The No.1 Volleyball Anime – Attack No.1

During the 1950s and 60s, which could be considered
a transitional period for shojo manga there were some notable mangaka that were taking
it towards exciting new places. One of them was Chicako Urano, whose late
60s manga was serialized in a very important magazine that was
still in its infancy at the time. She was notably inspired by the Japanese women’s
volleyball team winning gold in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics which was the year where volleyball
made its debut in the Olympics, and also happened to be a time where
volleyball was big in Japan. This little story is called Attack no.1. Attack No.1 aired from 1969 to 1971 although judging by some of the
European openings I’m guessing some might know it as
more of an 80s anime From what I’ve been able to gather, Attack
No.1 was pretty popular back in the day And it occupies quite a few #1 spots
in anime history It’s the first volleyball anime series and the first women’s sports anime series as well. It’s the third shojo anime behind Sally
The Witch and Himitsu no Akko-chan meaning it’s the first shojo that’s not
a magical girl adaptation. It’s also the first shojo anime series that’s
an adaptation of a manga by a female mangaka. And it’s one of the if not the first sports
anime to take place in middle school and high school. Attack No.1 follows Kozue Ayuhara, who’s
very much an aspirational figure. She’s smart and beautiful, she has good
grades, she’s popular and she’s a sport prodigy. Her character design is also unique. What looks like windows and galaxies inside
of the eyes of a shojo character are not exactly hard to find in manga of the time but in the anime, the shojo eyes are used to make Kozue immediately stand out against the more
realistically designed cast. Before joining the volleyball club Kozue becomes the leader of a group of girls known as delinquents and good for nothings because they don’t like to study but do like to dance psychedelically likely to make her even more cool. Given that the 60s was a time of… Let’s say the young, wild and free, among
other things which saw the emergence of subcultures like the sukeban or girl gangs, it’s perhaps
no surprise that the show introduces actual delinquent girls later, and they are intense. In terms of Kozue’s volleyball journey,
she goes from aimless middle schooler, to a girl who pretty much lives for volleyball
and eventually aims to become quite literally Attack No.1 The story escalates from district qualifiers,
to nationals, to the junior world championship, and then basically re-starts the process when
Kozue goes to high school, with emphasis on the inter-high tournaments. The show often highlights the
importance of teamwork, which sometimes results in their
own individual stories, but it really is all about Kozue overcoming all obstacles and working
to stay at the top of her game. The battles can be between pairs and trios, but they are usually one on one
between Kozue and her rivals The rivals are either tough, mean,
or both so you bet it gets dramatic. On the least honorable side, we have betrayals, conspiracies, blackmail and actual kidnapping to win tournaments. But still, they usually end on
friendly terms. The techniques and combinations range from dramatically presented but mostly realistic looking to beautiful, nightmare-inducing superhuman
nonsense, and it’s delightful. This is the kind of story where there’s
just too many characters to list them, and speaking about all the rivals could probably
be its own video, but among the closest to Kozue we have: Midori Hayakawa who’s Kozue’s best gal pal. She’s introduced as a scheming mean girl
who mends her ways and truly starts to show her charm after recognizing Kozue’s leadership,
the value of teamwork and the power of beautiful friendships with possible lesbian undertones. There’s Tsutomu Ichinose, who’s supposed to be an encouraging figure
and Kozue’s love interest he’s also her cousin Not by blood but because her uncle and his aunt
are married but the show likes to play with the idea that they’re totally related one would think for melodramatic and maybe even scandalous reasons except this is totally ignored after a little while like it never happened. I was prepared to fully criticize how the
romance with this dude gets suddenly overemphasized
once Kozue starts high school. But in hindsight, this was likely the show
trying to make sure you are invested on a dude that didn’t have much screentime before, so you would care when they suddenly make him fall off a (beep) cliff to his death. Which is honestly so wild and so highly melodramatic I don’t even know what to say. Except… that I was entertained. The fact that it takes a love interest becoming
a tragic backstory behind Kozue’s determination to become Attack No.1 kinda makes this
feel like a superhero backstory. And by the way, she does get another love
interest, who kinda embodies where Kozue is at at the time in terms of understanding her
grief and Kozue’s love belonging to volleyball, because he’s also all about volleyball, he’s the #1 on the national men’s volleyball team. Which is fine and all but the show also feels
the need to make sure we know that Kozue looks exactly
like this dude death little sister. Anyway, scandal and melodrama is mostly related
to the volleyball and the lengths people are willing to go in order to win. Besides the rivals, this means training and
coaches like this dude, who I will be calling Coach #1 Coach #1 is an example of old anime mentorships
that are borderline if not outright abusive. Towards the beginning in particular he constantly
favors messing with the girls’ minds because honestly, (beep) just lives for drama. He’s also the one who introduces us to
the exaggerated, never-ending violent volleyballs during training, which becomes standard practice
and maybe even motivation for the rest of the series, with varying degrees of violence. If someone’s not trying to murder you with
a volleyball, they don’t mean business. We also have Hippie Coach who’s a pretty
big deal. He appears to train the girls for
the world championships and he actually makes coach #1
look like the sensible one. The man is ruthless and so extreme he destroyed
one of his arms during training when he was still a student so you can imagine his intensity. Violence on this series can range from entertainingly
over the top, to infuriating and downright unsettling, and while there’s attempts to mark limits and boundaries, it either gets contradictory
or the lines are just blurry. It brings up sexism of the time as well, sometimes
to briefly confront it, but it also can play into it. The competence of the most prominent female
coach is explicitly put into question because she’s a woman, and while there’s some
push back against the idea that women can’t coach it stands out that she’s seen as
not strict enough, which means not good enough, because she’s sensible and no one is in
danger of hospitalization when she tosses a volleyball. And we can’t have that, so her prominence
ends with her running away in tears as coach #1 arrives to take charge again and bring back the murderous volleyballs. This is fine. It’s… good for the girls. It’s… good for their growth. It’s fine. On the production values or
the technical side of the show, it does have the
occasional error here and there and weirdly funny animation but it generally holds up
pretty well, and it can pull off some truly great sequences. But my favorite thing has to be the ever-present
eye sparkle. You’re never truly prepared for the glory
of these sparkles. On the international stage, the girls are
very impressed by New York and the show certainly take its time to present it. However, although it avoids explicitly mentioning
racism, Kozue after briefly seeing how black people were living in the poorer side of the
city questions how free the land of the free i with illusions of the glamour of the city
shaken. It also brings up wars and the American occupation
in Japan in the context of grief, and the back then-recent Independence of Kenya as
its players move the audience to the point they stand up to express
their support for the country. It does play into some stereotypes, like in the black character’s designs. It’s also notable that white Americans kinda
tend to be singled out as the foreigners with their weird accents and random English phrases. Although the show mentions but never shows
the Olympics, it’s worth mentioning that the series shows its real-world inspiration
with the Soviets being the strongest opponents in the international games, and the Japanese
team’s biggest rivals. The show also tries to go beyond just volleyball by dealing with themes and questions like humans vs machines are academics and sports compatible? why do we play sports? doing sports out of pure passion vs doing it for fame, glory and money, and so on. The execution can be clumsy though. Other sports like tennis and soccer are also used
as inspiration to solve problems or come up with new strategies. Despite the show’s stumbles, there’s a lot that’s
still interesting and the show is very effective when it deals
with the pressure of success and maintaining your place at the top, the crushing pain of
defeat and the pay-off of a winning attack.

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