The Gymnastics Samurai – 1st Episode Review
Synopsis: Jotaro Aragaki, former member of the national team, had given his whole life for gymnastics and was fighting against his age and physical strength. However, one day he is told by his coach to start thinking of his next career. Jotaro struggles, but his daughter, Rei, is always there by his side. But with one fateful encounter, the Aragakis’ lives change drastically. (Official Funimation Synopsis)
1st Episode Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Linny: The Gymnastics Samurai has a most peculiar start. While the crux of the plot is about Jotaro trying to accept his oncoming forced retirement, everything else in the episode is pure random chaos coupled with equally random comedy. Early on we’re treated to a gag displaying just how dense Jotaro is. Any time his coach has tried to talk to him about possibly retiring he’s misunderstood him completely. While potentially amusing, each scene is played out so matter of factly that the audience never really gets a ‘punchline’ moment. In fact this shift to comedy already sits at odds with the earlier, more sombre tone, as set by an opening display of gymnastics, which features Jotaro flubbing a fairly basic high bar stunt. But the true chaos begins once Jotaro takes his daughter, Rei, on vacation, so as to ease the blow when he finally confesses that he’s retiring. It’s on this trip to an amusement park that a ‘ninja’ performance is interrupted by what look like Caucasian FBI agent look-a-likes chasing down one of the performers. This ninja performer not only escapes his pursuers, but tails Jotaro and Rei all the way back home, begging to stay with them. There’s no explanation as to WHY the ninja chose Jotaro specifically as their savior, just that they’re looking to evade being captured by pursuers and subsequently deported. It’s not much to go on and leaves you with more questions than answers. Obviously there will be more explanations as the show continues, but for now, just mixing in a random fugitive and a dilemma riddled gymnast beyond his prime with little explanation makes for a very disjointed and disconnected start.
Tom: My biggest quibble is with The Gymnastics Samurai’s comedic chops. There’s both good and frankly bad comedy on display throughout this whole episode. Part of the trouble comes from the type of comedy Samurai offers. It’s mostly random and bizarre, which is perhaps the hardest humor to pull off. There needs to be an internal logic to it, but as Linny noted The Gymnastics Samurai feels more peculiar than anything else. The show feels both grounded in reality, yet itching to ooze with more typical anime absurdity. Perhaps the best example of comedy that feels completely disconnected from the rest of the presentation is the inclusion of a talking turquoise bird the family keeps as a pet. It’s a recurring joke for the bird to start talking and acting up, only to get yelled at by one of the family members and have it go wide-eyed with shock. It’s clearly meant to be something akin to comic relief, but honestly feels more distracting and disruptive.
Linny: There’s a ton of manic jokes all around, yet the episode otherwise plays out with restraint and lacks the high energy needed to pull off these crazy and wild goofs. Besides the bird Tom mentioned, there’s other weird ‘jokes,’ like the ninja character initially trying to conceal himself in the Aragaki house by submerging himself in a shallow bathtub with a reed sticking out for his breathing apparatus. In theory, it’s such a dumb hiding move that it’s clearly meant to be hilarious but when Rei discovers him, her reaction is extremely calm. And the scene is over before you know it, removing any potential for a more unique unfolding of events. More clearly bombastic elements include a gymnast side character who’s very into rapping and brings all this energy but everyone else barely blinks in reaction. This constant tonal clash causes the comedy in The Gymnastics Samurai to flop again and again as its quirky jokes and elements are so often met with such restraint that it becomes hard for the viewer to feel any mirth themselves.
Tom: An underlying issue might in fact be the visual presentation. The character art itself is fairly muted, lacking expressions that go along with the vibrant voice acting. This creates a disconnect where the characters reactions don’t seem in line with the more passionate, emotive performance from the voice actors. The scene Linny mentioned earlier, where Jotaro is learning from his coach that he’s been hinting for him to retire for ages now, is the best example of this disconnect. It doesn’t help either that that particularly scene is weighted down by bland framing, that makes it a mostly talking heads segment without anything dynamic for the audience to really latch onto. The episode is riddled with both problems, and to varying degrees, but none the less both undermine the comedy repeatedly.
Linny: If you’re a sucker for emotionally potent tales about a protagonist pushing back against the odds for the sake of their dream and/or a loved one, there’s still a good chance you might get drawn in by The Gymnastics Samurai. It does have all the basic, yet solid, story components of similar shows. You have a single parent with a deceased spouse and an adorable, precocious daughter to tug at your heart strings. Not only is he forever mourning the loss of his beloved, he is now facing pressure to retire, all while his innocent daughter keeps telling him how much she loves watching him perform. Throw in a wacky ninja and hijinx ensue, perhaps leading to a heartwarming end? But if you aren’t a big fan of that set up, The Gymnastics Samurai is missing the polish needed to set its story and characters up to really sell itself. The disjointed tone does the show no favors as audiences end up wondering if they were meant to laugh at the crazy gag they just saw or keep sombre as our protagonist is going through such a difficult career point. Given how everyone else in the show barely ever reacts to anything, you’d be inclined to do the same. Unless The Gymnastics Samurai does much better at explaining its story and injecting more energy into all of its cast by the second episode, it’s hard to imagine many people sticking with it for long.
Tom: I’m a tad more optimistic. I think The Gymnastics Samurai has potential, assuming the direction can catch up with the more wild tone of the script and the lively voice acting. Jotaro isn’t your typical anime sports lead, he’s a man past his prime, on the way out, and finds the drive to keep pushing for one more go. I imagine it’ll be a little easier to become enthralled once the show establishes exactly what we’re in for. I assume that our unnamed Ninja is going to turn out to be a major fan of Jotaro’s, and together with this pseudo-performer/gymnast, as well as an as of yet introduced character presented in the ending credits, Jotaro will form a new Gymnast team that’ll attempt to propel Japan to one more shot at an Olympic gold medal. As it is now though, The Gymnastics Samurai is a bit too scattershot for me to give it an outright recommended.
The Gymnastics Samurai is available for streaming via Funimation.com