Did Birdie Wing Start a Golf Anime Renaissance? – This Week in Anime


With no less than three new golf anime coming this spring season, Chris and Steve ask the big question: Is this Birdie Wing‘s fault?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

Birdie Wing, Sorairo Utility, Haikyu!!, Chihayafuru, PuraOre! Pride of Orange, and Uma Musume Pretty Derby are streaming on Crunchyroll, while Rising Impact will stream on Netflix the coming summer.


Steve

Chris, can you feel that chill in the air? That hush that falls over the trees? The stillness of the grass? There’s a specter haunting anime—the specter of golf.

Chris

Dang, and here I thought Ghost Golf was just the name of a local mini-golf establishment. But nope, it turns out the perils of these possessed putters are all too real.



Supernatural intervention is, after all, the only explanation I can think of for the sudden wave of golf anime we find ourselves on the precipice of.

It’s certainly an easier and less scary prospect for the mind to grasp than the alternative: that golf is real and strong, and popular… and my friend. Okay, golf may indeed be some of those things, but it’s still undeniably odd we’ve got more than one anime teed up for a couple of rounds on the links. That feels like something has to have gone awry. Or maybe Birdie Wing just punched a hole in the fabric of reality.

For what it’s worth, the sport is quite popular over in Japan—the second-most popular place for it in the world, if you believe some sources. However, popularity doesn’t always necessarily need to equate to representation in other mediums. And perhaps more pressingly, golf also has a tendency to be regarded as a sport not exactly conducive to high-tension entertainment.



Just to tee off of that obvious starting talking point, the entire reason we all wound up loving Birdie Wing as much as we did was because it was the pointed opposite of what any of us expected from a show about golf.
Yeah, like, we all know golf. I even took a couple of lessons at the local municipal course back in the day, and my grandpa would show me and my brothers some pointers from time to time. But that’s what it was in my mind’s eye. A grandpa game. It’s a sport you play with your polo shirt tucked into your belt. It’s the backdrop for about 20% of the scenes on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Not in a million years did I anticipate the caliber of ammunition that Birdie Wing brought to the fairway.

I don’t think I could ever recreate the experience of beholding those first few episodes of Birdie Wing—and I don’t know if I would want to. Its outlandish mash-up of mafias, music videos, robotic roguelike courses—and Golf Where You Die If You Lose is an alchemy that can’t be recreated now that we’ve already seen the trick once.



It definitely “helped” the series that we’d been burned by the mediocrity of so many other “regular” sports anime over past seasons, so Birdie Wing going straight for the camp insanity let it slingshot that whiplash effect to success.
Probably the most insane girls sports anime we had gotten since Hanebado!, and since Keijo!!!!!!!! before that. It being an original two-cours series that takes place in the Madlax Cinematic Universe makes it feel even more like lightning in a bottle. So compare that vibe with the wistfulness that the Sorairo Utility OVA immediately throws at you. It’s not funny on its own, but the contrast is.





Checking out the Sorairo Utility pilot in preparation for the hailstorm of golf balls we’ve got coming in the next few seasons feels bizarre. It comes off like the type of anime I thought Birdie Wing might be before it premiered: a breezy afternoon following Cute Girls Playing Cute Golf. At least they’re taking inspiration from the absurdity of the Heathcliff comic strip for some of their gags.


The HAM bit out of nowhere did slay me. I’ll give them that. And I’m glad that customizing one’s ball seems to be a tradition that spans the golfing gamut.



And I suppose, for accuracy’s sake, it’s prudent to mention that the OVA debuted several months before the first season of Birdie Wing. However, the full anime announcement didn’t happen until this February. So I think I’m still in the clear crediting Birdie Wing‘s smashing success for Sorairo Utility being picked up for a full series.
Obviously. What production committee wouldn’t see the cult critical success of Birdie Wing and realize that audiences were now prepared for rip-roaring golf action like this?


Honestly, I’m stoked it’s about a girl who sucks at the sport. You go, Minami! Give us nothing!

I am mostly being facetious there, I’ll admit. Plenty of sports anime that are played far more straight than Birdie Wing succeed by letting the audience follow a character who’s just been introduced to the game and is still learning. This could let Sorairo Utility dive into the more technical aspects of golf as a game, something Birdie Wing didn’t indulge in beyond “If you’re gay you can hit curving, rainbow-blasting drives.”

It is genuinely a good way for the series to distinguish itself. If you wanted to criticize Birdie Wing as a sports narrative (although I don’t know why you would), you could point to the lengths it went to eschew all known laws of both golf and physics. There’s room for a more grounded and informative approach to the game.

For all the jokes that can be made about the banality of golf and how that might affect the appeal of shows like Sorairo Utility, the fact is that anime as a medium has a long and storied history of making more esoteric activities interesting to follow. I (and plenty of others) didn’t care one lick about how a game like volleyball was played, until Haikyu!! came along and made the sport investment-worthy.



As much of that came from how it imparted the rules and technicalities of volleyball as it did from the way it integrated them into its well-portrayed characterization and storytelling.
That’s why I hope Sorairo Utility takes advantage of the TV format and fleshes itself out into a fuller experience. The 15-minute OVA can’t help but come across as anemic, and none of the characters stand out. Though, whether it’s fair or not, in that regard it’s fighting an uphill battle against my memories of Birdie Wing. Like, the OVA indulges in these held shots of the ball gently lofting into the air without a care in the world. Meanwhile, Aoi and Eve were out there firing bullets and laser beams at each other.




