What’s it about? Hiyori longs to become a singer, but her dreams of fame and fortune have fallen through so far. As her managers terminate her recording contract, however, they suggest Hiyori try out the Hyper Sports tournament: a competition in which wannabe idols compete in a gauntlet of different sports, with their strength boosted by tech called Extreme Gear.
Does that combination of activities sound absolutely nightmarish to anyone else? These girls are expected to be expert athletes in several different sports, boosted to extremes by sci-fi technology; as well as peppy performers skilled in song and dance; while also, presumably, going to school. These young people are being put through grinding physical hardship for just the chance at fame, while the audience cheers and boos from the sidelines. What kind of dystopian hybrid of Ninja Warrior and The X Factor is this?
Right, with that baffled initial emotional reaction out of the way, let’s talk about the construction of this episode. The premise of this series is just bonkers enough that it might have some promise. Might. Though it can never be as eye-catchingly batshit as last season’s BIRDIE WING, the sci-fi setup and superpowered sporting element help Extreme Hearts to stand out. That being said, its combination of genres may lead to a narrative identity crisis that the writing can’t quite support.
Our first question is: will this be a sports anime that lets girls be strong, capable, and a little bit grimy? Well, maybe—the soccer game at the climax is pretty intense, especially with the Extreme Gear in play. I’m sure fans of Farewell, My Dear Cramer are lamenting that the soccer animation in this premiere has infinitely more energy and flow than anything in the latter series.
Buuuut I’m holding off from getting too excited based on the other half of the Hyper Sports gauntlet, which is, of course, being a sweet and appealing stage performer. Extreme Hearts is not a sci-fi sports anime, it’s a sci-fi sports anime/idol anime hybrid, and it remains to be seen how that blend is going to play out. The credits are an absolutely (unintentionally) hilarious mish-mash of wild sporting action and sparkly costumed concerts (though I will say, jarring as it is, it pulls the combo off better than last year’s Pride of Orange).
If I was feeling cynical—which, unfortunately, I am at this late stage of a pretty bland season—I would bet that the idol genre elements are ultimately going to outweigh the sports genre elements. It’s a safer marketing move to show your anime girls dancing and smiling into the camera in frilly outfits than to show them as fierce, competitive, sweaty athletes, after all. Plus, Hiyori’s main motivation is success in her music career, so I can only assume the narrative priorities will follow suit and frame the sports stuff as the gimmicky pathway to the ultimate goal of pop stardom. I would love, of course, to be proven wrong.
It’s not all bad, though. The character writing isn’t the deepest thing in the world, but hey, these gals have motivations and backstories that help to inform us why they do the things they do. For example, Hiyori’s friend and Number One Fan, Saki, used to be a soccer player, and her hyper-competitive drive to improve alienated her from her teammates who just wanted to have fun. In her moment of loneliness, she came across Hiyori’s debut and fell in love with her music. Ergo, we’ve established how and why she’s good at sports, why she’s so attached to Hiyori, and why she’s reticent to let Hiyori compete in the tournament. I kind of wish these motivations were delivered to us a little more organically than in expository narration and flashbacks, but it gives us something at least (and it’s miles more than some other shows this season!).
Honestly, while Extreme Hearts is not setting off fireworks in my brain, I might stick around to see how the disparate elements clash and/or blend. It could unfold into a fascinating mix of sports and performance art, and balance the two without sacrificing its characters’ athleticism for cutesy aesthetics. It could be a baffling disaster. The only thing we can be sure about is that it’s not going to be BIRDIE WING, because only BIRDIE WING can be BIRDIE WING.