Backflip!! – Episode 1

4 months ago 49

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today I’ve got an unusually timely article for you all, as I’ll be exploring a show that’s airing this very season: Bakuten!! (or Backflip!!), an anime-original production centered on a group of gymnasts. All anime-original productions tend to deserve at least a glance, for a variety of reasons. First off, productions that are designed from the ground up for animation unsurprisingly tend to lend themselves to animation quite well – issues of translating still manga panels or heavy exposition are irrelevant, as the narrative is designed for movement from the beginning. Additionally, in this current era of media mix productions, an original anime with less tie-in potential generally implies confidence, or even prestige; the production’s funders have faith that the work will sell itself, rather than selling the source material, and this faith is generally predicated on trusted key staff with a clear artistic vision. Lastly, anime-original works are generally written by professionally vetted writers, rather than folks riding the novice-to-published manga/light novel pipelines. This generally means the writing, characteristically anime’s weakest element, is at least of professional quality.

When you wrap all this together, it’s easy to see why anime-originals at least have the potential to shine, however their fortunes may turn. And for Backflip!!, we also have some impressively animated PVs to sort through, attesting to at least the first couple episodes’ visual splendor. My main concern going in is how well this show will be able to maintain animation quality in depicting such a visually demanding sport, but I suppose that’s a problem for the show itself to answer. Let’s check out the first episode of Backflip!!

Episode 1

Ooh, this is a Noitamina production! Originally, Noitamina was an animation block specifically dedicated to hosting more adult-oriented animation, featuring acclaimed productions like Paradise Kiss, Mononoke, The Tatami Galaxy, Wandering Son, and plenty more. It’s diverged a bit from its mission statement in recent years, but still possesses a high strike rate for more mature productions

We open with a feather dancing in the breeze, before landing on a still pool. An easy enough metaphor for a gymnast’s elegant movement

We transition directly to a gymnastics mat in an auditorium. I’m already beginning to see one way this show manages its animation: they’ve built a full CG arena here, meaning they can do all sorts of swoops and pans with the camera without having to redraw any of the background scenery

A boy in the stands, presumably our protagonist, about to be inspired

The gymnasts’ costumes match the blue leaf, making the metaphor even more clear

Ooh, and I really like this song as the performance begins. A complex, wandering melody that evokes an appropriately otherworldly tone for this life-changing experience

And that confident cut back to the cicadas of summer! Excellent transition, one that smartly emphasizes the distinction between this character’s mundane world and athletic passion

The saturated lighting also makes for a strong contrast with the darkness of the gym, while clearly evoking the sense of a hot summer

Loving these almost abstract uses of the bird and feather motif, like this cut of a bird rising in an eye’s reflection

Futaba is our lead’s name. More terrific fluid character animation as he leaves this baseball game; the modulation of his movement speed strongly conveys his anxious personality, and there’s so much distinct “imperfection” in the flow of his movements

He spent three years on the bench as a baseball player

The character designs are strong – distinctive looks, but light on linework, ideal for animated movement

So it seems this show’s particular priority is rhythmic gymnastics. Futaba sits down next to a pair of kids who are clearly too over-designed to be background characters

Solid composite and use of soft focus too, which is important for such a CG-integrated production

Aw, damn. So they do have to use CG models for most of the actual performance, though the CG is intercut with some lovely traditional closeups

Some really impressive cuts as we move into the second half here, smartly combining the CG models in the background with traditional animation for the principle character. This sport would be beyond impossible to fully animate, but they’re doing an excellent job making sure any closeups are beautifully done

A very true-to-life moment here, as Futaba is dazzled by this performance, then learns they actually got a pretty middling score

As expected, these boys beside Futaba end up serving the expositional role, explaining how rhythmic gymnastics teams generally have six members, and teams are docked points for every member they’re short

And a brief glimpse of our eventual school rivals, who fit into two classic archetypes: the gruff leader who’s just looking for a genuine challenge, and the fox-eyed schemer who always knows too much

Misa, the taller boy next to Futaba, is clearly going to be the sixth member of the team – he’s the cool, moody one, to balance Futaba’s earnest enthusiasm

Strong OP, with plenty more excellent character acting. This whole show has a strong “sky blue” aesthetic that carries across many of its key symbols and compositions, making the production as a whole feel fresh and open, almost ready to take flight

Futaba is currently in the process of picking and applying to high schools

A pan down Futaba’s wall reveals pictures of him swimming, playing soccer, and playing baseball – clearly, he’s never stuck with any one athletic passion

They’re not wasting any time; his entrance is portrayed over an efficient montage, ending on a delightful smash wipe as the red-haired member of the team slams his hand against a board. Playful transitions like this are quite good for changing perspective in this way; Love Live frequently takes advantage of that, which is part of why it always feels like such an energetic production

Our four initial team members all convey a great deal of personality through posture alone – the blond-haired easygoing one, the green-haired punk, the confident leader, and the white-haired lieutenant, who’s presumably gonna occupy a role somewhat like Free!’s Makoto

The dark-haired boy from the event joins up first, freaking Futaba out even more. Interesting choice to accompany this moment with another flurry of feathers; it seems the bird mirrors Futaba in both positive and negative ways, echoing his inspiration, but also his flighty indecision

The black-haired boy is Ryoya Misato

He’s apparently already a distinguished gymnast

Oh my god, this cut of Futaba almost losing his grip on the club window is so good. This episode is just overflowing with playful, lovingly executed character animation

Even just this cut of the blond-haired guy assessing Futaba is so much more lively than you’d usually expect. I can’t imagine the show can maintain this standard forever, but it’s a very nice start!

The vice-captain actually appreciates Futaba’s variable sports experience, telling him how all those disciplines will improve his gymnastics performance

The slight panning of Misato’s second tumble sequence really amplifies the sense of momentum. And then we go straight from that to this abstract cut of water rippling for Futaba’s feelings… this is a really generous premiere, with a few different key strengths in terms of animation

The captain and manager rightfully understand that Futaba might be new, but his clear passion for the sport is extremely valuable

“I’ve always been happy on the bench. But now, I want to soar! Is it because I chose this?”

And Done

That was quite nice! In terms of narrative, we’re actually sticking closely to the default sports template – Futaba’s journey is a familiar one, and all of the other characters we’ve seen sort into classic sports drama archetypes. But in terms of visual execution, this episode was consistently dazzling, excelling not just in terms of its actual gymnastics sequences, but also through its personality-filled character acting and energetic editing. This premiere leaves me with two big questions: can the show maintain its visual excellence, and can it tether that strength to some genuinely compelling thematic or character work? We’ll have to find out, but this was certainly an excellent start!

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