For a show occupying a unique premise this season, Fanfare of Adolescence can’t decide what it wants to focus on. One thing’s for sure, it could certainly use more horses for a jockey anime.
This series is streaming on Crunchyroll
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Alright Nicky. It’s the last month of the season, clock’s ticking, so let’s get down to business. No time for horsing around anymore.
You’re right, Nick. Maybe it’s about time we pony up and get these horses to the races, huh?
And with the help of some boys!!
Sadly this isn’t an [email protected] Side M-type spinoff from Uma Musume, but yeah, we’re covering Fanfare of Adolescence, the horse racing show all about cute boys training to be horse jockeys. Can it live up to the camp of that incredibly flowery title? Let’s find out.
Also, not to be mistaken from that one weird dating sim phone game with a hot guy’s face slapped onto a horse’s body. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The horse boys, as I calls ’em, starts off with our main character Yu deciding he wants to get out of the idol industry to go to horse racing school. This, of course, creates a big public upset. Before he even can get inaugurated, he is hounded by press media, fans, and his former company alike for trading his lead singer lifestyle to muck some stables for a few years. But, knowing how brutal the JP idol industry is, I personally can’t blame him for picking literal horseshit over that.
I can’t blame him for his decision, but I can blame him for being probably the biggest albatross around this show’s neck. Without getting too ahead of myself, I invite anyone who hasn’t watched this show to imagine what you’d expect from a sports series about aspiring jockeys. Maybe a lot of training, learning about horses, seeing the ins-and-outs of a sport that’s so storied yet idiosyncratic . Sound good? Now throw all of that into the back of your fridge for about two months while we watch Yu deal with media fallout and his awful management company.
I don’t dislike it as a point of drama, but his company is an ever-present part of the show. His former company head even sent a girl to document him and everyone on video (with the school’s permission) and bets on the idea that Yu will eventually quit and return to being a star so they can go back to lining their pockets with his talents.
But, you’re right in that it’s one of the ways the show leans more drama-heavy than sports-heavy. I think even Dance Dance Danseur leans into its sports genre tropes more than this show.
I have my issues with it as a narrative on its own, but my central problem is just that I don’t get why this was necessary. You’ve got an interesting premise! You have a setting and subject matter that nothing else airing right now can claim! Why do all this ancillary shit that just distracts from the seven other horse boys and girl?
I think even without going into other characters, there’s many people that will be disappointed in this show’s execution right off the bat. I was actually looking forward to this show based on the trailer before it aired but quickly fell flat when I realized that no animator nowadays in the current crunch-heavy climate wants to hand draw goddamn horses.
Horses are notoriously one of the hardest animals to draw and animate. I learned this myself at an early age when I used to obsessively watch the “How to Draw” feature on Dreamwork’s Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and failed miserably (I still can’t do it.) They’re giant awkward uncanny muscle beasts on four legs that have a specific rhythm of motion so most of the horses in the show are CG.
Yeahhhh. That’s probably half the reason that other horseracing advertisement show made them all bipedal anime girls instead. Kudos to Fanfare, it can occasionally do some decent horse drawings and solid races. But most of the time these graceful beasts look like nightmares from another series.
And it’s not like I’m inherently against CG. There’s very many times where it would be impossible to do some shots with 2D while trying to capture the same dynamics of speed and camera movement. The movement animation and the direction are overall solid and ambitious enough where I can forgive it when they do it well during the big set pieces. Some of the more fantastical sequences are gorgeous. But most of the average ones feel underwhelming when you notice how badly shaded or ugly the model is. I think their tails and manes suffer the worst of it, which most people would consider to be the prettiest part of a horse.
I suspect that’s also why the show leans so much into horseless drama, the better to not have to draw these creatures. Which, y’know, it is was it is, and that would be fine if what we got instead was interesting. Unfortunately if you don’t care about Yu trying to extricate himself from showbusiness there’s not a lot for you in the first seven episodes.
Which sucks because the end of the first episode had me raring to see some campy Jockey Boyfriends action.
