is always an eventual end goal that has to be met in 2 hours (or 4 if the first is successful and spawns a crappy sequel), but with SMATCBACMI, it’s limitless. The goals and checkpoints can be as trivial or grandiose or anything in between. For something like Hoosiers, it’s easy. It’s just to win the NCAA championship. It’s a clear defined goal. It’s hard to stretch out. For Nodame Cantabile, it’s not as easy. What’s the final? My Boston Pops scenario? Nodame jumping Chiaki like Chizuru jumping Mamiko Noto? I don’t know. That’s a small difference between SMATCBACMI and Sports Movie, but otherwise the two share the same overtures.

If classical music can take the Sports Movie formula and apply it, why not anything else? It quickly becomes easy to create stories with the simple formula much like creating poetry with one of those magnetic refrigerator poem sets. What can you assemble?

Dysfunctional love + Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 + ???? = profit!

Tofu delivery man + mountain driving + ???? = profit!

Japanese guy who shuns rice for wheat + clever puns + ???? = profit!

Loser with only a shield + insanely tall tower + ???? = profit!

Stretch Armstrong + pirates + ???? = profit!

Digger + martyr + ???? = profit!

Anime is full of SMATCBACMI, and some of the most compelling stories are told in this format. Even though Sports Movies are formulaic, overdone, and a bit predictable, why does Hollywood keep churning them out? Because we watch them, and they become successful. There’s a reason why Rocky has 5 sequels, Mighty Ducks has two, and Karate Kid has three. There’s something entertaining (There’s that key word again! Entertaining!) about seeing someone flawed who overcomes that flaw. It’s a human story. It’s a human story that we all relate to, want to relate to, or desperately want to relate to. What makes it compelling isn’t the gimmick, whether it be racing or baking or classical music, but the fact that every single one of these SMATCBACMI and Sports Movie share a commonality in that the protagonist does not give up.

He may get hit, he may go down, but he’s never out. Rocky got up to K.O. Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang, and Ivan Drago. Daniel-san overcame bullies in two continents. Mighty Ducks vanquished both the rich kids, the international rich kids, and the preppie rich kids. Simon defeated Viral, Lord Genome, and Anti-spiral. Nodame and Chiaki went from nobodies in Tokyo to somebodies in Paris. It might be formulaic. It might be overdone. It might be a tad predictable… but we still cheer for them. We still cheer for Rocky as he gets pummeled by Drago. We still cheer for Daniel-san as he readies his crane kick. We still cheer for Simon as Lord Genome rips off Lagann’s arms. We still cheer for Nodame to jump Chiaki like Chizuru jumping Mamiko Noto.

One last thing that I got from my Nodame binge is that fundamentally instruments haven’t changed. The piano and violin are the way they were hundreds of years ago. While they have become cheaper and more high tech, they are still judged by how well they produce the music as compared to instruments from hundreds of years ago. While there are newer instruments and newer ways to create sound, this old formula of pulling a string against another string or striking hammers is still cherished. It’s no different as the formula for a great story. Even though the formula for Sports Movies and SMATCBACMI has been the same, it doesn’t mean it still can’t create beautiful music. (Or piles of cash.)

21 Responses to “the sports movie”

  1. You have to remember that the older violins (Stradivarius, anyone) are considered better sounding that the newer ones.

    If we’re to take this analogy even further, does that mean that the older sports anime and stuff like that will be popular later on?

  2. Nodame Cantabile was an ok show, and I liked the backdrop of calssical music, but… the problem to me was the eponymous Nodame was not a very interesting character. Which is a problem ,since she was one of the two main characters. Possibly due to this, the further the show progressed the less I seemed to care about it. While I did finish it I don’ think I’d watch it again any time soon. Nor would I pick up a second season.

  3. Watched nodame just for the voice actors pretty much. That and some of the music choices were pretty sexy. Rhapsody in blue was a treat even if it was poorly animated. I tried to watch the live action but it just kinda didn’t click the same way even though the actors were doing a decent job. I need to get caught up on the manga some time here…

  4. I laughed when I imagined Berman pronouncing SMATCBACMI then punched myself in the face.

    Also Apollo Creed beat Rocky in the first movie (I also have no point).

  5. *cough*monomyth*end-cough*

  6. >> Re: Northernshadows

    I even wrote in this post how it has nothing to do with Nodame Cantabile anime. Do you just look at the picture on top and write whatever you want? If you are going to derail a post, at least derail it with Mako-cakes.

    >> Re: hiero_yo

    Rocky eventually beats Apollo and shares a great homoerotic moment with him on the beach. But I can’t believe that he didn’t toss in the towel. That’s like Kallen standing still while Suzaku pummels Lulu.

  7. I think I’d cheer more if Noto Mamiko jumped Chizuru, then maybe the show would go somewhere.
    Back on topic, there must be something unique to each of these Sports Movies out there because there have been some that I’ve really enjoyed and some that I could not finish, yet as you say they follow this formula closely. Could it be because some are meant to be comedic, some dramatic, and some romantic? I dunno really I prefer adventure and mystery movies myself so I can’t be a good critic on the Sports Movies.
    Maybe if Kanokon followed this formula and Noto Mamiko stopped being a bitch and did something to resolve his/her situation, then maybe the show would go somewhere….Wait I’m derailing again.
    Random “ENTERTAINING” blog entry was entertaining.
    PS. Why did Noto-sama take this role WHYYYYYY!
    Ok I’m done

  8. I couldn’t think of Chiaki is nearly anywhere close to the typical hero for those sort of movies, in this case. He was well off, had musical talent and was handsome. His only real problems were his fear of flying and taste in women. Not an underachiever, simply too insecure.

    of pulling a string against another string

    It’s precisely one hundred strands of horse hair against a string, you uncultured fiend.

