“We Run to Defy it” (A Run with the Wind Review)

Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru, usually called Run with the Wind in English, is a sports anime made by Production I.G. It aired from October 2018 to March 2019. I skipped this anime while it was airing because a) I though for some reason it was a school romance, and b) I don’t usually watch sports anime. Try to keep in mind during this review that I don’t know how Run with the Wind compares to other sports anime. I’m only rating it like I always do, based on my impressions of the art, sound, characters, story, and my personal enjoyment.

Warning: there is a ridiculous over-abundance of screenshots in this post.

Art and Animation: 9/10

The art is all around good in Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru. Production I.G. makes it a piont to produce quality animation. The color palette somehow manages to feel natural, despite being almost absurdly vibrant (in a good way). Backgrounds are great and realistic. Character designs aren’t that detailed, but that’s so that the actual animation can be better, able to use a good number of fps. Production I.G.’s style tends have somewhat more realistic body proportions for characters, so the people look more a little more like “people” than “anime characters.”

Colorful and realistic-looking characters

Occasional interesting visual effects enhanced the art, too. A good example is in episode 1 when Haiji sees Kakeru running for the first time and thinks he is practically a god. Kakeru is shown running in slow motion with perfect form in the bright, mulicolored light that surrounds him. There’s also the scenes where Kakeru “sees himself” in retrospect, regretting his choice to steal. On a separate note, I love the face expressions used in Kaze ga Tsuyoku.

I’m neither a runner nor an artist, but the action/running scenes looked high-quality and somewhat lifelike to me. In the early episodes, I was a bit annoyed that little screen-time was spent on running compared to interactions between characters. (Honestly, it’s the same with any genre: romance doesn’t have that many romantic scenes compared to normal anime scenes, and there is more dialogue than action in most action anime.) As the episodes went on, though, Run with the Wind resolved this issue and included increasingly more running scenes.

In some episodes, (like 7 and 15), CGI is used for runners in the background on the track, and for all the runners once they get moving. I found this quite disappointing since I know Production I.G. can do better and I’m surprised they resorted to such cheapness. The CGI looked completely out of place. Yet, as I continued to watch Kaze ga Tsuyoku, I was impressed by how much movement there is– how many running scenes there are. When it’s just the main cast running, CGI is rarely used. It’s quite a feat to animate movement that well consistently across episodes. Thus, regardless of CGI, the art is 9/10.

Other notes: There are just so mnay beautiful backgrounds and shots of scenery and anime aesthetics in this series! Also, the visual effects I mentioned like Kakeru surrounded in blue-white light in episode 1 appear now and again in Kaze ga Tsuyoku. In episodes 22 and 23, the art is especially beauitful as Kakeru reaches new domain of speed and power, and enters a psychedelic/spiritual state better than any “runner’s high” he’s ever had before.

Sound: 8/10

I’m one of those weird people who watched all of Run with the Wind and still didn’t care much for first opening or ending songs. (Visually, the animation during both is amazing, but the songs just aren’t in styles I like.) I mostly rate sound on instrumental OST and Japanese voice acting, though, so the OP and ED don’t matter too much. (Besides, I loved the sound of the the second OP.)

The OST musical scores didn’t start to become noticeable to me until around episode 5. That’s because they blend so well with each scene. This is not the kind of music that needs to take the foreground to show off how awesome it is. I recommend looking up a video of the OST on YouTube, if you still can find one. A lot of creativity can be heard in the different styles of music, but they all share a commonality somehow, the intangible thing that makes the tone of the show so pleasant. A favorite track of mine is disc one, track 3, “Chikusei Dorm.”

Shinji Matou– oops, I mean Sakaki– is voiced by Hiroshi Kamiya

Voice-acting is on-point most of the time, but the instances where it was off or awkward stood out. A few characters sometimes seem like they’re trying too hard to sound like their character type. Hiroshi Kamiya plays Sakaki and we all know he’s talented. Kouki Uchiyama, one of my top 25 favorite seiyuu, played Shindo. He’s been in many anime series but a few roles I know him from are Yuuki from Shiki, Soul from Soul Eater, Yoshino from Blast of Tempest, Meruem from Hunter x Hunter (2011), and Tsukishima from Haikyuu! I think he did extremely well with his voice acting.

The dedicated Shindo-san!

