What’s it about? Upbeat, undersized Sora can’t wait to join his high school basketball team—too bad they’re a team in name only, given that the club has been taken over by the local delinquents. But Sora has never backed down from a challenge before, and he isn’t about to let anyone take him away from the game he loves.
“Basketball anime basketball anime basketball anime!” I chanted giddily as I smashed play on the first episode of Ahiru no Sora.
Outside of Inoue Takehiko‘s works (REAL, Slam Dunk), basketball series are pretty rare in the world of sports anime and manga. That’s especially true if you’re looking for something more on the realistic side, as opposed to the fantastical world of Kuroko’s Basketball. No shade on those who enjoy that series, of course, but as a former player and current die-hard fan, I’ve been hungry for a more grounded, Haikyu-like take on my favorite sport for a while now.
And, for a little while, Ahiru no Sora looked like it was going to be right up that alley.
Spunky undersized protagonist? Check. Goofball upperclassman to welcome in the new kid? Check. Infectiously optimistic opening theme (sung by the pillows, no less)? Check. A high school basketball team fallen from favor who need the new kid to inject them with some can-do energy? Check and check!
A scene of the protagonist and his upperclassman pal spying on the girls’ team through peepholes as the girls change clothes in the adjoining club room? Che—
Wait, that last one doesn’t sound right.
Yes, Ahiru no Sora takes its cannon full of bright energy, points it downwards, and blasts itself straight in the foot by making 95% of its cast a bunch of unpleasant dirtbags. Sora and Chiaki (the upperclassmen pal) would have been perfectly likable if not for that Peeping Tom scene, but it suddenly becomes a whole lot harder to root for people when they’re so keen on invading their female classmates’ privacy.
The rest of the male cast is no better. The basketball team has become the official club of the school’s punks, and they’re not exactly a lovable gang of misunderstood delinquents. No, they pretty much suck from the word “go,” locking Sora in the club room for the entire day and then stealing his beloved heirloom sneakers because he didn’t ask their permission before entering the gym. I’m sure Ahiru no Sora will try to find ways to make them sympathetic, but at this point I’m not sure why I’d stick around to see it.
Ironically, the show’s brightest spots are its female characters. Madoka, the captain of the girls’ basketball team, does her best to take Sora under her wing and help him out against the bully brigade. She’s also a talented athlete in her own right, which makes her a refreshing change of pace from so many other sports series where The One Girl’s sole purpose is to support the boys (usually as a manager). She’ll likely be a love interest, but at least she’ll be a love interest with her own goals separate from the protagonist’s.
Even more refreshing: those heirloom sneakers I mentioned earlier? They were a gift from Sora’s mom, a former basketball player and presumably the one who introduced Sora to the game. I can’t think of a sports anime where a female athlete was the inspiration for the male protagonist. It gave the second half of this premiere a unique, endearing boost it sorely needed.
When you put all these pieces together… well, they don’t really come together, is the thing. Ahiru no Sora treats the Peeping Tom scene like a joke and introduces Madoka via her measurements, but then goes out of its way to make its two female characters the most likeable and inspirational figures in the episode.
I suppose it’s possible the story is trying to challenge its male characters’ behavior, but it really just comes across like the show has no idea that spying on someone without their consent is gross instead of funny. It doesn’t give me a ton of confidence that the series will develop its cast (boys and girls alike) in thoughtful or even particularly charming ways going forward.
Anyway, I dislike pretty much every boy in the cast and I wish the show was about Madoka or Sora’s mom instead. Also, the translation is cringe-inducingly stiff and clearly written by someone who is not into basketball (the number of times I’ve heard an actual basketball player refer to themselves as a “B-baller” is, like, three, and they all occurred in a late-’90s elementary school).
But listen: they played a short scrimmage right at the end of the episode and the animation was pretty good, so I’ll probably be back for at least one more.
I, uh… did mention that I really like basketball, right?