Nozomi Kaminashi’s Final Form
|This “obvious” fanservice series surprised everyone with its tone in the first episode, but did it keep that up throughout the entire run?|
A Different Kind of Sport
Nozomi uses her gymnastics athleticism to avoid Fujisaki
Actually, Keijo isn’t really that different from most sports, and it was interesting the way that it was set up: It was a sport that’s designed to be a betting sport, like horse racing or boxing. But they kept it firmly away from American Pro Wrestling, which is far more of a scripted show (yes, the moves are real. Yes, you can get hurt. But the larger points, like who wins and loses a particular match or belt? It’s hard to argue that that’s not all planned out ahead of time for maximum audience engagement). Yeah, it’s a sport that has very limited rules: You can’t hit the opponent with anything other than your butt or your boobs, and if you touch the water, or the ground with anything but your feet, you’re out. But the overall excitement of the sport was there, and you could see how it could be a success, at least in anime land where amazing feats of gymnastics and body control can simply be drawn, rather than actually needing a human to perform them. And in a lot of these aspects, Keijo!!!!!! was much like other sports anime, with beginner players powering up through sheer grit and determination, discovering new abilities, and making ridiculous speeches, while short matches take far far longer than their actual time, such as a less-than-5-minute match taking up something like 35 minutes of screen time over two episodes.
“With god as my witness, I’ll never pull turnips with my hips again!”
But I feel like Keijo!!!!!!! didn’t take it to the ridiculous lengths that most sports anime do. Yes, they had newbies who had to go through training arcs. Yes, they did have the misfits trying to succeed, in two levels even, with the individual level of Nozomi, Miyata, Non, and Kazane trying to not get the status of losers who quit, and also with Setouchi being forever underdogs to Suruga, the other school for Keijo players. And yes, they did have 2 different tournaments in the show, and the last one took 3 and a half episodes (for only 3 5-minute matches). And they had a lot of different characters, and usually had them have one trait. This is all the kind of stuff that I complain about in most sports anime, because honestly, it usually turns boring. Usually the fighting parts feel like they take way too long, the personal development of the characters takes way too long, everything takes way too long. Why was Keijo!!!!!! different?
It even had special attacks with silly names printed right on the screen
A Different Kind of Sports Anime
Creative use of varied playing fields allowed for interesting strategies and visual interest
Maybe it was because instead of some interminable tournament with multiple rounds, it was 3 matches, 4 characters per match per team, one-and-done. Having multiple participants allowed for individual focus on our main characters, but got through the whole thing a lot faster. Maybe it was because the scope of everything was well-matched. This wasn’t for the end of the world. It wasn’t even for a championship. It was for bragging rights and personal reputation, and a short fight with one or two powers per person works well for that. Or personal redemption: Miyata against her decision to become a Keijo athlete rather than a judo champion or Nozomi, Non, and Kazane against everyone discounting them as no-names. And the fights were engaging and fun, with a good amount of drama and uncertainty, because they kept the stakes low. It’s hard to overstate the importance of that. A show where the world will end, or someone important will die if the hero doesn’t win doesn’t have uncertainty: the hero is gonna win.
Kazane should know that every time Gilgamesh pulls this move out, he loses
But in Keijo!!!!!!!, there was honest doubt because Seitouchi could have lost, but still have been redeemed with a good fight. Nozomi and Non and Kazane all lost fights throughout the show, but they still gained reputation and status, because that’s what it was about. In fact, about the only thing that I would have liked to see that the show didn’t do with regards to winners and losers would have been for Non and Kazane’s to have won their match in the final tournament, because losing it to set up a winner-take-all 3rd match was what is always done. Let them win, let them show that they’re not just the designated losers. They could have still had the third match, and it would still have meant almost as much even if it wasn’t deciding who won the East-West War, because it was about the characters not wanting to lose.
Nozomi gets a boost from Kawai (yes, I’m avoiding obvious puns too)
Not Becoming Average
Kaya and Nozomi with good and bad vibrations (ok, I’m not really succeeding)
A series that surprises in the first one or two episodes will usually “revert to the mean” and lose a lot of what was surprising or interesting about it. Sometimes this is because all of the good ideas of the writer are used up and they can’t support a whole series (say, something like Shimoneta). Sometimes it’s because the surprising parts at the beginning are an anomaly and just not representative of the rest of the series (a show like Kotoura-san). And a lot of times when they lose that spark, they feel like they’re even worse than if they were “merely” average, disappointing in the same way that your elementary school teacher was disappointed that you “didn’t live up to your potential.” So with the opening that Keijo!!!!!!! had, it wouldn’t have been surprising if a lot of people thought that it couldn’t hold up throughout the entire run, since there are a ton of pitfalls in the idea of showing a story about a sport where women compete only by hitting each other with their butts and their breasts, especially in a medium that rightly has a reputation for objectification and distracting sexualizing fanservice.
Meteor Hip is very satisfying in combination
So the fact that Keijo! didn’t slide into completely sexualizing the characters is something that I think needs to be lauded. I’m not going to sit here and say that it’s not fanservice, because of course it is. And I’m not going to say that it’s not objectification, because of course it’s that, too. But I think that, if anything, the objectification of women’s butts and boobs in this way is more empowering, and pushes away from the idea that boobs are only sexual as much as anything else does. I feel like it did this by (almost) never making the attacks sexualized (the only time it did was something I found to be a bit of an annoying anomaly, when Kusakai defeated the twins from Suruga by overstimulating them, but even that was part of her “S” personality). Even when Miyata rubbed her boobs to make her nipples hard, it was for a different purpose: using them as a hook to pull someone over in a judo throw, or when she pulled her bikini bottoms up so far that she ripped them, again it was for the purpose of winning the match through enhanced speed ability. We can argue the idea that having a massive wedgie would make you faster, but that’s arguing the merits of the show. But nothing these girls did made them self-conscious. It was all about the sport, doing your best and hopefully winning. And that helped the viewer not be embarrassed for them, and kept it earnest and straightforward, not sketchy or skeevy.
Nozomi delivers the finishing blow to Maya
Overall, Keijo!!!!!!!! was really a treat to watch. It was well done throughout, both in story plotting and in visuals, although it did feel like they had the smallest amount of “We’re out of time” production issues in the last episode, where the banquet scene went off model for people’s faces. But apart from that, I’d have to say that it was a nice successful series for Xebec (at least from a TV viewership standpoint), a studio that you have to say usually goes a lot more overboard on ecchi (with shows like To Love Ru, Kanokon, Triage X, and Maken Ki). This is a show that drew people in with good sports action, even for a made-up sport, and kept them with engaging characters and great restraint from doing things that would turn viewers off.