My first set of episodic notes, reactions, and commentary from Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!! (Abarenbou Kishi!! Matsutarou), which aired during the Spring and Summer 2014 anime seasons.
Looking part two, for my comments relating to episodes 12 – 23? Click here!
Everything is by and large as it was when I originally wrote them in the Hangers category when the show was airing. They have been sewn together and provided here for the convenience of readers to look back on my feelings on this series specifically, without needing to click and scan through numerous pages of unrelated material.
Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!! (Abarenbou Kishi!! Matsutarou) [Episode one]
This series seems to be getting wrecked a lot harder than I expected by the season start circuit. If one averages all the reader scores on Spring 2014 shows from ANN, this ranks at the very bottom! Ouch.
Matsutarou is an ass, there is no ways to mince words about that. And a lot of folks do not like that as a lead figure. A kicks sand into puppies eyes, steals candy from a baby, commits grand theft auto to drunk drive, and so on level of brutish activity. But, you know, it is not like many in the town encourage or accept this behavior. Old ladies and teachers yell at him, and the only reason he can get away with anything he does is just because he is practically an ox in human form.
I think it is clear the series is trying to convince us his behavior is unacceptable. We are not supposed to think any of this is good. This is the descent of a lost man. And it is not supposed to be fun. Compared to, say, Sento Oumi from Charger Girl Ju-den Chan who repeatedly and savagely beats women with baseball bats if they disturb him, Matsutarou is a freaking saint because I at least know there is a sumo redemption story coming. So we may as well see him as low as possible first, as that is a sport of a highly regimented daily life with a large service and seniority system. We need the more intense contrast because of the process by which one makes it through a sumo stable.
This is the kind of series where the police cars are black and white with a single red cone on top. Our lead is in the intro credits wearing a purple and pink glittering dragon kimono singing the lyrics. Where Toei is stretched beyond belief this season with the raw number of programs they have, but their better studio folks are assigned to this show and its more classic manga aesthetic. The general arc is pretty much on the table plain as day:
Dude is awful. Dude will hit a point of just before no return. Dude will find himself and become a better dude through sport of choice. Dude will have stumbling blocks along the way.
I do not see it trying to pull many unexpected narrative stunts, so this is more of an execution and delivery series.
I’m usually not much one for sports anime. But, that this comes out in the same season as Ping Pong The Animation made it too appealing to try and pick up for contrast and potential future comparison.
Matsutarou will probably be a fine guy. Someday. I just want to see the path he will walk.
Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!! (Abarenbou Kishi!! Matsutarou) [Episode two]
When even the introductory recap from last week is harping on how much the main character sucks as a human being, you know he is sort of at the end of the road before passing a complete event horizon. A trip in a squad car and the lady one likes deciding to take the onus of talking the cops down and not pressing kidnapping charges after a night of drunken debauchery tends leave some kind of impression though.
This arc, of the first episode being a wild ride, the second being the listless get back on ones feet job search, and the third I imagine going along the lines of Matsutaro finding his calling, looks to go on about as long as is necessarily to be solid while also getting us to the sumo shenanigans at a good pace. The series has a rather comfortable progression feel to me, as if I was casually reading a manga chapter on a weekend afternoon.
Scenes like our big lug of a lead hanging out with the neighborhood grandmothers and other ladies in his interview suit for a nice chat, while still working in his tendency to want to splash them with water like a jerk or fishing for compliments, do show more human qualities. However misguided he may be for now.
Likewise, his greatest downer from his wild ride last time being the revelation that Reiko has outright moved away and back to Toyko feels appropriate as well. While Matsutaro’s behavior has been declining for a number of years, and impacted many folks along the way, this is something as a fallout from his actions that affects him more personally and does not have an immediate fix or can be muscled through. She is gone, after all. And his teacher pointing out to him that he can repay his debt to her by becoming a productive member of society is a good motivational pickup, while at the same time having Matsutaro still struggle with taking the job process completely seriously is indicative of how stuck he has been in his ways. He was lost in a rampaging wildebeest sense last week, but here he is lost by way the transition into another way of life being quite a strain.
Toei is clearly stretched with how the visual hiccups this week ended up, but the older manga style can forgive a lot and I treat this more as casual reading than anything. What I’m hoping is once we get to the actual sumo fights, the budget peeks in.
Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!! (Abarenbou Kishi!! Matsutarou) [Episode three]
“If only he’d stay knocked out.” – Hey now recap announcer, we would not have a series if that happened!
We get our first taste of sumo this week, via melding the experienced wrestler against the mad as an ox Matsutaro. Complete with digging his feet in multiple times before dashing at his opponent and Looney Tunes style twirls out of harms way. Also present are plentiful (if kind of super simple Flash animation looking) manga sound effect visuals tossed in for good measure to accentuate crowd cheers and some smacks. I always like that effect, and I think it is particularly relevant for something as physical as sumo. The low budget cheapness of the stretch effect being used on them could even turn into an advantage, if used during a more extended back and forth grappling sequence later on.
An aspect that kind of surprised me this week was how the show seems to want to chose not to define its own terms like “Makuuchi” and “Yokozuna.”
This series airs early in the morning, so one would imagine aimed more for younger audiences, and sumo on the whole has had more than a bit of a decline over the years. It makes sense when our teacher threw out “Sekitori” last week, since he was speaking to the wrestlers in a deferential and pleading manner; there’s no need to define it there, given the situational context is not appropriate for it. When the various stable heads were beating down Matsutaro’s door to recruit him though, I don’t think it would have been out of narrative place for these folks to more clearly emphasize what they had in the sumo department. Certainly, they are trying to bend and grovel towards him, so one delivering the line about how they have a Yokozuna could easily blend with how high level of a figure that is. Matsutaro could still blow them off just the same, but I think it would be more effective at delivering to the audience how large a series of opportunities he was turning down.
I do think the bidding war itself was a good process to see though. Since we are dealing in professional level sport rather than high school, it is always important to emphasize a bit on areas like this for characterization and situational opportunities. The stakes and processes are quite different, especially for something that has such a large lifestyle and living quarters component like sumo wrestling. So they are moments to take time with when the opportunity presents itself for them, just to set itself even a bit apart.
Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!! (Abarenbou Kishi!! Matsutarou) [Episode four]
I do find it quite interesting that our leading lug imagines himself with such a distinctly different / large nose within the confines of his own dream fantasies.
The hair being more of a larger pompadour works as an idea of having the time and resources to style it as such. It goes along with the imagination of him also having attracted his dream girl. So that checks out fine. But that bigger, pointier nose gets my attention. We tend to associate that with the likes of Pinocchio after all, so one can wonder how much of Matsutaro’s subconscious may even be aware that he is potentially greatly deluding himself. Perhaps the same with how much one may want to read into his “the sun is too bright in this seat” line after getting the reality check dump from another elder member of the sumo stable on the train. It can be taken as just how thickheaded an ox he is, sure. But it is nice as a little screenwriting detail in what is not a very complex series of events.
Reiko may be a fun character, which does seem sort of odd to say these several episodes in. But we have not exactly seen to much of her outside of Matsutaro’s fantasy world. Things like her speaking up louder in the restaurant so everyone picks up that they have a budding sumo wrestler on their hands does show she understands he likely needed that boost to provide direction. Giving that sort of moment to really push him ahead. Hard to back down from taking up the endeavor when the girl you like says the sport is so awesome and a whole bar is raising their drinks to cheer for your competitive success.
This is also all laced with the more restrictive 1970’s series backdrop and a very Isn’t Sumo So Wonderful Because It Is Such A Manly World kind of speech from the closest thing we have to a female lead though. Which can have some rather large chauvinist implications. But the original manga itself is also from the same era.
So I suppose that is a question I will be dealing with, of how much I can fault it for faithfully adapting its own source material and being faithful to its times.
This series kind of confuses me, odd as it sounds for something so simple.
Episode five, almost halfway through the season for some of the 10 – 13 episode Spring productions, and we get the closest thing to a sumo fight yet. We had the Looney Tunes chase around the ring with our lead still in his job interview suit prior, sure. But now we get two competitors, in the ring, with their mawashi.
Matsutarou is not performing more genuine sumo, but that is understandable for someone newer and with little prior interest in the activity.
What gets me though is, at least as far as my understanding goes, this series is slotted and aimed more at kids or younger audiences. Family, perhaps, if we were being very generous regarding folks free time.
