Hinomaru Sumo – Anime Review
Synopsis: The intense fight for the dream of yokozuna has begun. A new student has joined Odachi High School’s weak sumo club, the small boy Ushio Hinomaru! Although his physique seems ill-suited to a fighting sport where size and weight rule, Hinomaru has an incredible dream. He and the weak sumo club will fight their way to the top! The intense battle of high school sumo has begun! (Official Crunchyroll Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Linny: Hinomaru Sumo not only focuses on a sport typically absent from sports anime, but also does a good job of keeping things engaging with thrilling matches and plenty of ups and downs for on titular lead Ushio Hinomaru and his underdog team. The matches themselves are quite fun, even if viewers familiar with typical story progression tropes should be able to predict the final outcome. What also greatly adds to Hinomaru’s appeal is the fact that non of the protagonists are outright overpowered. It’s not about showcasing how our characters mow down every single opponent they come across but rather how they learn to grow and improve from their defeats. This not only adds intrigue to the matches but also boosts the audiences’ sympathies and support for the cast, making them a joy to root for.
Tom: Hinomaru offers a well-balanced cast of underdogs, each with their own personal struggles related to improving their sumo ability. That underdog status is a huge boon to the series as so many shonen/sports anime can give victory after victory to the heroes, making it feel like more often than not their status as champions is assured. That’s not at all the case with Hinomaru Sumo, as all five of these young men that make up Odachi High’s team are struggling their entire way to the top. The series beats all five of them up, even our titular character Hinomaru himself, whose small stature is a major hurdle to his aspirations as a professional sumo wrestler, but also how often he’s tanked by an ever increasing stable of seemingly insurmountable opponents. Victories against these juggernauts are few and far between, making those rare victories he obtains all the more sweet. The same can be said for everyone else, as sometimes even after all their effort they’re left on the mat in defeat.
Linny: Even though you might notice glimpses of familiar shonen tropes in the characters, Hinomaru makes the characters feel novel and likeable enough as a whole, avoiding turning its leads into shallow or lazy copy pastes. As Tom said, this team is comprised mainly of underdogs and even includes a team member, Kei Mitsuhashi, who looks like he’s made to be the comic relief with his incredibly small and thin physique that goes against everything one associates with sumo wrestling. Yet Kei turns into one of the most inspirational and likeable characters with a journey and exploration that will impress audiences with his sincerity and determination. However, I feel that Hinomaru stumbles a bit when it comes to portraying the tragic past of its main character, Ushio Hinomaru himself. We learn early on that he is an orphan and that part of his drive stems from his deceased mother. But it isn’t until the final episode that that motivation comes again, with a very short flashback, which feels shoehorned in as a clear attempt to make the final match feel all the more emotional and poignant. Yet it falls flat thanks to its limited exploration and build up throughout the series.
Tom: Hinomaru Sumo uses wild visual flair to keep the Sumo bouts interesting, the fighter’s bodies exuding raging fire or turning into ferocious animals in metaphorical depiction of their sumo techniques. That visual absurdity sometimes get outright ridiculous. The problem with Sumo as a sport is that the rules keep the match fairly tight. They don’t typically run long, and the minute someone steps out of the ring, or touches the ground, it’s over. This makes it difficult to drag matches out, or get wild with the frequent turning of tides. So instead Sumo puts a lot of visual flare into the character’s moves. While some of it works, at times it can get pretty over the top, if not outright ridiculous to the point of unintentionally comedic, ripping audiences right out of the narrative.
Linny: Hinomaru Sumo really goes all out with its increasingly ridiculous depictions of sumo matches, engaging in over the top, tropey shonen styled moves, with bombastic and clearly made up names. Things come to a crescendo in the final episode when one of the characters seems to literally teleport during the match and the only explanation we get is that he worked “really really really” hard and practiced tons and that’s how he managed to pull of what looks like literal teleportation, in what is supposed to be an otherwise grounded series. If you decide to give Hinomaru Sumo a try, go in expecting engaging character exploration but throw all logic and realism out the window when it comes to the actual sumo bouts. Other than that, Hinomaru Sumo has all the solid staples that make for an enjoyable shonen sports series; likeable characters, underdog protagonists, friendship, and insane matches. It’s a series set to woo lovers of the genre.
Tom: In truth I only have one, great problem with Hinomaru Sumo. It often looks ugly. For as much as the series gets right, producing endearing underdog leads, exciting matches, and dynamic visuals for the biggest and craziest sumo take downs, the rest borders on subpar. Sumo suffers from frequent visual dips. Entire episodes can lack detail, suffer muddy character models, and only contain say one or two cuts of truly impressive imagery. Even those dynamic moments are often just flashy still frames, and if you’re looking for top quality animation Sumo is far from that at all times. But if you can look past the disappointing visuals, and enjoy the story that’s underneath, Hinomaru Sumo is one of the stronger sports anime of recent, thanks largely to treating its leads like true underdogs, always struggling for victory, but never giving up.
Hinomaru Sumo is available for streaming via Crunchyroll.