I enjoy the setup of Yu’s counterpart Shun as a bonified natural horse whisperer. He’s a sensitive boy that is pretty much only in the sport for the heart of it. It had me hoping we’d have more about learning to get in touch with animals feelings in tandem with the feelings of others. Anyone who has seen or read any trademarked “Horse Girl” media would know that horses are needy and fickle creatures with big personalities that have to be understood, and this makes forming companionship with them both challenging and rewarding, not unlike dealing with other people.
But the show just kind of talks around the horses on that part even if it tries to sell their importance. A very big loss for Equestrian Appreciators out there. Tbh, I think Silver Spoon sold that kind of animal husbandry aspect waaay better and even included a few horse competitions, and that’s only one aspect of that series about overall farm life.
But alright, so the horse half of the show leaves a lot of wants. What about the boys half? They at least get some development. Even if the first few episodes they’re mostly there for very funny looking training montages.
Turns out the number 1 skill for a jockey is to never develop a sense of shame.
People who treat this as a boys doing things show will probably get more out of it, and I expect that’s more of what the show is trying to go for. This shot from the OP is basically just an idol line-up. Oh yeah, I should mention that while the appeal of the show is boys, one of the jockeys, Eri, is actually the only female jockey in the whole school. I appreciated that she got to be in a rival position and not a manager like most female characters in sports shows.
It’s a nice touch that’s mildly spoiled by her having absolutely nothing to do and no discernable personality outside of “girl.” 10 episodes in I could not tell you anything about her outside of the single isolated scene where she seemed to be into race gambling.
The character designs are done by Hiro Kanzaki, the character designer for Oreimo and Eromanga Sensei. I think they’re pretty clean but also couldn’t imagine them moving merch as much as something like Free!
Doesn’t help that they’re usually covered up by the jockey gear. Hard to make anybody look distinct from others with this getup. Especially when they become CG simulacra whenever they’re on a horse that has to move.
Yu gets a scar on his face midway through the season and it’s the only reason I can tell who he is whenever his hair is covered. Swear to God.
I suspect that this is part of why no one in Sk8 the Infinity ever wears helmets but at least they had different outfits.
They also had things like personalities and memorable character arcs. Which is something sadly lacking here. Like, there are attempts to characterize some of the cast, but more than halfway through the seasons there’s still a few of them whose names I haven’t bothered to learn. And one that I do remember is for all the wrong reasons.
Natsuki Hanae‘s unintentionally hilarious use of English was the most I laughed through the whole show. Though, I like the instructor’s weird ass English, too. It’s just guaranteed to make me giggle.
But yeah it was very weird to introduce us to an ensemble and then introduce a new stuck-up transfer student rival from a foreign country who doesn’t want to be there, even if he’s one of the more entertaining ones.
It was also a weird choice for part of his asshole gimmick to be correcting their teacher’s pronunciation of English loan words. Because while Hanae is a good voice actor, he is not a good English voice actor. So Amane just sounds like that friend you had who spent the summer in France and came back acting like they picked up the accent.
Yeah, it’s unintentionally funny. There’s a few other gags that are more intentional like attention-seeking Soujiro who I at least appreciate for being one of the few members of the cast to initially stick out as ambitious.
He also had daddy issues but outside of sort of helping in one other character’s arc, he also doesn’t get much to do. Similarly you have the angry redhead Aki, who initially sticks out for being combative and unwelcoming towards Yu, before it turns out he actually stans him and is just a big fuckin’ tsundere.
He’s much funnier when you find out he wants Yu to step on him. But these are little bits. I enjoy the overall shenanigans, like trying to get everyone back in the dorms before curfew or having fun at the beach. They do contribute to some character stuff but I feel like the show moves fast between points of drama, mostly involving Yu.
Yeah, the best moments of this show’s first arc are just the guys being dudes. Stuff like Yu instinctively doing his dance moves when the others are taunting him over his idol days does more to endear me to him than a million monologues about how much horse racing makes his heart go doki doki.
Especially when…we barely see any horse racing…
No time for that. We need an extended gag about one of their teachers having a mysterious twin brother who has never been seen in the same room as him.
I like that he specifies they’re from the same mother. As opposed to all those teleporting zygote twins born to different moms.
