My Review of Battle Athletes Victory!

The year is 4999 AD. A very long time ago, the planet was knocked off of it’s axis by a devastating event that left mankind teetering on the brink of extinction, and the full nature of which has been lost to history. In their efforts to rebuild society from the ground up, mankind has decided to abandon war and instead settle their differences through athletic competition. This may sound like the Olympics to you, but the nature of their Great Competition is almost nothing like the gladiatorial events that we know today. For just over 1000 years, young women from all over the world have been flocking to a special school in Antarctica, to train and compete against each other, with the the top three students from each year being sent to the University Satellite! But that’s not all, because over the millennia, mankind has finally expanded into outer space, and every single planet(including some of their moons) sending their own athletes to compete at the Satellite! This intense, harrowing tournament will separate the tough from the timid, the hardcore from the soft, and the naturals from the dreamers as the best and the strongest athletes from the entire universe will battle it out for the title of Cosmo Beauty!

One of these young hopefuls is Akari Kanzaki, who… Let’s just face it, is completely hopeless. She’s slow, fragile, and is just as clueless as to what she’s doing at the Antarctic training site as we are. Being the daughter of Tomoe Midoh, the greatest Cosmo Beauty in the history of the Great competition, she has the genetic make-up that any other competitor would kill for, but her athletic abilities, and her attitude towards training, make her long-lasting lock on last place feel even more painful to watch. While some of her fellow students may have a soft spot for the doe-eyed lump, others see her as an insult to everything they’ve dedicated their lives towards, and aren’t shy about letting her know it. But could the apathetic Akari be more than meets the eye? Could her exterior, which is about as threatening as a rag doll, be hiding an untapped well of talent that’s just begging to be discovered? And even going beyond that, is there some darker truth hiding behind the Great competition itself? As the competition heats up, and the champs rise above the chumps, the 1003’rd Cosmo Beauty may turn out to be the most important one of all.

For Battle Athletes victory, we return to AIC, or Anime International company, only this time we’re looking at one of their earliest works, which came out in the late nineties. The series will be 20 years old this October, and as such, it looks extremely dated. This was a time when the moe style was nowhere to be seen, anime had to work harder to look good regardless of budget, and character designs ranged from cartoony to realistic, while rarely ever straying away from believable human anatomy. Artwork was a lot less polished, and physiques were exaggerated a lot more than they are today. For the time it came out in, Battle Athletes victory looks really good… When it wants to. The animation in this title is heavily inconsistent, and it works for the most part. For athletic competitions that can’t be written off with cheap budget saving tricks(And a few of them definitely are), the animation can be straight up gorgeous. I’ve heard it said that one of the most difficult things to animate is character’s legs when they’re walking and running, and yeah, I’ve seen enough failed attempts to understand this.

A lot of work goes into the simple visual of feet hitting and pressing back off of the ground, which is why a lot of animation tends to focus on above the feet, if they’re not just resorting to bouncing the image of the character’s face. In spite of this, I’m not exaggerating when I say that Battle Athletes Victory makes running animation look easy. They can pull it off at any speed, from fast running that doesn’t give you time to analyze it, to slow-motion running that perfectly captures every single movement of the body to the point that I have to wonder just how much live action research they must have done beforehand. A lot of money clearly got poured into these scenes, because most of the other sports featured in this show aren’t really as impressive. That’s not to say they look bad, but there’s a lot of close-ups, a lot of short bursts of action, and occasionally even repeated animation cycles that are meant to give the illusion of physical activity, and thanks to some smart editing, it almost always works. About half of the action in this series is running, of course, so it’s still an impressive looking series.

Well, for the most part, at least. The budget gets spread too thin at times, and when they run into trouble with it, the quality just abruptly tanks. There are sequences, and a couple of entire episodes, that look less like a high budget show from the late nineties and more like a low budget show from the early nineties. A lot of the material between competitions is just characters talking, interacting and having the camera freeze on them during internal monologues, and this does worlds of good for the budget, but at it’s worst, even scenes like those wind up looking like ass. The character designs, while imaginative, don’t follow the most attractive color palette, making the artwork look kinda grungy at times, and since the characters are mostly designed to carry realistic human anatomy, there are only a few of them that can get away with deformed anime expressions… Some of the more serious characters, such as Akari’s rival Jessie, just look terrifying when attempting to do the same. The color saturation and use of lighting are beautiful, but there are too many instances where the artwork looks rough, and over-all unfinished.