I also recognized Miyu Irino, voice of Prince and of popular characters like Ritsu from Mob Psycho, Hyakuya from Seraph of the End, and Episode from Monogatari series. He did a great job. I’m not familiar with the seiyuu who played Haiji, but he gave amazing performances. Hideaki Kabumoto, who voiced Musa, is a pretty new seiyuu, so I can overlook him being a little boring and repetitive with how he delivers his lines. The same can be said for Takeo Ootsuka (Kakeru). He’s new but promising. For the first cour of Run with the Wind, Kakeru uses a quiet tone of voice, but he proves in episode 13 he can scream like Eren Yeager. Ability to yell well is one early indicator of talent.

Characters: 8/10

Prince is probably every otaku’s favorite character in the series

The series did a good job with this. Although most of them fit into overused or simple character types, the characters had just enough individuality to balance that out. I want to say the cast was so normal, earnest, and good-hearted that they were annoying or unrealistic. But I only think that because I like dark and psychological anime featuring messed up characters. Most characters in Kaze ga Tsuyoku have a lot of their own charisma or appeal, so I’m betting they already have tons of screaming fan girls. My favorite character is Akihiro Hirata, or Nico-chan-senpai. Second is Prince.

With the characters being college-aged instead of the usual highschool-age, many of them have concerns and problems that make adult viewers sympathize and empathize. There’s King (Yohei Sakaguchi) and his frustration with being denied job security after graduation. Prince and his struggles to keep up were close to home, since I’m short like him and my lifestyle has become mostly sedentary. Insecurities and trouble Musa, since he is a foreign exchange student, and a kind-hearted man sensitive to what others think of him. Joji and Jota have the simple and understandable desire for girlfriends.

Joji and Jota

As far as character development and growth, there was some of that, but certainly not the best or most unique I’ve seen. Prince gets better at running and expressing himself as the show goes on. His progress is one of the most inspiring things about the show. Musa becomes slightly more self-confident. Nico’s history with running and his struggles with smoking and body weight are explored, but only briefly, and virtually all character development for him stops after episode 10, not picking up again until his few scenes in episode 21. Some characters are given more time and thought compared to others.

The development of Haiji wasn’t so great. In episode 1, we see his scar and get a hint of what might be driving him forward so relentlessly. For the next few weeks his optimism and faith seem all but invincible. Finally, in episode 8 he shows a bit of weakness, losing his temper with Kakeru. Next they show he’s slightly hypocritical, saying others shouldn’t do too much even though he overworks himself and faints at the end of episode 9.

Haiji’s lofty, theoretical thinking is serious and funny at the same time.

Around then, we should have have been given more insight into his character and history. Instead, Haiji simply recovers, and continues to act as the cheery team coach and Kakeru’s mentor. There’s a little bit more about him in episode 18, but really not much. The only thing remaining for his character after that is to find his personal definition and deeper meaning of running, which happens in the very last episode. There’s nothing very little about Haiji’s story from his own point of view. The show is about Haiji and running from the point of view of the other nine.

Kakeru’s development is closely tied to the story of the show, so I’ll discuss it here. At first, Kakaru only stays at Chikusei-So because it’s a plae to live. By about episode 8, he’s finally on board with shooting for Hakone, but he isn’t convinced the others can make it. It took till episode 10 for him to stop being a dick. Kakeru was fitting in and socializing just fine in episode 11, but by late episode 12 the reminder of his past made him go grim again. Then he (almost) went berserk against Sakaki. I thought I knew by episode 5 what happened in his high school. I was wrong. The truth in episode 13 was surprising.

Dayum son!

Abruptly, most of the focus on Kakeru, his past, and his uncontrollable emotions is removed by episde 14. He’s suddenly “healed” and perfectly ok after his talk with his team mates in episode 13. What still remained for Kakeru was only finding more of his talent as he ran in the Hakone Ekiden. The sudden halt in character development was jarring for me. It was a similar story with Nico-senpai. Any focus on his personal story and struggles stopped suddenly after episode 10. It was a real disappointment.

There were other problems, too. The twins are never really explored until two of the latest episodes. When they are, their stories are predictable and exactly what you’d expect from anime twins. Musa never gets the character development or attention that others got. Still, although it wasn’t perfect, the way the cast was handled in Run with the Wind is worlds better than in your average, 5/10 anime. They were all understandable and human, and all good people. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the characters in this series, especially Haiji, Musa, Prince, and Nico.

Nico-chan senpai wa kakkouii!!!

