Image source: アニメ「ナンバカ」公式 on Twitter

One often hears that a major draw of anime for many people is the complexity and depth of the characters, the mature storytelling, and other such attributes that apparently distinguish it from other “cartoons.” Many anime are designed to showcase some very dynamic action sequences, however. In those instances, does the story progress? Does the plot move forward? Do characters “grow”? If so, what elements are in place to allow that to happen? Let us look at one such element.

Shows like Nanbaka and My Hero Academia feature long, drawn-out tournaments over several episodes in which the heroes are pitted against each other to duel, with various surprise twists and turns keeping us on our toes. However, it is not just the visual sequences made up of one-two punches, fireballs and super moves that keep us invested; much of it is down to the particular setup itself. Both of these series feature extraordinarily eccentric commentators constantly describing the action on screen.

Image source: アニメ「ナンバカ」公式 on Twitter

Present Mic from My Hero Academia and Mitsuru Hitokoe in Nanbaka are interesting examples in particular for how similar they are. As announcers, they speak excitedly—not only grabbing people’s attention, but also pumping them up for the action to come. When it finally comes, they heavily employ overreactions, both verbally (using their extremely powerful voices) and physically (using highly dynamic movements in their body language). All of this, of course, helps to amplify the energy of the battle.

So far, all of that is to be expected, really. Any sport has a commentator, even ones where the tension is latent rather than overly action-packed like golf, so we do not think it is such a strange addition to the situation. However, at the end of the day, we are watching an anime with the expectation that there is a story and plot and character development. Thus we need something that goes beyond a simple series of narrated action sequences. Here is where the real role of those ringside commentators in all of these “battle anime”—My Hero Academia, Tiger Mask, Tiger & Bunny, Nanbaka, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, and more—comes in.

Many times, these extremely eccentric, wild characters help to accentuate the visuals on the surface with their crazy shouting. But on a deeper level, their descriptions allow the viewer to clearly follow the action in cases where it is difficult to understand the significance of a special move or a character’s inborn struggle.

Image source: アニメ「ナンバカ」公式 on Twitter

In other words, they are the ones giving us an insight into the development of a character. As the characters fighting are preoccupied with the task at hand, the viewer cannot pick up on the emotions of the moment that would normally come through dialogue.

In Tiger Mask W, the wrestler Fukuwara Mask is often in front of the microphone, giving commentary on the fights. His insider knowledge (not only as a wrestler but also as someone far more knowledgeable of the corrupt Tiger’s Den group than he lets on) allows us to pick up some hints as to what is truly hanging in the balance during the battles—i.e., a loss may be far more costly than the superficial visuals depict.

In short, the commentators are narrative surrogates for the purposes of conveying the drama of the moment—is an important element for engaging the viewer. It is of course, based on the idea of ringside commentary on boxing matches and wrestling in which “performance” plays a very central role. The “drama” is as important as the actual fighting.

So next time you see a crazy commentator shouting his head off, remember, without him in the background, you might not be quite so interested about the outcome in the foreground.

My Hero Academia is available on FUNimation. Nanbaka and Tiger Mask W are both available on Crunchyroll here and here, respectively.

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