What’s it about? College student Natsusa Yuzuki’s rugby career was cut short when a motorcycle accident left him grievously injured and hospitalized for six months. He’s mostly recovered now, restarting college as a first-year, but the aggressive sport is still too rough for his body. He can’t stay away from rugby, though, and decides to join his old team as a manager.
number24 is the third rugby anime in five years and while that doesn’t exactly make it a trend on the level of, say isekai or idol anime, it does stand out. Rugby never caught on in America (we tend to take our institutionally-endorsed head trauma in the form of football), but it’s moderately popular in Japan. All Out! never garnered much of a following and Try Knights was a production disaster—will number24 succeed where those two failed?
Sadly, the answer is: “probably not, but not for a lack of quality.”
My first impression of the show was that it resembled a male idol series more than the sports anime I’m used to. It introduces a huge cast in the first episode, with their names and positions flashing on-screen rather than offering a proper introduction. There’s even the obligatory blonde foreigner character, who speaks with that gaijin accent that I’d be quite happy to never hear again.
Since Natsusa was part of their team before, they mostly know each other already. Despite such a large cast, there’s some strong group chemistry even this early in the show.
They mostly have bright, candy-colored hair and their body types range from skinny bones to out-and-out fat. The design work is aimed squarely at the fujoshi crowd, and a few suggestive shots of Natsusa and his best friend Sei show that the production staff knows exactly what they’re doing.
If you’re here for hard-hitting rugby action, don’t bother—outside of the opening theme, there’s no rugby action to be found in this first episode. and while they all stay clothed during the actual meat of the episode, the opening animation eagerly shows off that many of them are quite muscular and athletically built.
Anyway. While I may enjoy an unclothed, well-muscled torso of any gender from time to time, no sports anime is going to hold my attention without some kind of hook. I want my handsome shirtless boys to have some pathos. And happily, number24 is here to deliver, with a protagonist who is trying to cope with not being able to play rugby anymore after a life-altering injury.
It’s a good twist on the typical sports story. I’ve always been drawn to stories about grief and coping with loss, a constant undercurrent hiding behind the episode’s bright and cheery exterior.
Natsusa is determined to stay involved with rugby, but it might never be the same. He still has periods of numbness in his extremities, and his teammates comment on how he’s gotten lighter from losing muscle mass. The camera lingers on his hand, shows us the dramatic scar on the back of his neck, and offers hints that, despite the front he puts on, he’s still struggling.
If all that sounds appealing, I have good news: there’s not a whole ton of caveats here. There’s no female characters, which is a little disappointing, but also means that we don’t have to worry about any sexy lamps a la Run With the Wind’s Hana or Haikyu’s Shimizu. The sole issue, unfortunately, is Fuuga, the fat character.
Fuuga is the first to greet Natsusa on his return, and he seems like such a sweetheart, it’s a shame the show doesn’t treat him better. It’s not just the typical “fat character eats a lot,” although there is that, too. In Fuuga’s initial scene, he’s just run to the lecture hall to see Natsusa, and he’s really sweaty and stinky. That could be fine—people of all sizes sweat and get stinky when they run—but why is Fuuga the only one whose odor is commented on?
I hope things get better for Fuuga, because I’d hate for that to ruin an otherwise charming show. If you like sports anime, number24 is a pretty safe bet for a good time.