And just before this, Natsuki Hanae‘s character Amane Grace (which is a name Tomino would be proud of) tried to snipe Yu’s boyfriend Shun. It doesn’t have a lot of build up because it was only episode 3 and not enough to establish the threat having another rival would bring. Like really just trying to cram material here.
Also Amane is deathly afraid of girls, meaning Eri’s one and only purpose is firmly established, cursing her to never actually get a focus episode. Yayyyy.
And I think one character, Kouta gets like, one spoken joke throughout the entire 10 episodes? And it’s just about how he dislikes being forced to be responsible and in the background.
I’ll take your word on that being his name because I refuse to remember it.
Outside of Amane, basically the only character who’s gotten any real conflict or growth besides Shun and Yu is Hayato. And he gets the honor of being the Heavy storyline. Literally.
Horse jockeying means you can’t be too heavy or you’ll drag the horse but Hosho looks to be one of the skinniest boys in the whole cast so it’s a bit strange. On top of that, the other instructor is his dad. Hosho gets classic “develop an eating disorder and overwork myself like a self-destructive idiot” arc.
It’s also normal for your weight to fluctuate as a growing boy, it’s probs worse to put on more muscle.
Well the implication is that he’s getting taller, what with puberty and all, and if he gets too much bigger he’ll effectively grow out of the acceptable weight range for a jockey. There was a similar conflict to Russian Yuri in Yuri!!! on Ice and how the ravages of normal human growth can exclude you from the top levels of your passion.
It’s still very much playing into clichés that might not be everyone’s taste and we get little else about the character, though I attest that anime succeeds when it leans into melodrama and does it well, but we get more time on that before we get the biggest cliché of all: literally falling off the horse.
I’ll also note that I do think the overall show’s visual direction is good even if I find some of the writing to be questionable. It’s directed by Makoto Katō, who also did a lovely adaption of one of my fav yuri manga, Bloom Into You.
Katou’s a solid director, though there’s a few too many moments in this show where it feels like there’s Vaseline on the camera lens and everything’s out of focus. Unfortunately solid visual direction cannot stop Hosho’s arc from getting swallowed up almost entirely by Yu’s. Since Yu gets caught up in his horse accident and actually gets the worst of the injuries, leading to easily the worst stretch of episodes in this whole thing.
Again, one of the most notable horse clichés is an injury plot because falling off a horse can be dangerous and fatal. But it felt especially weird getting this at episode six when we’ve barely seen Yu get much ride time at all and now he won’t be able to train for the big test. He’s convinced his horse career is finished even though he’s only been at it for a few months. I mentioned the visual direction pulling weight because there’s some neat motifs that help ease an otherwise pretty shitty attempt to raise the stakes that isn’t really necessary.
Something like this is usually when you’re trying to end a series. It’s really weird having it smack-dab in the middle.
It also can’t save this storyline from feeling cheap as hell. Mostly that comes down to the overcontrolling CEO who insists she has Yu’s best interest by obstructing his jockey journey. Specifically in the incredibly shitty and manipulative ways she does this, like recording the aforementioned documentary solely so they could upload footage of Yu failing to all his fans to publicly shame him into giving up.
This almost makes Yu give up all hope, until his boyfriend comes in with the save and the MPV MP3 hand-off via wall-climbing into a third-floor hospital room window. They deserve so much better. I would love to see a show that is actually about their relationship because moments like this are sweet and full of heart-pounding potential.
It’s cute, but can’t offset how much I was dreading the inevitable toothless resolution to it all. I knew the moment they introduced the CEO they would never address the borderline abusive shit she pulls (isolating Yu from his friends and support network, denying his request for physical therapy, trying to have him removed from the school without his consent, etc etc) and instead settle for saying she had good intentions but was wrong about what’s best for Yu.
Hell, they don’t even bother to have Tako, the assistant who filmed and selectively edited that shaming footage, give a perfunctory apology. She just decides offscreen that psychologically cornering a teenager is maybe a bad move.
She basically acts like his MOM. Where are Yu’s actual parents? Shouldn’t they have a say in their son’s future and be able to protect him from a corporate entity trying to harass him. That’s some shit worthy of a restraining order.
