Image source: TVアニメ『ゲーマーズ!』公式 on Twitter

There’s an undeniable set sequence of events and tropes with any sports anime—i.e., where the secretly good or passionate-yet-not-so-good main character is persuaded to join the team, and together with a motley crew of teammates, goes all the way to the national championship. Gamers overtly parodies these tropes in an esports setting while, at the same time, using them as intended.

[Warning, this article contains spoilers for the first episode of Gamers.]

Image source: TVアニメ『ゲーマーズ!』公式 on Twitter

Keita Amano is an average high school first year doing average things. He excels at nothing, but doesn’t overtly fail at anything either. He’s literally “middle of the middle” in grades, athletic abilities, looks, and just about everything else. He’s Mr. Average. With one exception, he loves video games way more than other people. Whether it’s social games on his iPhone, console games, handheld games, computer games, or first person shooters, he does them all. He’s still an average player, however—which suits him just fine. He doesn’t play to win, or even to compete: He just plays to play.

In your typical sports anime, Keita would undoubtedly have one of two standard abilities: he’d either be secretly amazing (and either be hiding it or not aware of it) or he would have a burning passion to Be The Very Best, Like No One Ever Was. And yet, Keita has neither of these qualities. And that’s out first clue that Gamers is about to really flip the script and have some fun with our expectations.

Image source: TVアニメ『ゲーマーズ!』公式 on Twitter

Keita’s initial draw into the world of his high school competitive video game club is Tendo Karen. She’s the most attractive and popular girl in the school. She would be considered way out of average Keita’s league as a love interest, which is a typical trope in anime. She and Keita meet while Keita is out picking out a new group of games. Over the course of a painfully awkward conversation and its aftermath, Karen reveals she’s a gamer too and she’s secretly been rebuilding their high school’s once famous video game club. Her secrecy makes sense—she’s the most popular girl in school and it doesn’t appear that her video game otaku status is widely known.

When Karen introduces Keita to the club and introduces all the members, the scene is almost step-by-step according to the typical sports anime framework. All of the characters have their own unique eccentricities, and all have these complicated backstories about how they came into the world of video games. This was my first real clue that Gamers was intentionally screwing with the audience in order to parody other works. The backstories of each character are rather extreme even by sports anime trope standards. The trap was sprung when after an impassioned plea by all of the club members, and an internal dialogue where Keita gets all super excited and fired up, Keita flatly, anti-climactically, turns them down and walks away in direct contravention of the end of every first episode of every sports anime ever.

Image source: TVアニメ『ゲーマーズ!』公式 on Twitter

And yet it gets even worse, because the next day, Karen makes an impassioned plea in front of their entire class for Keita to reconsider. It’s also really clear that Karen’s behavior isn’t only tied to the wanting Keita for the club. It’s impossible to miss that she’s also likely got some serious romantic interest in him. This is obvious to all who are watching and the amount of shock is palpable (why is the hottest, most popular girl in school interest in a loner nobody like Keita?). After she finishes begging, she reaches out her hand to Keita, ready to run off with him back to the club room.

At the last possible second, he instead jumps into helping an online teammate in a social media game, ignoring Karen, and ruining, again, a typical sports anime moment where the two love interests are supposed to show their commitment to each other by joining together in common cause of the sport or club. Karen, seething, stammers a typical “tsundere” line, but it’s clear she’s both angry and heartbroken. She’s unable to hide what we the audience have already figured out, her interest in Keita is more than just his love of video games. Her wailing bounces off the walls as she runs down the corridor and the episode ends.

Image source: TVアニメ『ゲーマーズ!』公式 on Twitter

It’s worth noting that unlike many individuals interested or involved in anime, manga, and Japanese pop culture, I don’t like video games. I had an original Game Boy when they first came out in the late eighties, and I had a Sega Genesis for a while (and it might have even been purchased used). I’ve always grown tired quickly of video games, and it just isn’t something I’ve ever enjoyed or spent money on. This surprises many students and friends, but it’s true.

What makes Gamers so intriguing to me is that I can compare it to the various sports or club anime series I have seen over the years, as well as my own experiences with club activities in Japanese schools, and recognize how “sportsball” has been replaced with video games in the series. And I can certainly appreciate the myriad of ways that the series is playing with the decades of tropes that usually show up in anime about club activities or the tropes that even show up in real life in Japanese schools and totally doing the opposite of what is expected.

Gamers can be seen with subtitles on Crunchyroll and will eventually be shown dubbed on FUNimation.

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