“Each goal, each win, going to different buildings, the rivalries, the excitement – it is something. I try to catch myself, you know, in the warm-ups, when you’re on the line and the anthem and you get to some milestones and stuff. It’s such a neat experience.” –Jarome Iginla
While Manaka, Ayaka, Riko, Naomi and Kaoruko strive to make the cut for the Dream Monkeys, coach Yōko attempts to convince Yū to join their team. Ayaka worries that her physical development is putting her at a disadvantage, but the others help her to train so she can keep up with the others. Impressed, Yōkō is happy to bring everyone on board, sensing that their ability to support one another will be an asset. When Yū swings by the arena to return something, Manaka challenges her to a shootout: if Yū misses a single shot against her, she is to join the Dream Monkeys. As a result of this bet, Yū reluctantly signs on, and finds herself at odds with the others immediately; it turns out she’d quit Snow White because the other players hadn’t seen hockey as a team sport. However, seeing Manaka and the others convinces her that there might be an opportunity to turn herself around. Kaoruko later becomes pensive after Yōkō suggests that she would benefit by communicating more. During a summer outing to Okinawa, Kaoruko ends up finding her voice and improves her own game. Riko and Naomi continue to practise the latter’s defensive game ahead of an exhibition match, and while Riko takes a bad fall that results in a sprain, Naomi steps up her game to keep the Dream Monkeys alive. Although they are defeated, Naomi learns to put her best forward. Riko soon recovers, and returns to practise. Mami also returns to town and briefly visits the others ahead of the Dream Monkey’s big match against Snow White. Yū and one of her old teammates meet, promising one another that they’re going to give their all, and on the day of the game, Snow White takes an early lead when their star player, Maya Walker, opens with a goal. However, team play from the Dream Monkeys allow the to tie the game, and ultimately, with a second left on the clock, Manaka scores. Yū is grateful to have joined the Dream Monkeys, whose spirits have allowed her to re-discover the meaning of teamwork, and the Dream Monkeys advance to an international match, where they square off against Team Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 team. This brings PuraOre!, my first-ever anime hockey experience, to a close.
Despite being an anime about ice hockey, the Canadian national sport, PuraOre! actually has a surprisingly limited focus on ice hockey itself. Manaka and the others do spend time on ice to hone their skills, but only a handful of matches are actually seen. Instead, most of the series’ focus is on more traditional slice-of-life elements, as the junior members of the Dream Monkeys get to know one another better and ultimately, welcome Yū onto the team despite her own reservations. From sharing ice creams to team philosophies together, the group’s tendencies to treat Yū as a peer rather than as an ace slowly changes her mindset. Yū had felt that Snow White had relied on her to win and failed to play as a proper team, but seeing how Manaka and the others pushed one another forward together, as well as accepting Yū’s feedback, creates a change in her perspective and encourages her to stay on, both to recover what she’d lost, as well as to drive those around her forward. PuraOre! suggests that what happens off the ice is as important as what happens on the ice, both during training and in live games – seemingly trivial moments can create learning opportunities that strengthen the bonds among the players and allow them to coordinate better while on the ice. This is evident with Kaoruko, who becomes more expressive while playing beach volleyball during their Okinawa trip. The changes from this experience carry over, and she becomes more confident as a goaltender, as well as in helping her teammates out. Similarly, seeing how Riko’s willing to be there with her every step of the way allows Naomi to play her best defensive game. The picture painted is a compelling one, although in PuraOre!, the focus on elements common to other anime does mean that its centrepiece is given a less convincing treatment, and the growth that each of Manaka, Ayaka, Yū, Kaoruko, Riko and Naomi have on-ice isn’t portrayed to the same extent that one might expect of an anime about hockey.
Screenshots and Commentary
- If memory serves, last I wrote about PureOre!, Mami had just taken off, and the others were beginning to make the transition from the trial sessions over to becoming full-time members of the Dream Monkeys. Despite only Riko and Naomi having any previous experience, Manaka and Kaoruko are able to keep up as they continue improving their stamina. For Ayaka, who’s a year younger, things are a little more difficult. Here, Yōkō introduces the girls to their new gear.
- In the end, Ayaka makes it through thanks to a combination of her down grit, and the fact that each of Manaka, Kaoruko, Riko and Naomi encourage her. For Yōkō, this is a particularly encouraging sign, since it shows that these five are willing to support one another as best as they can. It is the case that physical prowess is vital in ice hockey, but so is the team chemistry. Being able to trust one another, pick one another up and know that everyone has everyone covered is vital, especially in games where one is down a few goals: while they might be inexperienced, Manaka, Ayaka, Kaoruko, Riko and Naomi demonstrate a solid foundation: skills can be learnt, and physicality can be developed, but underlying everything is that trust.