Story: 7/10

The story is simple and straightfoward. The main cast, led by Haiji and inspired by Kakeru, must train and work their asses off to be able to run the Hakone Ekiden, a famous marathon. Along the way, the characters– especially main character Kakeru Kurahara– deal with various issues and problems from pyschological to physical. The pacing is painfully slow in the early episodes, especially if you treat it as an action anime. As it continues, the story makes it clear that it will be character-driven. The sport events are important, but secondary to growth of characters.

Most fans are screaming and cheering and I’m like Kakeru here

At first, I couldn’t get excited or inspired like so many people in online comments and reviews were saying as they watched Run with the Wind. I felt no sense of suspense or any connection to the overall plot. Or so I thought. When Prince broke the 30-minute barrier in episode 10, though, I suddenly started tearing up! I was flabbergasted because I didn’t realize I had been rooting so hard for character progress. What excites people about this show, I think, is the growth of the characters, and not the predictable story of training, going to sports meets, training more, and going to a final match or race.

The structure is fairly well-done. The first episode was engaging and had various devices to “hook” viewers right away. 23-episode series are typically done this way: the first cour is 1-11, with the next cour being 12-22 plus a finale episode. Unlike in a one-cour anime, a 23-episode show has room to establish the characters and world in eps 2-7. Then, it must keep the audience’s attention during episodes 8-10 with consistent action or drama. The first cour finale should have a key conflict/event, or else a good cliffhanger. That’s all in line with how it’s done in the first 11 episodes of Kaze ga Tsuyoku.

Haiji and Kakeru pass each other (ep 15)

For a second cour, there should again be an engaging first episode. Sur enough, Run with the Wind started off winter 2019 with the exciting episodes 12 and 13. More character development may happen if needed at this point, or else new characters or plot twists. Progression and buildup, or world-building depending on the anime, should be consistent in the next episodes. Again, Kaze ga Tsuyoku delivers, with nonstop competitions and/or drama in episodes 14 to 18.

Around episode 20, there should be a major event or reveal to get the audience excited for the last battles or struggles in episodes 21-23. In Run with the Wind, this happens in episode 19, the start of the Hakone Ekiden. Episodes 19-22 are thrilling and emotional just as they should be, and the finale in episode 23 is probably the best of the series, bringing both the story’s climax and resolution.

Enjoyment: 9/10

Having a great time!

It’s difficult to not enjoy this series. What I really liked were the colors in the anime, the crispness of the animation and the often funny face expressions of the characters. The numerous scenes in the bath-house were nice and usually funny. I loved the personalities of Nico, Prince, Shindo, and Musa. I’m attracted to Nico-chan-senpai. It’s been a while since I’ve had an anime crush that was a guy. Run with the Wind definitely isn’t yaoi as far as what’s canon, but fudanshi and fujoshi like myself like to have fun with character ships. (Haiji x Kakeru! Nico x Yuki!)

Some of the themes, which I imagine are common in sports anime, were still good. In particular: empowerment, friendship, adulthood, regrets, overcoming challenges, and the idea of running as a fulfilling life experience. There’s also the “lessons learned” about sports and running like it’s not all about speed, it’s not all about winning, it’s not all about records, etc, etc. These themes are important for sure; it’s just that they also felt a little overused or preachy sometimes.

What isn’t overused is the way Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru brought up psychological and/or philosophical and/or spiritual questions. What is running? What is life? There’s a little of that kind of thought spread through the show. I guess it’s a form of existentialism, the way Haiji, and really all the characters, develop their own personal meaning of running and life. One thing that tickled me was the fact that there’s no absolutely correct answer to the questions, “What is running?” “What is life?” “Why are we running?” or “Where are we going?” A very poetic potential answer (also a title drop) is given in the final episode. “A strong wind blows, and we run to defy it.”

Overall Score: 8.2/10

Yeah I know, I feel like there are a lot of sports anime fans who would give this series a 9/10 or even a full 10/10. It seems like 8.2 is too low. But that’s my rating as a critic. If it helps, consider that a show like Mirai Nikki is one of my top 20 favorite anime ever, and I can only give it a 7.4 as a critic, and that’s optimistic. Most of my calculated anime scores are between 6.0 and 8-point-something.

Anyway, it’s not like a solid 8/10 is a bad rating. It reflects the fact that this show is totally worth your time. The only other sports-type anime series I have seen are Haikyuu! (season one) and two seasons of Free! Those aren’t bad either, but in my book Run with the Wind was slightly better. That’s because (I think) the characters were deeper and the drama elements of the story were more relatable. I want to add a final note that this series is feels unique because of Haiji being on the same level of “main character” as Kakeru. Haiji is the one who brings everyone together and makes this story happen.

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