The music, while pretty repetitive, is unbelievable. As with any good sports-related media, the story has a deeply emotional feel to it, and the music composed by Yoshikazu Suo was clearly designed to augment these emotions. Some of the happier moments between competitions will be played alongside the upbeat “There’s no Point Unless You Goal,” actual competition will be accompanied by the intense pounding beat of Battle Program, and for those more devastating and heart-breaking moments… Of which there is a surprising amount… We’ll get the violin track Adagio of Despair. Character themes were very thoughtfully put together and instantly reminiscent of the characters they’re attached to… Even when that’s primarily because they’re based on the races of extremely stereotypical characters, which I’m going to get to in a minute… But the highlight is Wings, the opening to the series, and easily one of my favorite of all time. Joyful and inspirational, and full of imagery that gives each character a fair dose of screen time while throwing in subtle hints about the series. Too bad you only get to see it once per disk… No, I’m not kidding. The same can be said for the sweet Honeybee, the closing theme.

The English dub is a bit hit or miss, but I still prefer it over the Japanese by a great deal, even if the writers made a few embarrassing mistakes in it, such as mistakenly writing a flashback scene as a current scene, or having Akari say another character’s name before actually learning it. I can kind of imagine mistakes like those happening in the old days, but it would be unheard of today. Hey, at least they didn’t try to crowbar in any pointless references to obscure current events, am I right? Anyway, the cast is full of Geneon actors from the late nineties, including the legendary Lia Sargent as the main character Akari, whom she plays very straightforward, innocent and full of heart, even as she grows from a spoiled and co-dependent slacker into a stronger, more confidant idealist, constantly changing while still sounding like the same person at heart. Wendee Lee plays the gruff Osakan native Itchino, in what’s probably one of my favorite roles of hers, as she balances the characters softer and tougher sides fluidly. Steve Blum also gets a small role as the University Satellite headmaster, Grant Oldman, although it’s not a very demanding role, his presence is still appreciated.

Bridget Hoffman pulls double duty as both the Chinese stereotype character Ling Pha, which she performs in a comedically exaggerated accent, and then in a much more dignified role as Anna, who… Like one of her more recent characters… Is a sweet, diminutive girl with a dark, potentially dangerous side that’s hiding beneath the surface. As a treat to any Trigun fans that happen to be reading this, Dorothy Elias-Fahn plays Kris Christopher, a strange but strong-willed girl who has a deep, unrequited crush on Akari. So it’s basically the Milly and Meryl pairing you thought would never happen. Also, as an interesting for Ghost in the Shell fans, two different Motoko Kusanagi actors… Mary Elizabeth McGlynn from the anime and Mimi Woods from the video game, play characters that never actually meet or speak to each other. They’re both good, but McGlynn is phenomenal at how she plays an emotionless character who finds emotion through competition. Julie Maddalena probably had the only bad performance, but I don’t really blame her, because she was playing an annoying and entirely problematic character, so she was probably doing the best she could with what she was given. Finally, we get Jamieson Price, and as much as I’d like to go into detail about why he’s so amazing in this, his character is unfortunately mired in spoilers.

So if you haven’t realized by now, this show is really freaking weird. It’s possibly even one of the weirdest anime I’ve ever seen. There are a ton of strange anime out there that just shove weirdness into your face until it hits diminishing returns and becomes passé, such as Hare + Guu and Excel Saga, but with victory, the weirdness is paced in a way that it can keep consistently shocking you, as each strange detail that gets added to the story makes it’s impact and then settles neatly into the reality of the series’ universe, becoming commonplace for both the viewer and the characters… Until the next kooky detail comes along. So what if one of the main characters has a pet cow that’s allowed to live in her dorm with her? That’s just Gyuube, don’t mind her. So what if an alien turns a girl into a car? those aliens are just like that. So what if one of the show’s only male characters needs a constant supply of chocolate to survive? So what if some characters have unexplained jewels embedded in the foreheads, while other girls don’t? This series takes place in a strange world, with a strange premise, and it seems to revel in the idea of completely ignoring your expectations.

