As we stare down the beginning of pandemic year two: electric boogaloo, things are starting to look (cautiously) up. There’s a third vaccine on the horizon, distribution is evening out, schools are starting to poke at the idea of reopening. I registered my kids for summer camp and they may actually get to go, which will be amazing for all of us, especially my extrovert 8-year-old who really, really, really needs to run around in the same physical space as their friends and not in the digital realm. I mean, I’m not planning on going to a con anytime soon or like, licking any floors but, as I said, cautious optimism.
Still. Things have been rough and they still are. We don’t have definite end dates or start dates and limbo…limbo is the hardest place to be. It’s much easier to tolerate difficult times if they come with a hard stop date; people can do almost anything if they know it’s for X weeks or Y months. It’s much more difficult to persist if one doesn’t know how long they’re going to have to persist for, how long you’ll have to maintain your energy before you get a rest.
Or if you’ll get to rest at all.
As I’ve mentioned previously, one of the ways I’ve been getting through is with comics, manga, and anime, and I’ve found myself partaking more than previously in those that are sports themed. Why? Well, first of all, I miss sports; I’m not much of a football girl and hockey and baseball weren’t quite the same with the cardboard crowds as they are with the energy of actual people. I also couldn’t go, which, for baseball…I need to take in a couple of games a year live to maintain my enthusiasm for a sport that slow, especially if my team sucks and, wow did the Pirates suck last year. At least if you’re there you can bitch and moan with several thousand of your closest friends and eat nachos out of a plastic hat.
Sports feelings. Comics. Manga. Anime. Transfer. Where? Here:
Fence by C.S. Pacat and Johanna the Mad
My trash sons. I love them.
Nicholas Cox: secret son of a famous fencer, naturally skilled but undisciplined. Wins scholarship to fancy private school. Tries real hard, wants to kick his half-brother’s ass real hard too.
Seiji Katayama: Said half-brother’s old fencing partner, Nicholas’s roommate at said fancy private school. Does not need scholarship but could have gone somewhere with a more competitive fencing team. Why he didn’t remains a mystery.
Enemies to teammates to boyfriends? Maaaaaaybe? If they can compromise on the clutter level of their room long enough to pull down the duck sheet they have dividing their room.
Everyone else on the team? Equally as enamored of drama or swept along in it very much against their will, kicking and screaming but, damnit, they’re not going to let their friends down and also, this is their team and they worked hard to get here.
If you gobble up the four available volumes of the comic the way I did, it’s okay; Sarah Rees Brennan wrote a prose YA novel, Fence: Striking Distance, featuring the entire cast of the comic but focusing on Harvard, the team Captain, and his best friend Aiden, team playboy and cad, that was released in September of 2020; a second entry in the series, Fence: Disarmed, in which the team goes to camp in Paris, is due in May of this year.
Haikyū!! by Haruichi Furudate
You can consume Haikyū!! in a couple different ways: you can read the manga, you can watch the anime, or you can do both. My husband has watched the anime and, despite it being an almost frame for frame translation of the manga, is so enamored of this joyously wholesome entity he is now reading through the comic with equal devotion. I’m starting with the manga but the kids are almost out of Black Clover (they’ve been having to wait for weekly drops, can you imagine?) and I’ve heard My Hero Academia is a lot this season so I think we’re going to start this one as well.
So, what’s special about Haikū!!: I like that each member of the “cast” has a story. I like that they’re willing to share them. I like that they’re willing to admit they aren’t perfect. I think it’s important for people of all genders to observe a group of male presenting characters giving a crap about each other and having emotions about it. I like that people get frustrated and have to work through it because, fuck, life is hard and more things in life are frustrating than are easy and sometimes even adults need reminders that it’s okay to have to take time to learn something. That the way through is to set a goal and say, “I will,” and maybe you will and maybe you won’t, but you’re sure as hell try.
And if you’re wondering, no. You don’t have to love volleyball to love this book. Though you’ll learn a lot about it even if you don’t mean too.
Bonus: Sports Anime
Okay, I have a confession to make.
Before I watched Yuri!!! not only was I not into figure skating, it actively irritated me because when the Winter Olympics came around I wanted to watch ski jumping and curling and all that was very on was fucking figure skating.
I’m not saying I would sit and watch it for hours on end or anything but. It has definitely grown on me. Though I would really love to see some for reals same sex pairs skating some day.
I have a second confession to make. I’ve watched this little anime that could three times in the last six months, because there is so much in it that is powerful beyond the skating (which is very powerful and very beautiful).
There is the way Victor navigates Yuri’s anxiety and their relationship with so much empathy and with so much care. The way he takes the time to get to know him, the way that, when he makes a mistake, and he does, he stops, he considers, he reframes. He tries again. And again. The way he works hard to become a real partner.
There is the way Yuri allows Victor to do that. The way he accepts help and gives Victor something he’s never fully given anyone else in return: his trust which, it turns out, is the most precious thing he has.
There’s angry Yurio, so afraid to let anyone through his shell, afraid that he’ll lose his edge if he lets himself feel, discovering that he’s only his whole self when he does.
There’s found family. Shared history.
The idea that every so often a dream does come true. And that maybe, just maybe, if one person believes you can win more than you do, you will.
Also, katsu pieroshki, which I am totally making someday.
Sports for the win. Sometimes all you need to score your own victory is to get inspired by someone else’s. These are my go-to choices. What are some of yours? Let us know on Twitter @BookRiot.