But there has been little actual, well, sumo wrestling in this sumo show to grab and keep their attention early on. We have had narrative and the descent, stabilization, and pathway to the rise of a man, especially true this episode given Matsutarou’s convictions by the end. But it is not exactly complex or nuanced, which could come off as trite to older audiences watching while at the same time seeming boring or slow to the younger folks in the room.
Not enough narrative to be a drama on one side, not enough splashy fighting for another, and so on. It is walking a kind of rickety hedging policy. While it seems to be shifting now more to self improvement arc mode, I do kind of wonder what the ratings numbers or the like for this series actually are. What folks will still be around when it does actually move into more fighting or a tournament arc.
Matsutarou getting his face smashed in the bout this episode was nice though, expected as it was.
Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!! (Abarenbou Kishi!! Matsutarou) [Episode six]
We have skipped ahead a few weeks in-universe, which is enough time for Matsutaro’s face to heal but not so much for his character to exactly mellow out. Which sounds about right for a guy like him.
This is easily the most frivolous or slice of life episode so far, depending on one’s viewpoint regarding the series.
The dynamic between younger and senior members of a stable is a critical one in real life sumo, as they are responsible for tending to many of the needs of those above them. The exchange, of course, is that senior sumo wrestlers perform well in their actual matches so as to bring the stable fame, winnings, funding, etc. So much of the entire system depends on this, as things such as the dorms and the like are able to be provided for the benefit of the whole group this way. And the younger will in time become the more professional grade fighters, as their service to the group evolves from the chores of helping to provide meals and scrubbing backs to having the lifeblood of their stable in their hands when needing to perform in the ring at ever higher levels.
Matsutaro, of course, does not quite get this. But it is not like he is supposed to either, thickheaded as he still is. But he does like the ordering around aspect, making demands of the sick Tanaka as he does to pick up books and take back moves in a game of shoji. But, he does make Tanaka cry as well, and that plus him setting out futons for the others who went to take care of the senior wrestlers did get to Matsutaro enough to have him talk the man down and take over the futon job. So there is some progress in there for him, somewhere.
Otherwise we have a night in with some ghost stories and secret snack stashes… which quickly escalated into trying to pull a ghost prank on the seniors when they basically would have taken said snacks. Complete with the eternally classical White Sheet Over One’s Head approach to going “boo!” It is hard to really hate such a gag, though the lack of both ending credits and next episode previews is still throwing me off. The episodes just sort of… stop. Which is kind of disorienting, as a series like this could use some buffer transition material to lead us out on.
This was a week where the limits of Toei’s resources and how many shows they are working on seemed to creep in a bit more. I fully can understand the notion that for the debut sumo matches of Matsutarou and Tanaka, the event may not have a packed audience. But even so, when multiple stationary establishment shots for the outdoors and indoors, including unmoving banners and limited static crowds, are on hand… it seems hard to divorce the notion that there was a fair amount of cost and time saving going into it.
So in other news old man Nishio returns after his coal mining days from the start of the show, which is not unexpected given how often he pops in during the midshow eyecatches. But I kind of liked him and the relationship he seems to have with Matsutarou, so any commentary he can provide could help going forwards. I can barely recall the names of any of the other sumo wrestlers in this stable outside of our lead and his skittish sidekick, though I am not entirely sure I am supposed to either. So really, any character to attach to a bit more will be a nice welcome.
I did enjoy the visual aspect that, given the makeup of a sumo wresting match and the makeup of the field, Tanaka did not even need to say that he lost in order for his teammates to get the message regarding his result.
He did not answer when asked, he merely walked past them, and… yup, there is his dirtied up back plain as day for all of them to see. That is the kind of thing that would not necessarily work in many other sports, like say football (either form), baseball, or indeed even ping pong. Sumo is pretty straightforward as the winner is determined either if one pushes the other out of the ring, or if they can push the opponent to touch the floor with any part of their body that does not happen to be their feet. That is generally it, outside of some fringe cases like a wardrobe malfunction. One round. So a dirty back means something very particular happened, and that indicates failure as opposed to a big game saving play.
Going along with that, it did feel a little underwhelming that Matsutarou’s debut match was pretty much just a headbutt at the end of the episode. Not much of a struggle to get excited over, and we have already established he is plenty strong. Ideally this is just a setup for him to rise some ranks off camera, and we can move forward from there.
Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!! (Abarenbou Kishi!! Matsutarou) [Episode eight]
“Don’t think about anything” forming the basis of Matsutarou’s pep talk to Tanaka covers a lot.
I was hoping after the last episode we were either going to have some off screen time advancement and rank rising, or otherwise be able to now more into some more forward sumo wrestling matches. Here we are still seemingly at the same event as before, which does make some sense with being able to do multiple matches in the same day and we already covered all the pre-game debut jitters last week. In theory, we can maybe now give some more screen time to a bit more in the way of actual matches.
To wit then: Tanaka’s next match ends before it has event started due to, well… him farting then running out of the ring so hard he slams his head on a railing. Matsutarou then imagines his opponent as some variety of club wielding ogre from mythology, who stares back and… sees Matsutarou as a dragon, gets incredibly psyched out and whimpering, then is just pushed over.
I get the idea that Matsutarou is supposed to be super strong and all, but his matches have been incredibly poor displays of this. He does not get to so much make a convincing display so much as his opponents just sort of roll over and do not fight back, resulting in simple one hit knockdowns. Which are two very different kinds of feelings as a viewer, despite being very similar in effect. For a sumo series, portrayal of the sport itself just has not been all that engaging.
Otherwise we have Matsutarou and Tanaka wandering around town with nothing to do, playing baseball games with kids, eat sandwiches, and sit around throwing a raging party back at the stable while everyone else is at an appreciation dinner for the head of their club because he has been suffering from stress recently.
Which is understandable. This is a pretty simple show, and yet I too am often not really sure what it is up to, what it wants to be or achieve, and why Toei enlisted it for their lineup.
Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!! (Abarenbou Kishi!! Matsutarou) [Episode nine]
The name of this episode was “How Wrestlers Relax,” and odd as it sounds I keep discovering aspects most weeks regarding why this show does not really stick with me over the long term. I can not really say I dislike the series, given what is is geared for and what it does to execute on that objective. But I have difficulty being able to say I really enjoy it either. It just sort of exists. I watch it, and I move on.
With this particular kind of episode, many slice of life oriented series would be able to make a really great day of it: the seniors at the wrestling stable have been doing well, but none of the younger inductees have won a watch outside of our lead character. Some words get exchanged before the manager and two of our higher ranking wrestlers head out for a special swanky V.I.P. meeting, and we end up with our younger crew getting treated to some spending money for a night on the town after complaining they are worked to hard.
Alright then, folks are too tense after their debuts and failures, loosen ‘em up with a nice time out for morale, etc.
The thing is, and it only dawned on me mid-episode: I do not know the names / personalities / etc of basically anyone else in this younger stable crew outside of Matsutaro and sidekick Tanaka. All others are just a bunch of faces that exist around the lead, with no distinguishing characteristics, traits, or even much of a group narrative. I think being vexed with Matsutaro doing things like trying to strongarm huge discounts as a buffet is fine, as he is by and large supposed to be a frustrating character to others. But that is a general blanket group mood.
For instance, there is this fine little moment at the end of the episode where after a night of fishing on a pier (started due to Matsutaro trying to steal all their spending money while they are distracted, given who he is), things take a turn. Fish are caught too quickly for his plan, meals are had, and there is a nice evening party of songs, food, laughs, etc. And it just does not connect with me as a swell cast moment the same it would in numerous other programs. I do not know these characters outside of “Dudes Generally Frustrated By Matsutaro A – Through – F.”
Ping Pong The Animation can get away with the less central team members being more unknown, but it has multiple main figures from several schools to compensate for that, and the framing and how the more anonymous background team members come to be together or grow apart is entirely different in execution.
Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!! (Abarenbou Kishi!! Matsutarou) [Episode ten]
The title of this episode is Tanaka’s First Victory.
At times, I really would like it if this had actually been a show animated in the 1970’s when the source material was coming out, as it so clearly wants to be that. And it is a hard thing to attempt to recapture today, in a sense, since even with the art design style and more minimal backgrounds it has, it does not move the same way and the low budget digital animation can not capture the same sorts of tonal hues this would have potentially had with decades old painted cels.
Certainly, it would also make things like the show doing things like reusing upwards of a minute of prior material of Matsutaro yelling at Tanaka’s debut game a few episodes back as a flashback far easier to swallow.