  9. Hoosiers was high school man, Indiana state high school chamionship. How can you get Hoosiers wrong? Honestly.

    Wouldn’t Initial D be an actual sports movie? If driving a car in a circle for 500 laps is a sport, certainly racing down a twisting mountain road is a sport.

    Great post. This formula is always going to be popular because most people are hapless losers at least at SOMETHING (shojo love interests aside), and it inspires something inside of all of us to overcome shortcomings and achieve something great.

  10. It’s precisely one hundred strands of horse hair against a string, you uncultured fiend.

    JaneAmati you ignorant $lut. If you’re going to be pedantic, it’s precisely one hundred strands of horsehair against a (possibly wire-wound) steel or nylon cord, or preferably a length of intestine from a sheep.

  11. Preferably? I’ll keep my steel stranded synthetic core strings, thank you very much. Studies have shown they are far superior in handling slight changes in temperature and humidity than their counterparts.

  12. a flame war about violins? now i’ve seen everything.

    I guess that what makes cliches cliches, i guess. Because they work.

  13. > “Do you just look at the picture on top and write whatever you want?”

    Is that not the essence of derailing? :D However I’ll exercise creative writing 101 in the future and try to not forget about Mako-cakes. To be fair though, you did call Nodame as an inspiration to your post.

    But to stray on topic (unless the topic was violin strings), regarding sports movies… um, I avoid sports movies. I don’t think I’ve seen much else besides the first Karate Kid. But the formula you put forward can be seen many times in many genres, as the struggle with adversity, overcome the odds is a very compelling theme. One of the types of conflicts that drive the plot (I think it’s been said that for there to be a story, there needs to be a conflict of some sort).

    Actually, to tie Mako-cakes into this: it seems to me that there is no much internal conflict associated with him. The only thing that seems to stop him completely flipping over, and the root cause of his secrecy, is he doesn’t want one person (possibly two if we count Haruka) to find out that Mako-cakes is a boy.

  14. >> It’s precisely one hundred strands of horse hair against a string, you uncultured fiend.

    Utter fail for lack of understanding of a simple word in the English language. The word “string” is agnostic to what it is composed of.

    Definition of string:

    Thin, flexible piece of rope or twine which is used to tie, bind, or hang other objects. Can be made from a variety of fibres, including vegetable, wood, animal, mineral and synthetic.

    >> If we’re to take this analogy even further, does that mean that the older sports anime and stuff like that will be popular later on?

    I don’t think so. It just means that the most successful themes are the ones that are recycled. They are recycled because they are successful, hence why Hollywood would keep cranking out Sports Movies that are not any fundamentally different from the one before.

  15. <i?Utter fail for lack of understanding of a simple word in the English language. The word “string” is agnostic to what it is composed of.

    Thing is, the horsehair isn’t made into a string at all. Gather a decent length of hair from the nearest long-haired female, and stretch it over two sharp angles near each end of the hairs with your fingers, and you will not get anything resembling a string. Rather, you will get a wide lock or strand of hair, which is unwound and left in it’s natural state, like bow hair. This is simply a gathering of many strings placed together, but not holding each other together – no, they have nothing to do with one another, save being pinned down by the same source. A single hair, or string, won’t be able to hold the violin string back as it pulled across no matter how much it is rosined, which is why a strand of a multitude of hairs is used. Overall, it would have been best to have written ‘many strings pulled across a string’ if you were dead set on using the word ‘string’.

  16. As a violinist, I would have to say everyone fails. Hah! Take that!

    Amati: Hairs of the bow come off quite frequently, especially if you’re playing an intensive piece. Am I no longer play a violin now that I have less than “precisely one hundred strands of horse hair”? Well sh#@%, I better throw that bow away and spend another $1k or get my bow re-haired every other rehearsal.

    Also, while steel synthetic strings are better suited for temperature variation, many players still prefer gut strings for their warmness of tone. It highly depends on the violin and the player.

    Von Etrigan: You didn’t mention of the rosin! :P

  17. get my bow re-haired every other rehearsal.

    That’s what I do, but I also count each individual hair that breaks or comes off during everyday practice and have it replaced each night without fail, even if it means to search every crack in my wooden floor for hair. You may be a violinist as well, but I’m the Chiri Kitsu of violinists!

  18. How does Initial D apply? Instead of being a “plucky underachiever”, he starts off as a sort of racing prodigy that sort’a “whoopses” his way into victory. Also, Initial D has nearly no classical music– though if you’re talking about the Eurobeat, I’m sure you mean CLASSIC~.

  19. Also, Stretch Armstrong reference for 90’s-type WIN.

  20. I am clearly not anal enough to even consider becoming a violinist

    Initial D is like Karate Kid from the Cobra Kai’s point of view, except if Daniel-San was a jackass, and Johnny had won.

  21. Well then Amati, I have some coat hangers doorknobs to sell to you.

    JohnG: Being anal is not a requirement although pretentiousness runs amok among violinsts. Much like Chiaki sometimes. The focus should be the music, along with your enjoyment as well as the audience’s.

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