What’s it about? Madoka Kouya, a freelance photographer, has been in a slump. When he gets a gig shooting a Formula 4 race through a friend, he hopes it’ll break through his mental barriers. F4 is the territory of hobbyists and hopefuls, attracting a wide variety of wealthy and skilled drivers. Will the epic highs and lows of motorsports and the colorful personalities it involves bring him back?
On the surface, there’s not a whole lot to say about Overtake! on a feminist level. Like many sports anime with a mostly-male cast, women are largely tangential to the action. As Kouya’s editor friend points out at the beginning, female viewership of motorsports is booming, with the audience now close to parity. This mostly translates to a good number of women in the crowd scenes, wandering across the screen, and the gaggle of fangirls that follow around the requisite flirty character.
There are no female drivers. This is both notable and not notable. Overtake! is the type of sports anime with a mostly or entirely male cast of pretty boys designed to attract a mostly female audience, along the lines of Skate-Leading Stars and Backflip!! These tend to have few, if any prominent female characters, because they’re marketed toward the kind of audience that really only sees them as getting in the way. Even the feminine characters identify as male, and at best we usually get a female manager who doesn’t really get to do much. This is mostly fine, if a touch frustrating, because most sports are segregated by gender anyway.
But you know what sport isn’t segregated by gender? Formula racing. Not officially, that is. Although there hasn’t been a female Formula One driver in the Grand Prix in decades, there are a number of women at the lower levels. With Overtake!’s focus on F4, there should by rights be some active female participants in the races, and not just nameless squealing fangirls. The real-life women drivers have an uphill battle trying to break into the racing world, where they face deeply-ingrained sexism and fewer opportunities. When a series like this doesn’t bother to include female drivers even as background characters, it is a failure of representation.
Disappointing and frustrating as that may be, that doesn’t mean Overtake! is bad or thoughtless. Quite the contrary, in fact; I really enjoyed the episode. Possibly the only category of sports I care about less than golf is motorsports, doubly so because of the way they consume resources on an unsustainable level. However, the script really took the time to explain the basics of the sport, with Kouya acting as the audience-insert know-nothing. The engaging character animation, with designs by legendary manga artist Shimura Takako (Wandering Son, Sweet Blue Flowers), kept things fresh as Kouya moves through the action, from the behind-the-scenes prep to the race itself. There’s a bit of extra bounce and stretch to the animation the makes it feel lively; characters emote with their whole bodies. The racing is… well, I’m never going to find cars going zoom interesting. Sorry. I’m sure there are plenty of nuances to the experienced eye, but to me it was mostly samey CG vehicles shifting around and emitting an incredibly obnoxious noise. Watch out, people with aural sensitivities, this may be a rough one with all the high-pitched buzzing.
Despite the lack of female racers, there is one thing I want to give the episode credit for: the way it acknowledges the economic inequalities inherent in Formula racing. The biggest barrier to entry for the sport isn’t skill; it’s money. With a sufficiently fat wallet, anyone can join in. Meanwhile, skilled drivers who lack the means end up unable to access the sport. I’m not sure of the last time I saw a sports anime aware of the implications of the costs associated with the hobby, but I really hope Overtake! does something interesting with it.
Insert sports metaphor about Overtake! competing against other shows here, I’m sure you’ll come up with a good one. Regardless of its lack of female characters, this one might be worth watching.