“There is a prison in a more ancient part of the world – a pit where men are thrown to suffer and die. But sometimes, a man rises from the darkness. Sometimes, the pit sends something back.” –Alfred Pennyworth, The Dark Knight Rises
Hiyori Hayama is a student and solo idol whose career is quite unsuccessful. After her contract ends, she decides to hedge her bets on Extreme Hearts, a hyper-sports competition for idols. Although Hiyori is quite unskilled in sports, she is joined by Saki Kodaka, a soccer player, and Sumika Maehara, a basketball player. Saki had been a fan of Hiyori’s, and Sumika becomes intrigued to help Hiyori out. Over time, the three form RISE, an indie group, and begin making a splash in the realm of hyper-sports. Along the way, Yukino Tachibana, a kendōka, and Lise Kohinata, a martial artist, join RISE. Between competing in hyper-sports against other idol groups and training together, RISE ends up winning the Kanagawa tournament and make a name for themselves. At its core, Extreme Hearts is more of a sports anime than an idol anime, with competition, the will to win and overcoming one’s internal obstacles lying at the heart of the series’ aims. Although RISE is unified by their desire to help Hiyori reach her goals, and hyper-sports retains notions of sportsmanship amongst competitors, the very nature of hyper-sports results in an anime that comes across as extremely busy. Hiyori, Saki, Sumika, Yukino and Lise have different backgrounds, and while their unique experiences allow them to contribute to RISE in their own way, constantly switching the sports up and providing players with augmentation gear means that RISE is never able to commit to a sport for the sake of improvement. This helps to keep Extreme Hearts‘ focus on the characters and their path; while the stakes in Extreme Hearts are not especially compelling (everyone’s driven by a desire to see what their best can offer), and Hiyori’s aspirations aren’t particularly unique, this anime does have heart. In a vacuum, Extreme hearts represents a moderately entertaining watch as the summer season’s other anime with an idol piece.
While Extreme Hearts does attempt to meld futuristic athletics with musical performances, at least one individual has seen it fit to compare Extreme Hearts with Luminous Witches, with the rather outrageous claim that differences in animation (Luminous Witches did have moments where the performances distinctly used computer rendered elements) and a shift in paradigms away from Strike Witches‘ more crass aspects rendered Luminous Witches the inferior choice to Extreme Hearts. For this individual, animation and clinging to an outdated approach matters more than storytelling: such superficial views of anime are hardly worth consideration, but if we were to take this premise, that Extreme Hearts is superior to Luminous Witches, as having validity, then one must first start by considering what Extreme Hearts and Luminous Witches‘ respective aims are. Both Extreme Hearts and Luminous Witches portray a disparate group of individuals coming together and doing what they can as a team to accomplish things that wouldn’t be feasible alone. However, whereas Extreme Hearts is motivated by RISE’s efforts to try their best and see what the outcomes are, Luminous Witches shows the significance of using music to raise morale and give people in war-torn areas hope. Hiyori ends up inspiring her friends and is instrumental in bringing RISE to the championships, but this victory is ultimately for Saki, Sumika, Yukino and Lise. In Luminous Witches, the LNAF Band use their songs to encourage humanity to endure, to maintain their resolve, and to give their fellow Witches the strength to keep fighting. The stakes in Luminous Witches are much larger, and the reason for incorporating a musical element is far stronger than it is in Extreme Hearts: were the musical piece of Extreme Hearts to be removed entirely, and Hiyori were given another background, the anime still would have succeeded in conveying its theme. In Extreme Hearts, music is a secondary, dispensable element, whereas in Luminous Witches, music becomes essential to the story. On these grounds, Luminous Witches has the stronger thematical piece, and while it is the case that the performances in Extreme Hearts are superior, visuals alone do not make an anime.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Par the course for a Terrible Anime Challenge, I’ll open by stating that on its own, Extreme Hearts earns a B grade (3.0 of 4, or 7.5 of 10): “not quite as good as expectations resulting from community reception, but reasonable in its own right”. When graded on a curve against Luminous Witches, Extreme Hearts would score a C (2.0 of 4, or 6 of 10). The grading becomes significantly harsher because Luminous Witches had been thematically excellent, and the performances’ impact had a clear, tangible objective in boosting morale during a time when humanity needed something to uplift their spirits. By comparison, the stakes in Extreme Hearts are much lower, being focused around Hiyori’s desire to continue performing despite her lack of success as a solo idol.
- When Hiyori speaks with her most dedicated fan, Saki (left), she also ends up drawing the interest of Sumika (middle). The characters in Extreme Hearts are familiar archetypes: Saki reminds me of Haurkana Receive‘s Akari to some extent, while Sumika is High School Fleet‘s Moeka. On the other hand, Hiyori herself resembles Koisuru Asteroid‘s Mira. Archetypes aren’t a problem for me in anime, and what matters more is how everyone gathers. Once Hiyori’s initial team assembles, the series begins accelerating in its pacing.
