What’s it about? Mizushima Ryo is a shy middle school student who loves playing badminton and idolizes prodigy player Yusa Kento. His world is upended when he’s scouted by a recruiter from the prestigious Yokohama Minato High—the same school that his idol attends.
A moment of silence for Love All Play, which has started airing just in time to be The Other Badminton Anime. There’s really nothing wrong with it if you’re a dedicated sports anime fan, but there’s not a lot unique to recommend it to anyone but genre diehards.
Salaryman’s Club (which is still airing due to its late start date and is a lot of fun, incidentally) had its adult cast and focus on corporate sports as unique selling points, as well as some pretty dynamite choreography when it got on the court. Thus did I breathe a heavy sigh when I was thrown back into the world of high school sports clubs—but that’s not Love All Play’s fault, so we’re gonna leave the comparison game here.
The strength of this premiere is in its interpersonal drama. While the episode runs through multiple montages to reach Ryo’s graduation, it lingers on moments of quiet, interpersonal tension in a way I found appealing. When Ryo’s friend Shizuo jokingly complains about not getting scouted as well, we have a long beat focused on the shift in Shizuo’s expression that puts a big set of air quotes on that “joke.” Meanwhile, Ryo is clearly a people-pleaser wrestling with a mountain of anxiety, the details of which land without coming off like a protagonist checklist; and his older sister is a great mentor figure it’d be fun to see more of. Being based on a completed four-volume manga seems as though it’ll serve this one well in terms of pacing.
Unfortunately, it’s also a manga that ran back in 2011, meaning that when the archetypal parts hit they seem especially musty. Ryo’s fellow new recruits? A large musclehead, a stoic guy, and a pair of mischievous twins. The end of episode cliffhanger? The fact that the player Ryo’s been idolizing for so long might have a shitty personality. And the badminton itself that we’re meant to be so engaged in is rendered as little more than quick shots of people triumphantly slamming the shuttlecock down for a decisive victory. Then there’s those aforementioned montages, backed with a music track that surely put its back out from the amount of emotional heft they were expecting it to carry. It’s both too much and too little information all at once, and while I felt warm enough toward Ryo and his struggles to voice his own needs, I also found myself checking my watch in the episode’s final third.
So it’s got minimal sport action, tired sports archetypes, and competent emotional beats, bringing us back around to the beginning: it’s not terrible, but it’s tough to get enthusiastic about.
Except for this. This is an instant 10/10.