- Episodes : 25
- Genre : Shounen, Sports, Slice-of-Life
- Airing Date : October 2016 – March 2017
- Studios : Madhouse, TMS Entertainment
All-Out!! Introduction and Story (Spoilers)
Gion Kenji has always been a bit insecure about his height. He has a tendency to get into fights with people who tower above him, which turns out to be a boon for Iwashimizu Sumiaki, a giant of a high school student who’s timid and shy personality is at odds with his appearance. See, Iwashimizu starts off the series by getting picked on by some local toughs during the opening ceremony at Jinko High but is completely unable to bring himself to stand up to them. Gion, however, happens to be in the area and just about starts a brawl before Iwashimizu works up the courage to grab Gion and run away. The pair ends up watching Jinko’s rugby team practice, and while Gion is enamored with the idea that he could be a small guy who could take on bigger guys, Iwashimizu has the opposite reaction and tells Gion that he can’t join the team. After countless attempts at dragging Iwashimizu back to the practice, Gion learns that Iwashimizu once played rugby in junior high, but quit because he was afraid of hurting others like he did his best friend, Miyuki Atsushi. Watching Gion practice with the rest of the Jinko team, however, reawakens Iwashimizu’s love for the game, and he decides to return to the sport.
From there, the series follows the growth of Jinko as an entire team. They get into a practice match with their biggest rival, Keijo High, which also happens to be one of the top four teams in the Kanagawa prefecture. Unfortunately, Jinko gets completely thrashed by Keijo and suffers yet another humiliating defeat. Deciding that he never wants to feel so helpless again, Gion searches for a rugby coach online and stumbles across the blog of Shingo Komori, a veteran rugby champion who’s grown bored in his old age. After a private message from Gion, Komori agrees to coach the team. At first, Komori keeps practice rather light, but after a bit, he asks the team’s captain, Takuya Sekizan, what their goal is, and Sekizan naturally responds that they hope to reach Hanozono, Japan’s national high school rugby tournament. Komori, satisfied with that response, bumps up their training regimen and arranges a game with Todo-dai Sagami, another school with a strong rugby team. Jinko loses the game, but learns about how they can incorporate mind games into their play.
The rest of the series is largely about the lead up to an inter-high training camp that takes place every year in Sugadaira. Many of Jinko’s players apparently struggle with making it to the camp, such Natsuki Ise being too poor to afford the cost of travel, or Yuto Keta struggling to even keep up with their normal practices. The team manages to pull together, however, and holds several practice games with various high level teams, including against Tenjiku High, an up-and-coming team from Osaka that managed to recruit an incredible fullback named Renpei. At the very end of the series, Jinko manages to arrange a game with the second string team of Ryoin Academy, the district champions. While Jinko manages to put up a good fight against the second string, eventually, Ryoin brings out their star scrum-half Zanba Ryujin, who completely turns the tides against Jinko by himself and scores several tries on his own. Jinko, put out by their major loss at first, finds solace in that, at the very least, they were able to go all-out (title drop!) against a major school like Ryoin and the series ends with the Jinko gang driving back home for more practice.
What I Liked about All-Out!!
A lot of sports stories take the dynamic between the central members of its main team for granted. We’re led to just accept that all these different players just have this great bond as a result of playing on the same team with the same desire to win. All-Out!!, on the other hand, actually gives most of its players a reason to be on the team beyond just their camaraderie. Masaru Ebumi is a violent punk from a broken home and the rugby team gives him an outlet for his aggression. Ise isn’t a great student and has no real prospects for the future, but at least Jinko’s rugby team gives him a sense of belonging for the time being. Ooharano has a strained relationship with his brother due to his incredible talent for rugby, so Ooharano needs a place to play until his brother’s passion is reignited. The list goes on and on, but Jinko is more than just a team where everyone has fun with one another: it’s a home for the outcasts of society. Losing at Hanazono doesn’t just mean they don’t get to play rugby anymore, but everyone has something personal to lose. It ramps up the tension knowing that if they can’t pull together as a team, then no one gets to succeed.
But what’s really great about this is that much of the above is very understated and a lot of the best moments go unsaid. A great example of this is during Jinko’s game against Tenjiku, their first opponent at the training camp in Sugadaira. The first try of the game is scored by Ise, who, just a few episodes prior, had an entire episode devoted to how he may not have been able to afford the trip because his brother (the breadwinner of their household of only the two of them) decided he wasn’t going to bother wasting his money just so Ise could go screw around with his friends. Watching Ise score that first try, and everyone patting him on the back and congratulating him is a satisfying character moment because it doesn’t draw attention to this. All-Out!! assumes you’re smart enough to make the connection to Ise’s past and why it’s important he managed to be the first to pull out a major gain for Jinko. It feels natural to the world All-Out!! builds without anyone having to say anything on the nose like “Hey we’re glad you managed to make it, Ise!”
Should you watch All-Out!!?
