By: Vrai Kaiser April 2, 20210 Comments
dynamic shot of one player tagging another with the word "struggle" emblazoned at the touch point

What’s it about? Middle school soccer champ Yoigoshi Tatsuya has two goals in his first year of high school: to build his livestreaming channel, and to stay as far away from all sports as humanly possible. Unfortunately for him, Noukin High School’s kabaddi team has their eye on him, and their scheming co-captain isn’t backing down easy. Even if it involves using a little blackmail.

Kabaddi and I got off on the wrong foot. My first brush with the sport was in Chio’s School Road, where it came parceled with a predatory lesbian stereotype that foreshadowed that show going right off the rails of enjoyability.

Which is, as the most cursory Google search will tell you, pretty unfair, as kabaddi (which is somewhat similar to tag but has more structured rules) is a beloved sport in Southern Asia going back literally thousands of years. It’s even the national sport of Bangladesh! Burning Kabaddi seems crafted entirely to combat the sport’s status as a punchline in Japanese media, going so far as to have Yoigoshi call out the trend before he’s inevitably sucked in. This, my friends, is an imaging campaign.

shot from behind of a player flexing his arms and hands. subtitle: In this game, the only thing used is the body.
Your sweaty, sweaty body.

I actually mean that a lot less cynically than it sounds. Yes, this show would like you to know that kabaddi is Cool and Rad Actually, but that’s basically the goal of every niche sport or hobby anime (I suspect there may be something to dig into about kabaddi’s place as a popular subject of mockery, but I am decidedly not the person to do so). The basic beats of a sports anime are all here, from the bright-eyed underclassman to the diagramed explanations of the sport’s rules and techniques. I’m also very into the new trend of the shitlord manager that’s waxed into popularity the last few seasons, as co-captain Iura keeps the episode motoring along.

The visuals are… distinct, let’s say. Every character pours sweat like they’re in that one Key & Peele sketch, and their bodies are muscular in a squat, broad way that’s diametrically opposed to but just as unbelievable as the boys of Free!.

I’m not sure the visuals and I got on, actually, but it fits with what the series is going for: namely, so much testosterone poisoning that I felt like I’d applied an entire month’s worth of HRT in a single sitting. While I don’t doubt that these boys will end up comrades-in-arms before long (hopefully in a way that encourages some earnestness and vulnerability to balance out all that macho posturing), there’s a bluntly aggressive antagonism to this first episode that might not be everyone’s vibe.

the four members of kabaddi team. they are...bulky. subtitle: Welcome to the kabaddi team!
Look at this fine group of 25 [checks notes] I mean 15-year-olds.

And yet, like Yoigoshi, I found affection sneaking up on me as the practice match played out. Earnestness can’t save a production entirely on its own, but it can carry it a long way, and I truly don’t detect a cynical bone in this body—not on the subject of kabaddi, at least. While I might not end up sticking with it in the long haul, I think I’ll be quietly rooting for this one.

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