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Run with the Wind at Your Back

In 2018, I was not in the mood to watch an anime about running. My twin brother had just ended his running career which spanned over ten years and I was worn out. No more track, no more times, no more workouts, please. Being forced to live in that world for so long, the last thing I wanted was to spend my spare time there. I was hearing great things about Run with the Wind, a sports drama about college students training for the Hakone Ekiden, but instantly turned my brain off. Sorry, I said, not today. And while I don’t regret skipping it while it was airing (I needed the mental break), I am happy that I finally came back to it. Run with the Wind is truly inspiring.

This show has elements that make it standout from typical sports anime. Firstly, and most importantly, it is based around a college team. Thank God. Watching an anime with adult-aged characters is so refreshing. The university setting makes the exploits and motivations of its characters more believable and, in my opinion, raises the stakes even higher. Collegiate sports are extremely challenging and the end of college is truly the end of youth, unlike high school. The cast having more skin in the game made it a lot more fun.

Run with the Wind also has a unique set-up that separates it from other anime in its genre. Where the series would stereotypically begin with the protagonist entering a new school as the underdog, meeting rivals and trying his best, we start with a character who is homeless, caught shoplifting, and chased down by an upperclassman who offers to take him in. Kurahara Kakeru is as an underdog in more ways than one. Neglected by his parents, Kakeru is eighteen, socially awkward, fiercely passionate, dealing with a traumatizing end to his high school running career and, in his own words, can’t control his emotions. Watching him grow as an athlete is satisfying in itself, but the core of this story is watching Kakeru grow out of uncertainty and into confidence finding a place on his team and in his life. It’s an emotionally resonant story only elevated by the stakes surrounding his teammates and the Hakone Ekiden.

Speaking of the ten-man team, at the beginning of this anime I thought I finally found a show where I wouldn't be able to remember everyone’s names. There will be running Kageyama and the others. But boy was I wrong; every character in Run with the Wind is a complete person who is beautifully developed and individual. Kakeru, Haiji, Musa, Shindo, Joji, Jota, Yuki, King, Nico, and Prince all deserve to have their names written out because this show needs each one of them, just like how each man is necessary to climb the slopes of Mount Hakone (the sharpest under heaven!). Everyone goes through an interesting character arc that is engaging from start to finish (racing joke!). The magnificence of the show’s final act rides on these characters, each one getting time in the spotlight to reflect on their growth and “what it means to run.”

There were a few dramatic choices that I wasn’t a fan of (I’m looking at you Joji and Jota) and some of the CGI runners were hilariously bad, but those moments didn’t ruin the experience for me. If anything, they stood out only because the rest of the show was so well executed. With a beautiful score, great animation and a wonderfully voice-acted cast, I had no complaints overall. This anime is good in every sense of the word.

Run with the Wind is the kind of show that makes you want to try. That doesn’t necessarily mean running, although if you’re motivated to go for a jog after this I don’t blame you. This show makes you want to try something. Watching Kansei University put their entire being into the Ekiden and come out on the other side better, stronger people is exhilarating. When was the last time you went to bed exhausted because you tried so hard? When did you last sit down after a long day and say, I did the best I could? When was the last time you saw the top? Run with the Wind made me ask myself these questions and, in that regard, I think it’s a show that truly makes people want to be better. Not better athletes or better teammates, but better in however the viewer interprets it. Kakeru, Haiji and the others made me want to do something and give it everything I have. To leave it all on the track. To run with the wind at my back. Is there really anything more inspiring than that?

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