To it’s credit, though, it’s not like it tries to trick you into letting your guard down for it. Victory lets you know right off the bat how weird it’s going to be right from the first shot of episode 1, where the athletes at the Antarctica Training Center are in the middle of an important assessment test, racing while pulling gigantic rolling weights behind them. They’re not just pulling these multi-ton items behind them unhindered, however… They’re moving over rough terrain, avoiding booby traps, and even using their weights as weapons against each other. The results are of course catastrophic, as them main character(Whose been in dead last nearly the entire race) accidentally launches into the air and takes out a media reporter’s hot air balloon. And if that’s not enough, right in the second episode, there’s a biking competition where the contestants are riding on a roller-coaster track, which is designed not only to go up and down, around curves and loop-de-loop like a real roller coaster, but which can even be moved and rearranged DURING THE RACE from a control room overlooking the action.

If you can get through episode 2 without picking up on the fact that this series will leave no shark unjumped, you must have been fiddling with your phone the entire time. Not everything got the sci-fi treatment, of course… We get more normal sports like racing, soccer, tennis and the like. But when it came to making up weird sports, this series goes balls to the wall with it’s level of creativity and imagination. Like a game of pool where the balls are huge, and you have to break them by bowling. Or zero-gravity lacrosse that adds several new dimensions to the game. Then there’s my personal favorite, when they play air hockey, but the puck is as big as a dinner plate, and it’s literally hovering in mid-air, begging you to sing the Crossfire commercial theme. There are others, of course, but in most of these events, the human limit is constantly being pushed and broken, even before we see runners that can accelerate fast enough to create shock waves, and there’s seemingly no rule against injuring your opponent in the middle of battle, as people being taken out with grueling injuries is seen as little other than an elimination.

I’d normally be tearing apart a show like this over how ridiculous it is, how little sense it makes, and how almost none of it could feasibly happen in the real world, even in a dystopian future. Hell, there ARE some plot details I can’t get over, but that’s just the thing… They’re plot details, not connected to the weird pieces of sports logic throughout the series. What ultimately saves this show from being too stupid to excuse is just how sincere it all is. Yeah, the featured sporting events may be ridiculously beyond human capabilities, but to it’s credit, the athletes performing them are constantly TRAINING themselves beyond human capabilities, and the final story arc gives us an actual solid reason(albeit still just as ridiculous) for why they need to train to surpass conceivable human limits. It never feels like their abilities are undeserved, either… The characters train their asses off, and even when you don’t get to see them do so, you can easily tell from their attitudes what their approach is to training as well as just how serious they are about it. Those that don’t are considered ‘naturals,’ and are treated as anomalies.

So, ultimately, what saves this series from being laughable is it’s mastery over character writing. Every single character who gets even a mild level of importance is given a distinct arc, full of development and memorable moments. Akari easily gets the most of it, because in a way that’s almost reminiscent of Goku, every time she breaks into a new level of ability, there’s another major lesson she has to learn, and another serious challenge for her to overcome, and they all seem to make sense, despite rarely being predictable and once or twice relying on some shaky logic. I went into some detail about this in my review of Gunbuster last year, but throughout the course of the story, Akari is forced to evolve and grow as a character, from a whiny, spoiled little doll to a fierce competitor who can shave significant time off of her running speed just by reading a tip in a book. She has to overcome limits and challenges that are really more psychological than physical, and she’s not the only one. Everyone in this show has demons they have to deal with in order to grow and develop.

There’s a lot of ways to bring depth to your writing, and one of those ways is to have your story be about something. It can be a theme, it can be an idea, but it has to be consistent. Battle Athletes victory is a story about Truth. I don’t mean abstractly, like learning how not to lie, I mean deep, complex truth. The truths we hide from others, the truths we hide from ourselves, and even the truths that get buried throughout history. I said before that there’s a lot of character development in this series, but more specifically, every character has a hidden truth… Sometimes multiple… They they need to uncover within themselves in order to grow. An emotionless girl who’s been trained to be an athletic machine will be forced to realize that the only thing she truly cares about is beating her rival. A prideful overachiever will be devastated to realize there’s another plane of greatness she’ll never be able to reach. The goofball will realize just how much winning the competition meant to her, when she no longer has food or friends around to comfort her. You may train your best friend, only to be forced to acknowledge how much being better than them means to you when she starts to close in on you. Hell, the most dishonest character in the cast, Ling Pha, is arguably the only one who never really develops.

