Editor: Samantha Ferreira
Thank you to Eric L. for the Patron article request!
It’s impossible to ignore the sheer breadth of the sports anime genre. There is, simply put, an astronomical number of shows based on popular sports like volleyball drama Haikyu!! or Kuruko’s Basketball. That’s to say nothing of titles based on more obscure games like Chihayafuru, a coming-of-age story that revolves around karuta. Heck, Daichi Sorayomi somehow dreamed up Keijo, a fictional sport where women have epic fights using only their boobs and butts to knock each other off platforms. The series became so popular that some fans even tried to turn it into a real-life competitive event.
With this in mind, it’s almost impossible to ignore a glaring oddity within the genre. Despite ice hockey being one of the five most popular sports worldwide, there has only been a single anime based on it. Specifically, C2C’s PureOre! Pride of Orange, aired in late 2021. The show starts with Minaka Mizusawa interested in joining an ice hockey trial class. Not wanting to go alone, she convinces her younger sister and two other friends to go with her. As sports anime tend to do, this results in our leads falling in love with the sport and growing into a team with the potential to compete in its highest echelons. The series was also a multimedia project, with the mobile game PuraOre! Smile Princess launching in March 2022.
While plenty of other sports only have a single anime to their name, hockey’s lack of content feels particularly egregious when put into perspective. The Japan men’s national hockey team competed for the first time in 1930. Despite a league not existing in Japan until 1971, American Football received an anime, Eyeshield 21, sixteen years before ice hockey did. Thanks to Anima Yell!, competitive cheerleading also got an anime series before ice hockey. Even quiz bowl, heckin’ quiz bowl, received an anime before ice hockey, thanks to Fastest Finger First!
Japan has hosted the Winter Olympics twice. The country sends teams to compete in Asia League Ice Hockey and sends multiple teams to compete in the World Championships every year. It is obviously a sport that plenty of people in Japan love, so what gives? Why did it take so long to get a singular show about ice hockey that was bad enough to be critically panned at almost every juncture?
Historically, there have been obvious reasons behind major sports anime getting greenlit for production. A perfect example comes from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, when the Japan women’s national volleyball team claimed the gold medal after a major upset against the Soviet Union. Chika Urano’s Attack No. 1 manga capitalized on the hype surrounding the women’s team while being published, quickly followed by it becoming the first-ever televised shojo sports anime in 1969.
This wasn’t the only time the Olympic games skyrocketed an anime towards success, either. It was a huge deal when Women’s Judo was announced to be officially added to the Olympics in the 1992 Barcelona Games. Naoki Urasawa’s Yawara! was already a popular manga that focused on a young girl working her way towards winning that very gold medal. Like Attack No. 1 before it, Kitty Farms and Madhouse were able to capitalize on the hype by adapting the series into an anime. Each week, at the end of Yawara! A Fashionable Judo Girl, a countdown for how many days were left until Barcelona was shown. Imagine how exciting and engaging that would have been back then for both fans of anime and the sport!
The series was so popular that, when a young girl named Ryoko Tamura brought home a silver medal, immediate comparisons of her age and looks were made to Yawara Inokuma from the series (of which there was a coincidentally striking resemblance). Tamura actually earned the nickname Yawara-chan, which stuck with her until she ended up starting a short-lived career in politics.
These trends have extended to the modern era, as well. While a manga as popular as soccer series Blue Lock would have likely received an adaptation at some point, it is not a coincidence that the show aired during the World Cup, resulting in it earning even more popularity.
This pattern also extends to more obscure sports to this day. Iwa Kakeru! Sport Climbing Girls, an anime about competitive rock climbing, was released in 2020. This came just after the Japan Mountaineering and Sport Climbing Association had doubled the number of competitive events held each year, while also adding competitions for the speed category for the first time. It makes sense that with so much momentum behind rock climbing, a studio would consider trying to ride off its coattails to release a project.
There was a lot of chatter about the odd coincidence of two badminton anime, Salaryman’s Club and Love All Play, releasing so close together in 2022. To give some context, though, the shows were produced after three strong years from the Japan national badminton team, which included a bronze medal at the 2020 Olympics and top-three placements in the Thomas Cup, Uber Cup, and Sudirman Cup.
In ice sports, the World Figure Skating Championships saw Japanese men take home silver and gold medals frequently, leading up to the release of Yuri!!! on Ice. For those waiting for Yuri!!! on Ice The Movie: Ice Adolescence to escape its indefinite release hell, I’m happy to inform you that the Japanese men figure skaters have continued bringing home silver and gold medals as well. So perhaps, if the aforementioned patterns surrounding sports anime continue, we’ll see it come out sometime in the near future.
All of these tales of success lead to the sober realities of the Japan national men’s ice hockey team. To be frank, they have never been all that successful. Their highest placement in the Olympics came about in 1960, when they took eighth place . While they did take sixth in the Ice Hockey World Championships back in 1930, their placements have plummeted ever since.
Adding to this, ice sports in Japan are watched significantly more by women than by men. Furthermore, two of the most prominent ice hockey manga of all time, AI Morinaga’s My Heavenly Hockey Club and Satosumi Takaguchi’s Shout Out Loud!, were both shojo properties, which tend to be adapted far less compared to other demographics. As much as it sucks to say, sexism has had a large part in why we haven’t seen more ice hockey anime.
Despite this, the Japan women’s national ice hockey team has become too successful to ignore over the years. They have consistently gotten to the top two of the Asian Games since 1996. Instead of placing in the low 20s like the men’s team does at the World Championships, they have pulled off consistent growth since 2012, placing around the 9th to 7th place spot in the last few years before PureOre! Pride of Orange aired. To top their achievements off, the team managed to pull off 6th place at the 2018 Olympics, beating the historically strong Sweden in the process.
With this in mind, it is easy to speculate that despite possible trepidation, CyberAgent decided to take the risk and make a show featuring women’s hockey. It is equally plausible that they may have decided to hedge their bets by trying to make it an idol anime with a mobile game tie-in, to try and bring in even more of an audience. Sadly, failing to put enough focus on the hockey itself turned out to be the wrong call, resulting in a show that performed badly and was poorly received.
This included one of the loudest complaints made about the show: Japan somehow beating Canada in a match. While the Japan women’s national ice hockey team is talented, they are not that good, never mind a group of high school girls who are brand new to the game. The only record I could even find of Japan beating Canada at hockey was at the 2010 Vancouver Paralympic Games which, to be frank, would have made for a way cooler anime. Considering the “great response from the Japanese public” to Animation x Paralympic: Who is Your Hero? according to NHK, it might have been better received as well.
Luckily for ice hockey fans, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon for another possible anime about the sport. Following the massive success of Golden Kamuy, fans have dug into creator Satoru Noda’s older catalog and found a hidden gem, in the form of Supinamarada!
The series was not successful in its original serialized run, only lasting from 2011 to 2012. However, renewed attention surrounding the series reached a fever pitch, leading to Weekly Shonen Jump promising to bring it back into serialization over eleven years later in 2023. With enough hype surrounding the series to literally bring it back from the grave, if there is an ice hockey manga that could finally break past historical precedents, Supinamarada! would be the obvious choice.
While currently ice hockey fans may only have PureOre! Pride of Orange to dig into at the moment, there may be a brighter future for the game out on the icey anime rink. Let’s just hope that we don’t have to wait until the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy to see it happen.