Giant Killing 6 – Bringing the Drama
Sports anime are often dogged with the stigma of, “I don’t like this sport, so I wouldn’t like watching this series.” But speaking as someone who isn’t really into soccer (at least not at anywhere near the levels of my absolute favorite sports), Giant Killing is a pretty great advertisement for soccer. After watching the above scene, my immediate reaction was, “Man, I absolutely have to watch a soccer match in a rabid country at some point in my life.”
Really, if the viewer (or reader, in the case of sports manga) lets him or herself get caught up in the experience, aren’t all sports anime great advertisements for the sports they represent? (Notable exception: Basquash. That made me want to watch basketball less afterward, and I love basketball.) They’re in a medium with which we’re all familiar and (presumably) love. They cut out all the slow, boring parts of each sport and highlight all the action-packed parts, like watching a YouTube video of nothing but great soccer players scoring goals from crazy angles for five minutes. They distill the drama and make it palpable to everyone watching, not just those who intimately follow sports and know all the players. Everything is visible to the viewer; they know the players, and thus, they know the sport.
I don’t know how many non-sports fans see sports in this way, but basketball, baseball, football, soccer and the like are essentially real-life fiction. There are colorful characters, larger-than-life heroes and devious villains; built-in conflicts; unforeseen twists; and the euphoria of victory. (And also obnoxious fanboys and fangirls. :p) Sports are drama in its purest, most human form, raw, unbridled, unleashed for the viewer to see either on the TV screen or — even better — in person. I love the movies, I love reading a good book and I love watching anime, but there is nothing quite like the electricity of seeing a good, dramatic sport in person, whether it’s an NBA playoff game, a college football game to kick off the season or a championship boxing fight.
There’s just something about being a part of the crowd at those events that makes the drama more real, more distinct. It’s the difference between watching a movie on DVD and watching it in a theater with a ton of people; yeah, technology can make the home experience bigger and better, but nothing quite matches the drama of the live experience. Plus, for me, there’s just something more exciting about knowing the realness of it all, the grittiness and high-powered intensity of actual people battling it out for honor, pride and the right to call themselves the best.
Another aspect of sports drama I love is how inherently ambiguous it is in terms of heroes and villains. Especially in competitive team sports, there are rarely clear-cut heroes and villains. Take this recent example: I guarantee that during the Los Angeles Lakers first round NBA playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, there were very, VERY few people cheering for the Lakers who weren’t already Lakers fans. On the one hand, you had the Lakers, the big market bullies, led by embattled star Kobe Bryant; a team that spent much of the season bitching at each other; a team that many saw as entitled, arrogant and frustrating due to their propensity for winning after coasting for long stretches.
On the other side, there was the Thunder, a young, likable and exciting team, happy to be in the playoffs, no doubt, but also licking their chops at the opportunity to dethrone the defending NBA champs. They were the underdogs with heart, the team that wouldn’t give up and gave the Lakers a challenge right out of the gate, eventually pushing Los Angeles to a tough six-game series where the Thunder finally lost. To much of the country, the Lakers were the villains; to me, the Lakers were the heroes, the experienced veterans teaching the upstarts a thing or two before putting them back in their place.
(And that’s only the major narrative thread. There were so many other subplots: Was Derek Fisher washed up because he couldn’t guard Russell Westbrook to save his life? Could Kobe match shots with Durant? Was Pau Gasol ready to back up his tough talk and will himself to become the Lakers’ 1a instead of their No. 2 guy? Could the good-hearted team play of OKC overcome an L.A. squad who had not played as such for a good chunk of the year? And on and on and on.)
But that’s just it — the narrative of sports is often malleable. Heroes and villains depend on perspective. Nobody but New York Knicks fans liked those thugball Knicks teams of the 1990s, but I bet any self-respecting Knick fan would defend those teams to the death because of their toughness, their physicality and the way they connected with the confidence and swagger of New York City.
With many stories, the elements are set in stone. We know who the heroes are, and we know who the villains are. The heroes might be flawed, and the villains might be sympathetic, but they have their roles nonetheless. And while readers and viewers may add their own interpretation of events, the narrative is still under the control of the creators. In sports, though, the narrative is entirely up for grabs — the players and teams have a piece, the media has a piece and the fans have a piece! We decide our heroes and villains; we decide how to see them. Real life gives our athletes a shade of color found only in the greatest stories.
Bringing this long tangent back to this episode of Giant Killing, that is part of what fascinated me about the above scene where Tatsumi gives his speech to the press while the coaches give him angry looks. Tatsumi is controlling the narrative of sport. He takes advantage of the media; he casts ETU as the underdog, puts the pressure on the other squads to perform. In a way, he also casts his team as the morally righteous underdog, improving themselves and ready to wage war against the league’s dominant bullies.
It’s fantastic. Onstage Tatsumi seems brash and arrogant, but his speech is actually carefully calculated. He works the media flawlessly; there’s no doubt they framed ETU exactly the way Tatsumi wants them to be framed. Tatsumi is placing the story on his side: ETU is the hero; everyone else, the villain. How would you perform if you knew for certain you were in the right?
(But, of course, in life there are always little twists, as evidenced by the goal to close the episode. Even Tatsumi cannot control the narrative to that extent. Adversity, baby, adversity.)