- I had originally intended to save Extreme Hearts for a rainy day: watching idol-like anime (series with a performing arts component added onto another premise) is something I tend to save for quieter moments between seasons. However, after claims of Extreme Hearts being superior to Luminous Witches began appearing, I decided to push my way through Extreme Hearts to get a feel for the anime and see for myself whether or not such claims had any merit. These claims originate from one individual at AnimeSuki, someone whom I do not get along with to any capacity: we’ve clashed on Super Cub and The Aquatope on White Sand previously.
- The individual making these claims has a history of being snide and patronising in their Twitter-length reactions to anime, oftentimes belittling the creators and suggesting they could do better than said creators, but in spite of these inadequate reactions, people still agree with them. When I disagreed with this individual, moderators removed my responses, calling my counterarguments “personal attacks”. This isn’t exactly a healthy environment for discussion; I expect people to always think for themselves and call out poor conduct where it is observed.
- However, when this individual suggested that Extreme Hearts was superior to Luminous Witches after the latter finished airing, I was in no position to counteract them, having not seen Extreme Hearts for myself. I therefore steeled myself for one of the fastest I’ve ever gone through an anime. I found in Extreme Hearts an unremarkable series that employed familiar approaches and convention. Unexpected setbacks occur, but the lead characters, who form the group RISE, always find a way to prevail against all odds. Over time, their group grows, with members deciding to join after experiencing internal conflict in deciding whether or not they wish to join.
- Despite being a paint-by-numbers series, Extreme Hearts does have heart, and one does find incentive to cheer for the lead characters as the show wears on. With this in mind, I found that the notion of hyper-sports diminishes the investment into the characters; use of specialised equipment to greatly enhance one’s abilities undermines the notion that sport is something people must invest time into such that they can improve. Here in Extreme Hearts, sports from soccer, to American flag football, baseball, futsal and volleyball, are all shown.
- I appreciate that this was likely done to showcase as broad of a range of sports as possible to suggest that as idols, the characters must be familiar in a range of fields, but the idea of using equipment to boost one’s performance stands contrary to the idea that improvement must come from one’s own resolve. As an idol, Hiyori’s singing and performing come as a result of her efforts, and when Saki and Sumika join her, they put in the effort to improve, as well: on stage, there is nothing else to help them along besides what they bring to the table.
- While RISE is shown practising extensively for their events, I found that ignoring the hyper aspect of hyper-sports and doing a mixed sports tournament without the gear would’ve still yielded a similar emotional impact. From a storytelling standpoint, adding this special equipment is two-fold: it helps separate Extreme Hearts from reality and accentuate the fact that this is a world somewhat unlike ours, as well as offering the animators a chance to show their stuff. Here, Yukino prepares to compose music for RISE: an excellent baseball player and kendo practitioner, Yukino felt obligated to pass on RISE’s offer to join them so she could tend to the family dōjō. Her grandfather convinces her there’s more than one way to uphold family tradition, and Yukino ends up contributing to RISE’s latest win.
- While out and about, Saki encounters Lise, a former martial artist who quit after she accidentally injured a friend during competition. Saki manages to convince Lise that she’s amongst peers, and that in hyper-sports, there’s a chance for her to be herself and put in her best. Such elements are woven into Extreme Hearts in a satisfactory manner: unlike Luminous Witches, whose unique universe created opportunities to simultaneously advance character growth and world-building, things here are much more familiar.
- The main element that Extreme Hearts has over Luminous Witches is in its performances: everything is still hand-drawn, but in spite of this, the dancing remains smooth and synchronised. However, visuals alone don’t make an anime: similarly to games, where graphics alone don’t make any one game superior to another. While life-like textures, real-time lighting effects and photorealistic details contribute to immersion, games are worth playing because of the experience they confer, and this means things like gameplay mechanics, design and narrative count more than the visuals.
- Similarly, while Extreme Hearts has better performances than Luminous Witches, the visuals elsewhere in Luminous Witches aren’t egregiously poor. Coupled with the fact that the stakes were more compelling, I would argue that dismissing Luminous Witches on account of the performances being a little rougher around the edges is akin to dismissing a triple-A steak dinner simply because the butter than accompanied the complimentary bread was actually margarine. The individual from AnimeSuki also supposed that Luminous Witches “wasn’t Strike Witches” because of the lack of fanservice.
- At this point, it became clear that this individual was complaining for the sake of complaining and totally lacked any understanding of what Luminous Witches was doing (or otherwise, was so convinced of their own correctness that they were forcing themselves to overlook certain truths): over the years, Strike Witches had stepped away from gratuitously crotch-shots in favour of world-building, and this has actually contributed to improving Strike Witches. Besides opening the universe to more compelling stories, it also showed that the Strike Witches universe could stand on the merits of its stories and character dynamics, rather than gimmicks.
- As Extreme Hearts reached its finale, episodes put the pedal to the metal as things heated up. However, when RISE squares off against Snow Wolf, even though the competition was anticipated to be exceptionally challenging, Hiyori would strike up a friendship with Snow Wolf’s Michelle Jaeger and Ashley Vancroft, who were robotics engineers and mechanics first, and performers second. Despite their fearsome reputation, RISE ends up getting along with Michelle and Ashley on excellent terms. The idea of sportsmanship in Extreme Hearts is nothing new, but it does accentuate the idea that competitors can still cooperate and support one another when the moment calls for it.
