All Out!

Gion Kenji is a diminutive but energetic teenager whose sensitivity about his (lack of) height often leads him into conflict with others. On his first day at Jinko Senior High School, a chance meeting with the tall and athletic Sumiaki Iwashimizu results in Gion being introduced to the game of rugby union. Overjoyed by the prospect of being able to participate in a sport in which he can tackle and bring down much bigger players, Gion decides to follow Sumiaki’s lead and join the Jinko rugby team. There are, however, a number of problems. One is that Gion knows nothing about rugby union, its rules, team positions, or modes of play. The other is that the Jinko rugby team is something of a bad joke. Neglected by the teacher who is supposed to provide faculty support, and forced to utilise out-dated equipment and inadequate facilities, the Jinko team are considered to be less than easy-beats by other teams, hardly worth engaging even for the purposes of practice matches. Even the efforts of Jinko’s serious-minded and dedicated captain, Takuya Sekizan, fails to lift the Jinko team’s status; without a coach, there is literally no-one to guide and develop the junior players. That’s when Gion, acting against all protocol, takes it upon himself to find a coach: Shingo Komori, once a star player in the Japanese national team. And from that moment, everything changes: for Gion, for the players on the Jinko team, even for the apathetic teacher who is supposed to be their faculty adviser. Because Shingo Komori has a simple philosophy: it doesn’t matter what your skill level and experience, what matters is that you give 100% effort. Because there’s much more riding on a match than the question of who wins or loses…

Based on the long-running and successful manga by Shiori Amase, and co-produced by anime studio Madhouse with TMS Entertainment and Telecom Animation Film, “All Out!” premiered on Japanese television in October 2016, running until March 2017. Presented in an animation style that combines 3D and CGI realism with 2D mangaesque aesthetics, “All Out!” may appear at first glance to be just another sports drama charting the course of a team of down-and-outs toward their unlikely triumph in a sporting tournament. However, “All Out!” quickly subverts this traditional narrative architecture through a commitment to characterisation that fleshes out and makes real the other participants in the story, so that the series itself becomes about more than just Gion and his quest to find a place in a group of peers. Along the way we learn about the past sorrows that haunt people in the present, and the hidden dysfunctions and “lives of quiet despair” (to quote G K Chesterton) that lurk behind so many closed doors and the façade of “normality”. We also get to learn about the game of rugby union, and have a laugh or two as the boys learn about themselves and life along the way. “All Out!” also works the trick of not demonising the opposition, presenting them instead as equally fallible humans worthy of our compassion and respect. Although not in the same class as “Haikyū!”, “All Out!” is nonetheless an affecting and entertaining drama about individual vulnerability and the strength that can be found in the company of others – a meditation on the strength that comes from within, and which enables us to admit our weaknesses and accept the help that others have to give.

Text ©Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2021. All rights reserved.