Alternative title(s): Bakuten!!
Anime original by ZEXCS
Streaming on Crunchyroll
Shoutarou Futaba is ending his middle-school days as a perpetual bench-warmer for the baseball team, but when he accidentally stumbles into a rhythmic gymnastics competition he’s captivated by what he sees.
This is an example of a fairly recent evolution of the sports anime genre, one in which the basic bread-and-butter cliches of the genre (rookie captivated by new sport, quirky team of losers who just need to pull it all together, etc) are supplemented by everyone in the cast being unbearably hot, muscle-bound bishonen who spend a lot of time in varyious modes of revealing dress. Bonus points if you also have surprisingly high production values.
In other words, this is a fairly obvious clone of KyoAni’s megahit Free! and strikes many of the same notes, even down to the slightly goofy female manager. To be clear, that’s not necessarily a problem, and indeed Backflip!! is never less than pleasant. The visuals range from decent to lovely (even accounting for the not-quite-there CGI routines), the characters all seem like good boys, and the music and art is all reassuringly solid. It’s just not very exciting or ambitious is all, and while the choice of rhythmic gymnastics is intriguing on the surface, it’s hard to really believe they’ll dig too deep into it. If you’re into this kind of thing it looks like a solid option, but it’s hard to say that this is worthy of what the noitaminA label once meant.
There’s nothing offensively wrong with this show, per se. The storytelling is functional, following the familiar club-focused format done one million times in the past. While the CG is disappointing, the surprisingly lengthy gymnastics sequence does include a fair number of close-up pans where everything becomes 2D again. The characters are likeable enough for the broad storytelling. The show isn’t even that aggressive in its purpose of advertising Miyagi prefecture (I didn’t even know until I was researching it). However, the Free!!!-adjace, hot-boys-do-sweaty-things genre holds about as little appeal to me as the cute-girls-do-cute-things genre unless there’s some kind of interesting hook to it, and I’m unconvinced Backflip!! has one.
As a general rule, visuals aren’t the be all and end all of an anime for me, but when the key appeal of a series rests on a highly performative sport, and said sport ventures into uncanny valley territory when presented as its own key introductory scene, I don’t think an instinctively negative reaction is unwarranted. I might have been inclined to forgive the horrendous CG if the rest of the episode had been enough to take my mind off it – and to be fair to Backflip!!, I don’t think the storytelling is by any means bad. On the contrary, there are a couple of moments in this episode that seem really well put-together. For instance, the main character’s sporting backstory is conveyed effectively and sympathetically in the span of about two seconds thanks to a simple shot of some pinned photographs, and some completely natural-feeling and good-natured humor is derived from Shoutarou’s extremely eager yet understandably shy efforts in getting up the guts to introduce himself to the team as a hopeful member. Direction-wise, Backflip!! strikes me as perfectly competent, if not exactly overflowing with wow factor. However, at the end of the day, would I have bothered giving this a try at all if “rhythmic gymnastics” had been replaced by almost any other sport name in the synopsis? Probably not – and since the characters on their own aren’t enough to keep me emotionally invested, I just don’t see myself sticking around for 11 more episodes of this.