- During the championship match against May-Bee, Hiyori sprains her foot while exerting herself for everyone’s sake: May-Bee is the defending champion and puts up an impressive showing, building a massive lead that spectators comment as being demoralising. However, undeterred, RISE manages to catch up, thanks in part to Hiyori’s determination spurring her teammates on even despite her injury. Michelle ends up pulling Hiyori aside to get a better look at the latter’s injury, and reluctantly allows Hiyori to return to the match. In reality, injuries are taken seriously, and it was through the story’s requirements that Hiyori was able to pull through.
- I am willing to overlook these aspects of an anime in the knowledge that they are deliberately chosen to advance the story, and consequently, have no trouble accepting RISE’s win over May-Bee. Having been around the anime community for almost a decade-and-a-half now, I still find it perplexing that people would fixate on small details and maintain the belief that one gaffe is sufficient to render an anime unwatchable. I’ve never managed to gain a proper understanding of the rationale behind this brand of thinking and therefore, continue to remain confused by such a mindset.
- Following their victory, RISE is slated to conclude their performance. Hiyori is allowed some time to recuperate, and spends most of her time handling administrative details: RISE has become quite popular as a result of their successes, and there’s quite a bit to deal with. It is clear that thanks to the championships, RISE is experiencing a rise in popularity. The correlation behind how this happens is never really explored in Extreme Hearts, certainly not to the same extent that the stakes were shown in Luminous Witches, but this is a consequence of the dramatically different settings. The LNAF Band sing for those who are fighting and doing their best to survive, while RISE performs for one another initially and learns of how much of an impact they’re having as a result of their efforts.
- The comparison between Extreme Hearts and Luminous Witches is ultimately insincere, since both anime have different aims. While I’ve made an effort to compare elements that can be validly compared in this post and found that Luminous Witches had a better raison d’être overall, just because I found it to have superior execution in its character growth, world-building and settings doesn’t mean I didn’t have fun watching Extreme Hearts: watching anime isn’t some zero-sum game where one has a limited quota of shows they’re allowed to enjoy in a given season.
- As it was, the ending concerts were quite entertaining to watch, and RISE stole the show with a spirited performance, intricate outfits, and a moment where Hiyori, whom the others had mentioned to have remained composed and professional up until now, suddenly stops and breaks down in tears mid-performance. This had been a dream of sorts for Hiyori, and Extreme Hearts joins a long list of anime in showing how teamwork makes the impossible achievable: for Hiyori, seeing the audience in front of her, and a team she’s come to love, respect and trust backing her, Hiyori allows herself to give in to the moment.
- With this post, an impromptu detour of sorts, in the books, I return to my regular programming: I will be doing a set of thoughts on Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury; being my first full-length Gundam series that I’ve watched live since Gundam 00 back in 2007/2008, I’m quite excited to see where this one goes. Further to this, I had planned to write about Ace Combat 7‘s super-planes after watching Top Gun: Maverick and found myself seized with a desire to fly virtual aircraft in reckless, dangerous ways. The Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II open beta caused that post to be postponed, and I’ll aim to get that one done soon so that, when the Steam Winter Sale comes about, I can pick up the TOP GUN: Maverick Aircraft Set for Ace Combat 7.
While comparing one anime against another is an oft-utilised approach amongst reviewers, it’s a method that requires some finesse in order to be fair and useful. In order for comparisons to be valid, they must be made based on elements common to the two works being discussed. Here in Extreme Hearts and Luminous Witches, it’s the thematic elements and how well both anime tie in their respective messages together with its premise. Luminous Witches and Extreme Hearts both speak to the importance of counting on one another and use music as a part of their story. However, music is incidental to Extreme hearts, and Luminous Witches uses music to really bring people together, whether it be the LNAF Band or their audience, during times of adversity. Because Luminous Witches is tighter from the thematic standpoint, it was the series I enjoyed more. Maintaining consistency in comparisons is important, and in the case of the individual claiming that Extreme Hearts has superior animation to Luminous Witches, this is an instance of a faulty comparison because it is incomplete. Ignoring the fact that the hand-drawn scenes in Luminous Witches and using this supposition to say that every scene is superior in Extreme Hearts is a fallacy. While it is true that Extreme Hearts‘ performance sequences are cleaner and more consistent with the aesthetic seen elsewhere in the anime compared to Luminous Witches, it is also the case that Extreme Hearts makes extensive use of stills during action sequences. The difficulty in comparing Luminous Witches to Extreme Hearts arises from the requisite need to do a very extensive breakdown, and at the end of the day, animation is one of several components in both anime. For these reasons, it is invalid to dismiss Luminous Witches merely because the performances sequences weren’t quite as polished as those in Extreme Hearts, especially when the animation is only one component of both series. Overall, I would suggest that while Extreme Hearts is worth watching for those who’ve got some availability and an interest in a variation of sports anime, if one’s time were limited, forcing them to choose between Luminous Witches and Extreme Hearts, Luminous Witches would be the superior choice on the grounds that its musical piece is better related to the series’ themes, and that there is a stronger reason for why music is to be celebrated and cherished.