I tend to be a lot more forgiving of that with far older episodic programs of the era this series wants to be a part of, since they were designed in a such a way where folks could easily jump on at any time given the huge differences in television consumption and any kind of home video media market. When I am watching a currently airing series streamed over the internet from half a world away from its country of origin on the same day and date though, well, the availability or access to prior material is a lot different. So it comes off a lot more directly as cost cutting as opposed to something that actually came out four decades ago, even if the net implementation is broadly the same.
Either way, this episode was Tanaka’s time, as it said, and it was all about him coming to get over his hesitations and hiccups in the ring and finally win his first game of the season. We see how his teammates attempt to encourage or defend him in various ways, we get to see his dad and some of that backstory which exists there, and we have chestnuts from home being able to bring things about to a happy conclusion for him. It is all pretty by the book, but I felt it was well executed and I think it easily marks the strongest episode the series has had so far.
You get a solid piano soundtrack going, we have the character doing things like waking up before everyone else, taking in the chart full everyone successes, and so on, then one has a totally reasonable little character drama episode without it ever feeling to heavy but it still had some weight to it. We get what likely amounts to our first real honest to goodness sumo match back and forth struggle in the ring this season. A lot less fart jokes and screwball messing around, sure, and I think the show had a better feel this week as a result.
Looking back on the series as a whole at this point, it is kind of noteworthy how more important or forward of a character I assumed Reiko was going to be. Here in this episode she shows up for a few seconds for some “good luck today” style dialogue, and that is more than we often get to see her. Despite the character having pretty big footing in the intro credits, and singing a duet in them at that.
Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!! (Abarenbou Kishi!! Matsutarou) [Episode eleven]
After a two week break, this show is back on the air again. It was really strange timing, as now I am not really sure whether to call this a season finale or a new beginning, as the show will be continuing on into Summer.
The show was doing reasonably well for itself last time, with Tanaka getting his first victory and how that all played out (so it would certainly be a solid option to have had as a season finale, if we are looking at it that way). We resume then with Matsutaro really, really wanting a cut of the prize money he has been raking in through his own series of undefeated bouts. The more things change, the more they stay the same, and all that.
The notion that he would make a lot more money playing baseball is noteworthy to bring up though, even for an adaptation of a manga series this old, given the fits of decline in sumo over the years. The reason of course the whole stable system is what is of course goes back to the notion that the younger wrestlers serve, and the more senior members are served. Which goes straight through beyond even who does what chores to the winnings purse as well. It is not necessarily that sumo wrestlers are paid super poorly, as one also takes into account things like room and board, but certainly in terms of raw size of the numbers on a cheque, a different sporting career with fewer or at least different long term health problems can seem more appealing. One can rise up as a hotshot superstar a lot faster in other sports as well, should a team be willing to put someone on the first team in a game like baseball or football, while the highest levels of sumo have a fixed number of wrestlers one needs to break into. It takes a fair amount of time, generally speaking, so certainly something that would be seen as problematic for a guy like Matsutaro who is more interested in instant gratification.
I thought him meeting Okogane before their match and having dinner was going to go down a lot differently than it did. That the rich blonde whose family owns a number of restaurants was inviting him out in pursuit of getting Matsutaro to throw the game was expected enough. But, I suppose I was looking at it more as an opportunity that was going to play into intentional food poisoning or the like that our lead would need to try and shake off with later digestive effects (we did have that one episode that was a series of characters farting on other folks, after all). So that it came off instead as more of a direct play to the previously mentioned instant monetary gratification issue and the gifting of restaurants should the match be thrown in Okogane’s favor, well, that was unexpectedly nice. Well, as nice as match fixing conversations get, anyway. I prefer it being more upfront like this though over what directions it could have veered into.
The physics of this show still kind of throw me for a loop at times. We will be in extended series of events and even whole episodes at a stretch where we are pretty grounded in reality based gravity, then here we have Matsutaro bouncing a sizable sumo opponent so hard they end up in the upper level of the audience decks. It is not really a massive problem, as this is a pretty casual show to turn on that I do not feel a need to think too hard during. It just comes off as a little weird when things like that happen, I guess, while at the same time I do not really bat an eye at Matsutaro shrugging off an attack by multiple dudes in a parking lot.
Looking part two, for my comments relating to episodes 12 – 23 of Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!!? Click here!