「体操ザムライ」 (Taiso Zamurai)
Apologies for any delays. Winter Preview 2021 needed to be prioritised, but now that’s done and dusted, here goes.
Ending on a Win
Taiso Samurai ends with aplomb, tying together all the loose ends in a satisfactory way. The story itself was neatly written and self-contained. Rei, her grandmother, Ayu and Big Bird rush to the airport to stop Leo from leaving Japan without watching Jotaro’s career defining performance or even saying goodbye. From clumsily stumbling about and crashing into suitcases, who knew Big Bird Aragaki would be the hero of the hour? Swooping above the obstructive crowd to tag Leo just before he made it past border control, Big Bird buys time for Rei to persuade Leo with an epic speech, ultimately convincing him to come back and watch Jotaro’s match.
Leo’s support proves to be the final push Jotaro needed. The Samurai emits a fierce aura as he reaches ‘The Zone’ – an invincible mentality which allows him to perform at peak level and barely edge out Minamino for the win. I know I previously said it would be a rubbish Deus Ex Machina if a washed up boomer like Jotaro placed above a prodigy like Minamino after we saw the difference between them. But I can accept the outcome – because it’s believable that Minamino had an off day beforehand, while Jotaro put up a career defining performance despite being past his prime. It happens in real life too – e.g. Roger Federer defeating Djokovic or Nadal in recent years.
Truth be told, I still wished for more. Like seeing Minamino succeed internationally. Maybe even having Leo switch from ballet to gymnastics. Still, I’m really happy that Jotaro persevered through his injury and was able to get out one last gasp to shake the world of gymnastics. As well as the fact Leo was able to find closure within himself to reach a satisfactory ending. He overcame his stage fright and ended up becoming the pride of Royal, with the Aragaki family being present for his life achievement as principal dancer in Swan Lake two years down the line.
Progression of the Gymnastics Samurai
To surmise, Jotaro’s characterisation was initially odd in some ways. He was really aloof, which made it difficult to connect with him. But the further the series went on, you come to realise he really suffered trauma from his wife’s death. And how that was most certainly the reason why he struggled to perform for years. Moreover, he’s stubbornly passionate about gymnastics. And needed to keep his shit together for Rei’s sake. So he maintained a strong face and never gave out much indication of weakness – aside from the television broadcast where he almost retired.
Enter Leo, who completely changes the Samurai’s life and inspires him to give it one last shot – helping him find an acupuncture therapist who resolved his long term injury, cheered him up when he was at his lowest and gave him the final inspiration he needed to figure out how to perform the quad flip landing: Aragaki Mk.2. Seeing Jotaro’s development from hopeless beginning to magnificent end felt extremely rewarding. He worked really hard and never gave up, it would have been too cruel if he never had a final moment of glory after all those years of sacrifice and suffering. And Jotaro didn’t just take from Leo. The intersection of their lives is beautiful, with Leo returning to ballet and overcoming his struggles because of how Jotaro inspired him.
However, the episodes featuring Rei were my favourite. Although a deutaragonist of sorts, she was definitely my star of the show. An extremely mature and thoughtful girl who always put on a smile to give her father unfailing emotional support, Rei still had her insecurities and suffered from emotional trauma due to losing her mother at such a young age. When Big Bird became ill, I quickly went from choked up with laughter at the absurdity of the situation to choked up with tears when that exposition came, informing us how Big Bird had been Rei’s sole companion through those tough years after she lost her mother with her father being absent due to his gymnastic competitions. Anyone who’s loved a pet can relate to how deeply Rei worries and cares about Big Bird. Additionally, her reconciliation with Jotaro being an absentee father hurt so good and was a fantastically written scene, reminding me of my favourite anime, Clannad After Story. My only regret is that we never saw if Rei followed her mother’s footsteps. Extra closure here would have been appreciated.
Although it doesn’t come close to having the production value of something like Shingeki no Kyojin or Re Zero, above all, Taiso Samurai truly had heart and soul. It wasn’t perfect. But you could tell it was a sincere passion project for this production team. To me that is such a rarity in this day and age, where anime can frequently feel like a lifeless or corporate marketing product designed to help sell published goods. Taiso Samurai significantly departs from this trend as a heartfelt narrative about a sportsman’s struggles overcoming his lowest point, thanks to the special people in his life. Which is why I doubly appreciate what it brought to the table.
Anyway, that’s about everything I wanted to discuss. The final verdict? An unassuming series brimming with heart and soul, I can safely say thatTaiso Samurai is easily one of the most underappreciated shows from 2020, judging by the lack of talk across social media and Random Curiosity. And hopefully this post can help change that. As always, thanks for reading till the end. Have a merry Christmas and see you all next time in 2021!