What’s it about? Teen idol Arimura Yu has just shocked the nation by announcing he’s retiring from the entertainment industry to attend a prestigious horse racing academy. Some of his classmates are more eager to welcome him than others, but when two horses get loose he finds an unexpected ally and an unexpected chance to prove himself.
Honestly, it’s fun watching sports anime get increasingly niche, taking us into territory that hasn’t been covered as thoroughly (not that Fanfare is the first horse racing anime—though these are characters who ride horses rather than characters who are horses). Thankfully, though, this premiere doesn’t run on novelty value alone: while it’s formulaic in some ways, it’s also competently put together, nice to look at, and dare I say might even be setting out to interrogate the idol industry along the way.
Yu is a classic fish-out-of-water protagonist, sitting awkwardly next to people who come from families of jockeys or already have a strong grasp on how the racing industry works. The press is hounding him for the reasons he’s retired, and all he has to reply with are nebulous phrases about it being his dream—and, of course, the simple desire to do something that’s just for him, which is 100% fair when every aspect of your life and image has been manufactured for pop star success.
We don’t see much of Yu’s idol past in this episode, but there is the lingering suggestion that it made him unhappy in ways he’s not willing to articulate in front of a crowd of cameras and journalists. Combined with an ominous shot of “Madam Chairman” at the end, while a woman who sure looks like she could be Yu’s mother assures her “Yu’s a good kid, he’ll come back,” I wonder if the pressures of the entertainment industry are going to haunt Yu’s story as it goes forward.
It’s too soon to tell, but it sure does add an extra little spice of intrigue. A straightforward narrative about Yu learning to ride and care for horses would be fine, but the idea that there are forces that want to drag him away from his dream add some stakes—not to mention a potentially juicy interrogation of the way individuality and agency can be suppressed in the idol industry.
But for now, here we are in horse town. Yu’s classmates are an eccentric bunch of distinctive, but not too tropey, character types, a cast of all boys and one girl—the first female jockey the school has seen in a while. She expresses how racing talent is not tied to gender, and just wants to do her best; but also complains how the significance of her presence as a female student is being overshadowed by Yu’s celebrity status.
Exploring the additional struggles that girl athletes and professionals face in male-dominated fields is always interesting, and not always an angle that sports anime cover. I have my fingers crossed that the storytelling doesn’t let Yu (and the other lads) overshadow her, and she gets to be a character in her own right and not just The Only Girl.
I’m pretty confident we don’t have to worry about The Only Girl being shoehorned into a love interest role, though, since the episode ends with a glorious sparkly blossom-pink ship tease between Yu and another male classmate. He’s eccentric, he doesn’t play by the rules, he’s full of Country Wisdom and he has a knack for communicating with the horses. (Yu, are you living in a Hallmark movie?)
They share a saddle as they ride a horse, and Yu finds himself cradled in a bridal carry when he slips down. Sakura petals swirl as the world slows and their moment of eye contact is emphasized! But then Yu wriggles free, embarrassed, leaving me to wonder if this aspect is going to be taken seriously or if it’s a good old-fashioned bit of sports anime shipping bait. Time, again, will tell.
But honestly, I think Fanfare has a lot of promise. The characters seem compelling enough to carry the story forward, especially Yu and his struggles with the entertainment industry. Even if there’s something kinda funny about seeing realistically-rendered horses next to stylized anime humans, the aesthetic of the show overall is really nice. Maybe it won’t follow through or go in-depth on the pieces of social commentary it brings up, but I think there’s still some potential fun to be had. I might horse around and give it the three-episode try.