All-Out!!, for all the hype it had leading up to its release, kind of got lost in the mix of anime last fall due to the one-two punch of Yuri on Ice and the third season of Haikyu airing around the same time. It’s a shame too, as there’s quite a bit to like about All-Out!!. There’s a surprisingly grounded sports story buried underneath the strangely stylized designs (Sekizan’s hair, anyone?) and exaggerated animation. So many sports anime idealize the pressure to succeed for the sake of the team to the point where many times it can feel like they’re pushing for unhealthy behaviors, like training yourself until you’re physically ill. All-Out!!, despite the resolution of the story being about how important it is to give your all when you can, defiantly resists pushing for this narrative. Characters are frequently told how important it is to rest, and at one point the team is even punished by Keta leaving the team because practices are just too tough for him. There’s a refreshing air of realism to All-Out!!, which gives its main message just that much more credibility.
But, in spite of all this, it is easy to see how All-Out!! was forgotten amidst the onslaught of sports series from the fall 2016 season. To put it bluntly, it takes a while for the series to arrive at this point. The first few episodes, while not terrible, paint the series as another run-of-the-mill sports series with some great animation. It’s not until the addition of Coach Komori and his centered wisdom keeping Sekizan and Gion’s wild idealism in check that the series even begins to hit its stride, and doesn’t fully come unto its own until around episode 7 when a plotline revolving around Jinko’s forgotten team advisor Yoshida is introduced.
1. Subverts expectations of characters
So often do sports anime fall into the habit of falling back on the same types of characters over and over again. The hot-blooded rival. The kind but relatively distant coach. The all-knowing, infallible team captain. These are not necessarily bad tropes, but it is nice when a series like All-Out!! takes a different approach with its main cast. Sekizan is a prime example of this. For the first few episodes, the series plays up Sekizan as the 3rd year captain who thinks three steps ahead with the master plan. However, as the series goes along, you actually get to see Sekizan as a flawed captain. He actually does start to push the team too hard in desperation of making something of his last year at Jinko before Komori pulls him from the brink. Sekizan’s a much deeper character for it, and he’s not the only one.
2. Sense of progression
One of the trickiest aspects of any sports anime is believably portraying how such an underdog team can pull off miraculous victories one after another against stronger and stronger teams. It’s a steady balance between timing when the main team should win and occasionally include moments where they need to lose in order to overcome their inherent weaknesses. All-Out!! attempts something rather gutsy though and never gives Jinko a big win until the second half of the series. They actually lose for the majority of the series. However, it can believably get away with this because all the games they play are for practice, which keeps the major games unpredictable. It makes their eventual win against Tenjiku that much more meaningful when you get to see how much they’ve struggled.
3. Coach Komori
It may seem odd singling out a single character as a reason to watch an anime, especially when they’re not the main character, but it’s no exaggeration when we say that Komori is the defining point of the entire show. He’s a character that’s so rich with unexpected complexity. He’s a man who lost his chance at being a father long ago and finally has the chance to pass on his knowledge to a whole mess of kids eager to learn from him. Komori captures the essence of what makes a great teacher: one who knows when it’s time to be stern and keep pushing them, but also when to let up on them and actually be their friend. We mean it when we say the addition of Komori to the main cast is when All-Out!! gets really fun.
1. The beginning is very by-the-book
There’s no denying it: All-Out!!’s beginning doesn’t do it any favors. Everything about the first few episodes, from Gion forming a friendly rivalry with Iwashimizu, to the discovery of Gion’s “hidden talent” of low tackles, to the big sudden game against the main rival Keijo High is all very standard sports anime without really anything new. It takes until Komori settles into the main cast for All-Out!! to hit its stride, which takes almost a full third of the series. Once you’re there, All-Out starts evolving into something much more interesting and heart-felt, but it’d be understandable if you don’t want to make the time investment to get into the series.
2. Too many characters
As mentioned before, All-Out!! is mostly the story of an entire team. That is to say, the entire fifteen man team, plus alternates on the sidelines, AND the supporting cast of rivalry teams and the management side of Jinko. Outside of Gion, Komori, and maybe Sekizan, the character development is just by nature going to get spread pretty thin. You get several characters who manage to have “their moment” in the series, and then disappear into the background only to resurface for a brief moment. Even towards the end of the series you’ll see new characters on Jinko’s team introduced and it can get pretty tough to keep track of everyone. It’s not necessarily bad for the story it’s trying to tell, mind you, but just a fair warning that unless you’re a fan of any of the three characters mentioned before, don’t expect to see your favorite characters pop up too often.
All-Out!! isn’t perfect and may not be for everyone. Honestly, if you’re not into sports anime, All-Out!! isn’t going to be the series that’ll change your mind. But, if you’re a fan of anime like Haikyu or Yowamushi Pedal and are looking for a series to fill in the gaps between new seasons, definitely consider All-Out!!. Maybe it hasn’t gotten a lot of attention lately, but don’t let that deter you. It’s a rock solid entry into the sports anime canon.
By Matt Knodle