Niche Anime – special guest Lauren

Niche Anime – special guest Lauren

It seems like every season we’re seeing more and more ‘niche’ or ‘special interest’ series. With an increasingly over saturated anime market, stories that focus on the unconventional are more likely to stick out. I remember the first time I really noticed this phenomenon, when Welcome to the Ballroom dropped in 2017. There was a buzz surrounding it simply for being so out of left field: how were they going to make ballroom dancing entertaining?? I began to think of the shows I’d seen that were similar, following a subject rarely (if ever) seen before in anime. I’m very much a root for the underdog type of person, so if I hear of a niche anime I’m automatically drawn to it for the mystery. I’ve found a lot of cool shows over the years, and now I’d like to share a couple of them with you.


I think the most obvious niche anime to talk about right now would be Sk8 the Infinity (Sk8). While the action of skateboarding has been seen before in anime like Hunter x Hunter and K, it has never taken center stage in a plot. It’s definitely a newer sport, having been birthed in the 1940’s by surfers looking to scratch their itch when the waves aren’t adequate for surfing. Known then as “sidewalk surfing”, skateboarding has exploded in popularity from the SoCal bubble it began in. It was even supposed to debut as a Summer Olympic sport in 2020, so a skateboarding sports anime seems like a no-brainer. 

#sk8 from ヽ(・∀・)ノ

Sk8 is in fantastic hands, being directed by Hiroko Utsumi who directed both Free! and Banana Fish and animated under studio Bones, whose notable works span from Wolf’s Rain to My Hero Academia, with perhaps their most famous project being both Fullmetal Alchemist iterations. The plot focuses around the messy relationships of eight different skaters and the triumphs and defeats, the epic highs and lows of Okinawan skateboarding. The skaters compete in underground matches with predetermined stakes, such as having to get tattooed or submitting into a forced friendship. The series follows a lot like Free!, in that a main portion of the drama surrounding its main character is self-admonishment over skill level. With four episodes left to go in its twelve episode run, I’m really looking forward to how they wrap up this plot, and if it will get renewed with a new season. Finger-crossed for that, as I really love this world and would love to see more of it.

 


Speaking of atypical sports anime, how about the conjuncture of horse racing and idol anime that is Uma Musume Pretty Derby (Uma Musume)? While not the first anime to tackle horse racing as it’s plot, it is certainly going to be one of the most memorable with its hybrid direction. Horse racing may be one of the oldest sports in the world, with reports going back to 4500 BC when nomads in Central Asia first domesticated horses. There are many different types of horse racing, but Uma Musume focuses on flat racing, where horses race along a track in a set distance. All the characters are based off of real race horses, reborn as horse girls in the ‘umaverse’ with horse ears, tails, and appetites. 

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My favorite thing about the anime is actually how it handles sports injuries. I’m unsure if it’s shown in the games, but in the anime  there have been multiple story lines about different girls getting injuries, and they explore the process of rehabilitation and recovery in a positive manner. I myself am currently battling the consequences of teen sports injuries, so seeing the show tackle this premise is actually kind of cathartic for me while on my own rehabilitation journey. The episodes airing currently are dealing with a main character’s repeated injury, and I look forward to how things end up for her.


This next show may be my absolute favorite niche anime. Koizumi-san Loves Ramen Noodles (Koizumi-san) is an animated love letter to one of Japan’s most popular exports, ramen. The anime follows the titular Koizumi as she samples the various and eccentric versions of ramen that can be found all over Japan, as well as diving into the relationships she (unwillingly) forges along the way. Each episode consists of one to three mini plots where Koizumi and co are treated to a different style of the noodle dish, each looking as delicious as could be thanks to the combined efforts of Studio Gokumi and AXsiZ. 

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There may be no bigger cultural binding than food, and I love the progression of Koizumi slowly opening up to her classmates through sharing her enthusiasm and knowledge of ramen. This is probably not the author’s intention, but I also enjoy watching Koizumi go out and do things on her own, even traveling to Hawaii for a taste of a specialty only served at their regional McDonalds. She knows exactly what she wants (ramen) and she will go to any length to get a taste of it all. I really implore you to check this show out, especially if you are the type who loves to learn new facts about things you already love. 

Before I talk about the last show, I’d like to mention a couple other niche gems I couldn’t write about in length. First off is After School Dice Club, a slice of life about girls playing board games that are all available in real life! If you are a table top enthusiast, you should check this show out and see if you can find a new game to love from it. Next I recommend Are You Lost?, a show about four girls who find themselves stuck on a deserted island after a plane crash. Luckily one of the girls’ father taught her an insane amount of survival techniques which help keep her and the others safe while they bide their time until rescue. As each episode is only 12 minutes long, it would be an easy weekend binge. Lastly, you should also check out Kono Oto Tomare, which is a school life anime that follows a group of students who play the koto, a string instrument that is the national instrument of Japan. The koto is a beautiful instrument and I would love for more people to learn about it!


This last recommendation is probably one of the main things that helped me get through 2020 sanely. From my last posts on BAYOG, you can tell that I really love music. I happen to really love electronic music, and so when I heard about D4DJ, my curiosity was piqued to say the least. Like many other Bushiroad anime, it follows multiple girl groups with different musical tastes to satisfy a wide audience. Although girl-crush vibers Peaky P-Key are my favorite group, I have a special place in my heart for the Perfume-coded aesthetics of Photon Maiden

D4dj Anime GIF - D4dj Anime HappyAround GIFs

Unlike other 3D animated works that aired in 2020, D4DJ‘s take on anime is much more palatable. It’s definitely not to the caliber of Land of The Lustrous or BEASTARS, but when this stylized ‘vtuber’-like animation shines, it glitters. Sanzigen, the team behind said animation, is also responsible for the animation on other Bushiroad music project BanG Dream!, as well as the 3DCG done in Promare and the video game Fire Emblem: Three Heroes. This show is sakuga abundant and I am on the edge of my seat waiting for Sanzigen’s next work. D4DJ S2 please!!!! 

One more thing to note, is that the entire show is free on youtube, in multiple subs and dubs! The English dub also is truly special in that the japanese voice actress for Maho from Happy Ara! also performed the english lines for Maho. I am so in love with Mami Okada’s casting for the english dub and I hope we can get a couple of the songs dubbed as well. If you’re a fan of idol/music anime, you must check out D4DJ.


There are so many niches to be explored in anime. If I were to make my own, I would love to create a series based on my years working at Jamba Juice, focusing on the different flavor combinations you can create with fruits and vegetables ala Koizumi-san, with maybe a healthy dose of the retail working humor that Skull face Bookseller Honda-san provides. What niche are you hoping to see next in anime? Please let me know in the comments below or on twitter at Necara! Until next time!

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