It’s as bizarre as it is despicable, and you’d think the show would at least give us a moment of Yu triumphing over her, or enjoying being liberated from her control. But nope, he sneaks out and passes his Horse Test and she walks off with a knowing smile like she or anyone has learned anything from this ordeal.
Oh yeah, I haven’t even gotten to the best part of this show is actually its OST by goddamn Hiroyuki Sawano. I don’t like every part of the show but man does his score really sell every moment of it. Seeing Yu take the leap to the highs of the orchestra really got me, along with AN ACTUAL DRAWN HORSE. And then the show follows it with THAT.
It’s so unfair. The ED, also by Sawano, is also a total bop.
It really is a shame. There’s a good, fun, weird show in all this that can’t get its head above water because of all this useless, overwrought idol stuff. And I know that’s the case because after Yu’s story is completed we basically get a soft reboot with episode 8.
The pacing of this show is so goddamn weird. And it’s the 2nd sports show this season to get a weird stakes reboot after Birdie Wing.
At least Birdie Wing makes sense in that it’s fucking insane and can do whatever it wants. Here, it feels like they had plans for a season 2 and then had to cram both into a single cour.
Eight episodes in and we finally get some sort of focus for Shun. Who is an extremely good boy and really, really deserves better. But it’s also like the first time the show takes the horse part of it’s premise seriously? It’s just a completely different show. Shun is now in his second year working at a real stable. It’s really weird ’cause I honestly wouldn’t mind if this was the actual starting point of the show and have the rest be background.
It more or less functions as a totally new starting point. Half the original cast are just put on a bus to a different stable, the focus shifts entirely to Shun learning the ropes and using his Horse Sense to train race horses. We even get a totally new supporting cast. And frankly I wish we’d just started here rather than that extended prologue.
It also goes from being very little about horses to almost all about them and the politics of raising them and taking care of them. Including all the politics and drama involved. It’s such a weird tone shift. Being at different stables also means less time with Shun and Yu together but Yu still gets some screen time as he quarrels with an older jockey introduced earlier named Kuji.
They also fill the hole left by Yu with a new rich girl whose dad owns the horses in question. And I assume by the laws of heteronormativity she’s meant to be a love interest to Shun, but so far there haven’t been any moments where being with her has literally brought light and color back to his world, so she’s a poor replacement for Shun’s true love.
But y’know, obvious beard notwithstanding, I much prefer this version of the show over the first one. It’s still got issues, but it’s actually digging into its own subject matter and mining conflict unique to horseracing.
It’s also a much better paced overall. But all of that just emphasizes how most people would drop the show before they get to this point and the earlier parts of the show don’t add too much to this part.
Honestly if this half of the show ends decently I’d just recommend people start with episode 8. It’s a perfectly suitable jumping on point and you get to the good shit like Horse Zoom Calls way sooner.
But that’s still doesn’t change the struggles of the first half of the show and how I wish it were better, more streamlined, and more horse-focused. Even though the general premise of the show is better there’s not really any telling if the writing will stay good or if it’ll fall into similar bad drama tendencies as before and I could already kind of see it happening. Honestly, I feel like there’s enough better yet underrated sports dramas with good boys that it’s hard to sell Fanfare of Adolescence‘s appeal unless you really like horses and want to see them animated. Otherwise, I’m still waiting for everyone to check out Backflip!!, which hits pretty much all the beats I wanted from this anime and more.
That’s fair. Maybe it’s just being deprived for so long made me rubber band back to elation when we got some goofy horse magic again. Like Shu “watching” the race by just listening to radio broadcasts and his magic horse brain turning that into visuals.
That stuffs good. For me, I tend to feel more disappointment when I know a show can reach better and higher potential knowing parts of it are wasted. It hurts my heart when I sincerely want to see a piece of art be the best version of itself. Fanfare of Adolescence isn’t by any means unpleasant, but it often fails to clear the bar about what about it can truly be special. Like how can you make a show centered around “Hiroyuki Sawano Insert Song over Horse Races” fail?!
Also yeah, you’re probably right about the drama part curving back around to crapville. What with the latest episode pulling the old “this horse was one day away from retirement” shtick.
Well then, I think it’s better that we don’t go about beating a dead horse and end this column, partner. What do ya say?