But the most important truth in the series, to me, is the one that rang true to me a few years ago. I’ve seen this series multiple times, and one of those rewatches happened when I was having trouble at work. I was slowing down, not really giving it my all, and after a while of it, I got called into the office. They asked me what was wrong, why I wasn’t producing results, and I said I didn’t know, claiming that I was busting my ass… Words I almost choked on, because even I knew they were bullshit. This all changed when I realized that I was doing the same thing Akari was doing. Whenever I was faced with a task that looked too difficult, I’d automatically accept that it was impossible, and I’d use that excuse to not try. I didn’t have a friend like Itchan to wake me up to this fact, but it was true, I was sabotaging myself, making excuses for failures that hadn’t happened yet. As soon as I realized this, I put a stop to it. I decided that no job was impossible, no matter how unreasonable. Ever since that day, I’ve never given up, I’ve never made excuses for myself, and I’ve continued to be employed as a result. It’s easy for a story to teach life lessons to kids, but when you can change the life and outlook of an adult viewer, there’s something special there.

Having said that, this series isn’t perfect. It has some flaws, and they go deep. There are constant logical derps… The true nature of the character Eric might have you pulling your hair out… But it’s biggest problem is it’s over-use of harmful and insulting stereotypes. The Russian girl is an emotionless machine, the Chinese girl is a dishonest cheater who’s always trying to sell stuff to people, the lesbian is a predatory lech who pays no regard to consent or mutual attraction(think the black girl from Pitch Perfect but not quite as bad), and the black girl… Holy shit, the black girl. Yeah, there’s a character here who’s from Africa, and her character is so racist that even Paula Dean would be insulted. She’s likeable, don’t get me wrong, but if this were an American cartoon, it would be one of the Censored 11. She runs around on all fours, uses her nose like a blood hound, is a “Natural runner,” and there’s an entire episode dedicated to her running around school in a tribal uniform, worshipping a totem god and painting everyone’s faces. There’s also a lot of lame jokes, such as the gimmick of a trio of hijackers, and… Okay, honestly, the whole episode that began the University Satellite arc kinda sucked.

It’s second biggest problem, right behind the racism issue, is the availability of the series. I mean, the lack thereof. Battle Athletes victory was available from Pioneer, which would eventually become Geneon, which would eventually go out of business. It’s been out of print for almost 20 years, and I can’t find any information about anybody trying to rescue it. If that’s not bad enough, the DVDs that it’s actually available on are pieces of shit, dated in all the worst ways. First of all, as I mentioned before, you only get the opening once per disk. That’s because it uses Dragonball Z’s marathon feature, only it’s not a feature, you don’t have a choice. Opening, three to four back-to-back episodes, closing. And the dubbers plastered white text over the opening instead of trying to avoid blocking the visuals. You can find these DVDs for fairly cheap online, and if you’re trying to get all 8 of them, you may even get lucky with a fifty dollar bundle on Ebay. The original OVA is also available stateside, but the manga is not. but seriously, if you’re reading this and actually have the right connections, PLEASE get this series rereleased. Discotek’s been into that kind of thing lately.

It’s not often that you hear about an anime changing someone’s life. They can turn you off from violence, help you to overcome prejudices, change your attitude towards your own life, make you appreciate your loved ones in new ways… Battle Athletes victory is a series that literally, tangibly changed my life, and I’m pretty sure I’d have lost my job and a significant portion of my livelihood without it. I won’t BS you by calling it a masterpiece, that’s not true… The visual quality is inconsistent, the logic isn’t always sound, it’s only black character is too much like Rob Schneider from The Animal, but if you’re able to get past all of that, this series is beautiful. It’s full of heart, has an undeniable passion for athletics and competition, and it’s always finding new ways to make you cry, without having to rely on any cliché modern day tragedy porn. There’s nothing manipulative about it, just genuine emotion and sincere sportsmanship. The sci-fi elements are also a blast, and while the final stretch may have jumped the shark a little too far… Even I’ll admit that… It’s very rarely unenjoyable, even then. It’s an obscure title, but it’s well worth the effort it’ll take to find it. I give Battle Athletes Victory an 8/10.  

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