There’s blazing golf-girl-on-golf-girl passion oozing out of every orifice in Birdie Wing. I don’t need every golf anime to be quite so fiery, but I’d like to see a little spark at least.
I want to give Sorairo Utility credit for looking nice enough—and I’ve got to, given that Yostar Pictures is also producing Go, Go, Loser Ranger! which I’m very much looking forward to next season. But the taste we’ve gotten thus far very much comes off more like Laid-Back Camp—but with pitching wedges instead of pitching tents. That’s… not necessarily the vibe I’d be looking for from a sport already generously describable as “languid.”



However, as we’ve indicated, it’s hardly the only golf series we’ve got coming out soon and there’s the possibility for one of these other ones to go to some more distinguishable places.

That’s right, and we don’t even have to wait all that long to find out. Oi! Tonbo should be debuting next week—and oh god that means the spring season is starting already. How did we get here?
Well, at least that’s something golf-connected that can be considered fast-moving. Oi! Tonbo (a fun title to say, I’ll admit) is based on a very long-running manga, though not one that we can officially read over here. It’s published in a general golfing magazine from Japan, which doesn’t seem too fussed about overseas readership. But the premiere next week should let us get acquainted with what appears to be a more grounded, serious golf series.



What we know for now is that it focuses on a disgraced, ex-pro golfer who discovers a mysterious, isolated young girl with preternatural golf talent which he begins to train and—hey, wait just a minute!

Well, this mentor isn’t voiced by Char Aznable, so I think Tonbo stands a reasonable chance of turning out more normal than Eve.

More normally dressed, at least.

And yeah, hard to comment on much with the manga being unavailable over here, but it looks like it could be a solid heartwarming “city dude meets surrogate backwoods daughter” drama, a la Barakamon. I just hope the writing is better than the compositing.

I said this one was a long-runner, and I meant it. The manga’s been going for forty-eight volumes, apparently, so perhaps the anime’s just conserving its resources to commit to the long haul?



Also coming directly from a golf enthusiast magazine, that makes this one which I expect to dig into actual techniques and strategies of the sport. Will that make for an interesting anime? Only time will tell.
Speaking of magazines, have you heard the news, Chris? It’s finally happened! After all this time.

Mmmm, not quite, but while we’re here, I did read through the first chapter of Robot × Laserbeam to prep for this column, and I had a great time. Some truly incredible and funny pages. As expected from the author of Kuroko’s Basketball.

You can trust someone who honed their sensibilities on one of the most celebrated sports manga in recent memory to craft something winning in that genre space, the banality of golf be damned. However, the actual SJ golf adaptation that Netflix has started in the summer is Rising Impact, which comes from Nakaba Suzuki, known for The Seven Deadly Sins.



Netflix has seemingly been a big fan of this guy for years now.
They’re not shy about it!



And you know what? That’s great. I love it when a guy gets popular enough off one insanely successful work that producers start digging into their back catalog to see if they can strike gold again. In this case, Suzuki debuted in Jump with Rising Impact over 25 years ago, and we’re only just now getting an anime based on it. The added incredulity of its subject matter is icing on the cake.

Tonally, Birdie Wing has more in common with Gundam than any other franchise, but the over-the-top antics of shonen sports are in the neighborhood too. So yeah, this looks fun! And I like the character designs adapted by Kiyotaka Oshiyama. Lots of personality in these.





For all that can be said about golf as a story subject, the proven success that Rising Impact already has in manga form, next to the way Birdie Wing went over, further underscores the adage that how a story is told will always transcend what it’s about. That kind of quality is why Chihayafuru is recognized as a masterpiece responsible for a whole bunch of anime fans outside of Japan even knowing what Karuta is.



All that’s to say: if there’s any author I’d trust to make the game of golf interesting, it’s the mind behind Akagi and Kaiji.

Setting aside how good a title Nikaido Hell Golf is… actually, let’s not set that aside. It’s perfect. Nobody is doing it like FKMT. I don’t need to read a single page of this to know for certain that it whips ass.

It’s sadly another one stuck in the unlicensed manga mines for now, so we can’t properly read and discuss it here. Hopefully, the establishment of Fukumoto’s other works means his recent trip to Golf Hell gets brought over sooner rather than later. If nothing else, this sudden proliferation of golf series sets a precedent for that (and maybe even its anime adaptation?)



With that in mind, seeing all this on the horizon does beg the question of if there’s really a deeper reason for the sudden deluge of dimpled white balls, or if it is down to Birdie Wing‘s immaculate influence.
If I were on an anime production committee, you know I would be doing everything in my power to foster the creation of more Birdie Wing. I would be paying scientists in the lab to synthesize brand new Birdie Wings that humankind hasn’t yet conceived of. But I doubt that there are actual producers who share my enthusiasm. The reality is almost certainly a boring confluence of coincidences. Plus, the greater volume of anime being made means there’s a greater statistical chance for these phenomena to arise. However, it’s nice to dream. And golf is made of dreams. Probably.

If anything, the sheer number happening means the law of averages supposes that at least one of these new golf anime could be as good as Birdie Wing, if probably in different ways. That at least makes for better odds than the vanishing chances we have for an awesome anime based on a more quintessentially “cool” sport like hockey.

Man, I so wanted Pride of Orange to be anything except what it was. Just goes to show, that you can’t combine competitive sports and idols willy-nilly. You gotta leave that to the experts.

That’s the ticket: we gotta combine the unbridled success of Uma Musume with the hole-in-one hit of Birdie Wing and get a polo anime in a forthcoming season! That would outclass all these would-be Happy Gilmores!

Naturally, I’m picturing Eve piggyback riding on top of Special Week while brandishing a club, and yep, I think that would be anime’s apotheosis. Or at least it’ll make for a hell of a commission once I find an artist who can realize our vision.


I’ll have to golf-hustle a whole lot of people to raise the funds for that, but it’ll be worth it to prove that any sport can be a winner with the right coaching. Even golf. And if all these new shows coming up turn out to be bogeys, well, at least we’ll always have Nafrece.



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