GRAND SUMO Highlights, November 2016, day 1
- NHK World is streaming daily highlight packages from the Fukuoka sumo tournament, which runs from 14 to 28 November. They cover the top division (makuuchi) in English, and the commentary does a good job of explaining what is going on.Each bout lasts from a few seconds to a couple of minutes, tops, and the daily highlight package runs for 25 minutes.
- While there are 82 recognised winning moves, all you need to know is that there are really just two ways to win: force your opponent out of the ring, or force your opponent to touch the ground with anything other than the soles of his feet. (There are a few other technical violations, but they’re rare. If you need to know more, here’s an introduction for the Japanese Sumo Association.)
- On our first trip to Japan, we were fortunate to be able to attend a sumo tournament at the Ryōgoku Kokugikan. The clear crowd favourite at that tournament was Endō, who was a popular amateur who had decided quite late in his career to go professional, and who had recently been promoted into the top division. Since then, he suffered a knee injury and was relegated to jūryō (second division), but is back in makuuchi and climbing the ranks. He’s 1-0 after the first day. The other wrestler to watch is Goeido, who might be promoted to the top rank of yokozuna if he performs strongly this fortnight.
- On our second trip, we were out of season so didn’t get an opportunity to see another tournament, but we did head back to Ryōgoku anyway to eat chankonabe. It’s a delicious stew that wrestlers eat in their stables, and many retired wrestlers open restaurants specialising in the dish. It’s packed with so many different ingredients that the flavour changes noticeably as you work your way down the pot. So good.
- I’ve barely scratched the surface, but this FiveThirtyEight analysis of sumo looks fascinating.
March Comes in Like a Lion, episodes 1-6
- I plan my seasonal anime choices by referring to Anichart, and based on the blurb there I assumed this would have some similarities with Ping Pong: The Animation — that it would be a sports anime that also dealt with social isolation and mental health issues. It turns out to be the opposite; March Comes in Like a Lion is an anime about crushing depression first and foremost, and shogi is very much secondary to that. (I should have noticed that they’d tagged it Drama and Slice of Life, but not Sports.)
- Why don’t you ever wanna play?
I’m tired of this piece of string.
You sleep as much as I do now,
And you don’t eat much of anything.
— The Weakerthans, Plea from a Cat Named Virtute
- It’s been quite upsetting to see so many anime fans respond to Lion‘s depiction of depression by saying, “Wow, that’s exactly how I felt.” I’m in the same boat. I’ve suffered two bouts of depression in my life, and the sense of unmotivation, of crushing obligation, of wanting to hide even from the people who make you happy, of wanting to just disappear… all of that is here, and it’s hauntingly accurate.
- In Lion, shogi is almost a McGuffin. It’s something that Rei clung to in dealing with his difficult family situation, his grief, and his loneliness; it’s also something that contributes to his isolation by allowing him to live alone and cut ties with his support networks. The fact that it’s shogi is almost completely irrelevant. What actually matters is the efforts of various people (friends, family, mentors, opponents, teachers) to draw Rei out of his depression and into a more normal life and happier frame of mind.
- By way of background, this episode of NHK World’s Japanology Plus on Shogi gives a brief overview of the rules, but also a window into the lives of professional shogi players: groomed as children, prodigies are identified because they start beating adult players; spending their time between matches reviewing the data from their competitors’ matches, they are constantly trying to find new strategies; matches are physically exhausting and can last days at a time. All of this is reflected in March, which is interesting. I wasn’t sure how true to life it was, and how much was exaggerated for the manga/anime drama. It actually seems to be a fairly plausible story.