- Yōkō’s persistence in pick Yū up came across as problematic for some fans, but there’s a reason behind her determination: once a hockey player herself, Yōkō had made a promise to Yū’s former coach in looking after her when she’d left the Snow Whites. Whereas I’d been patient so I could watch the stories behind everyone unfold, other viewers were much less forgiving and wondered why Yōkō was not arrested for how she approached Yū. Such commentary isn’t generally helpful, and this is the main reason behind why I encourage readers to regard internet commentary (even my own) with a grain of salt.
- While Yū is reluctant to get back onto the rink, her skills nonetheless remain, and she impresses Manaka. However, Yū still retains her old attitudes during an exhibition match, frustrating Riko an the others. Of everyone, Manaka is the most open-minded, and it is ultimately how she regards Yū (and ice hockey as a whole) that causes Yū to reconsider how she approaches hockey. Although this approach falls away at the professional level, it is suitable for an anime that follows how a group of beginners come to pick up the sport.
- This is why for me, PuraOre! is a bit of a mixed bag: on one hand, the messages are heartwarming and speak to the importance of teamwork, but on the flipside, PuraOre! doesn’t show the full speed and intensity that is ice hockey: even junior under-eighteen teams play with more finesse and power in reality, and expectations to see NHL or Olympic medal round-level play here is to be unrealistic. Instead, smaller things, like Manaka scoring their first goal in a full match, are meant to celebrate milestones for the characters.
- Manaka is basically a hockey-oriented version of GochiUsa‘s Cocoa Hoto and Koisuru Asteroid‘s Mira Konohata, sporting the same orange hair and indefatigable spirit that Cocoa and Mira possess. I’ve come to greatly like characters like these: many fans find these archetypes tiresome, but there’s a good reason why anime makes use of familiar characters. By recycling common traits, an anime is able to reduce the need to develop a character fully, and this in turn allows the series to focus on the topic at hand, whether it be astronomy, coffee or hockey. This becomes less of an issue in longer anime, but where there are only twelve or thirteen episode to work with, it is important to develop the characters faster so their stories can be told more fully, and in this area, PuraOre! is satisfactory.
- I was a little surprised by the decision to include a beach episode set in Okinawa – the last time I watched an anime featuring beach volleyball on the white sands of Okinawa was 2018’s Harukana Receive, and on this note, I have been following the manga quite closely. At this point in time, while I’m not sure whether or not a second season will occur; all ten volumes have released now, and there’s definitely enough material for a continuation, but whether or not the series sold well will likely be the deciding factor. If there is a second season of Harukana Receive, I’d definitely watch and write about it. Back in PuraOre!, Kaoruko figures out how to better communicate when their team starts losing in beach volleyball – although showing how hot Kaoruko is appears seemingly frivolous, it does provide an opportunity to have her grow, as well.
- Once summer break draws to a close, the girls return home and prepare to play their first-ever match. More senior members of the Dream Monkeys also make an appearance, but owing to what I imagine are budget constraints they only make a limited appearance. From what we do see of Manaka, Ayaka, Kaoruko, Yū, Riko and Naomi’s seniors, they are friendly teammates who support them as best as they can, too. Unlike the younger members, the older players don’t seem bothered by Yōkō’s unusual warm-up exercises.
- With Kaoruko now more effective at communicating, next up is Naomi, who lacks the intensity to be effective at defending. While body-checking is prohibited in the rule set that PuraOre! uses, there are other modes of keeping opponents off the puck and disrupting plays. Here, the TV crew has returned to film the junior-most members of the Dream Monkeys, before practise begins. To help Naomi with her defense, Riko stays behind after their normal hours until Naomi is able to stop Riko from making plays. The extent that Riko is willing to go for Naomi stems from the fact that for Riko, she’d long wanted to play alongside Naomi, feeling at ease whenever they’re together, but at some point, Naomi dropped ice hockey for figure skating.
- During their first-ever live match, the Dream Monkeys face their first challenge when Riko collides with another player and sustains a sprain in the process. Feeling it was her fault, Naomi’s game begins falling apart, but during a flashback, she recalls the extent to which Riko had been there for her. Wanting to return the favour, Naomi subsequently puts all of her best into defending; she forces the other team off the puck and takes possession, passing the puck over to Yu, who sets Manaka up for the game-winning goal.
- The presence of an extended flashback means that for viewers, Naomi’s background and her story with Riko is given sufficient time to be presented such that they can empathise with her, but this comes at the expense of ice hockey. This is a challenge that anime of this type must invariably address: spending more time on hockey would demand characters with more skill, but using novices means that their skill must be built from square one. It had become apparent from the first episode that PuraOre!‘s focus on beginners would mean folks looking for NHL-level plays would be left disappointed.
- After the Dream Monkeys put one in the win column, Riko and Naomi enjoy some of their favourite ice creams together as a celebration, and Naomi promises to put her best efforts in so the Dream Monkeys can continue advancing such that, by the time Riko recovers, they’re still in the running. In NHL games, injuries can be quite frightening to see, and there are occasions where bad hits can cause a team to develop a sudden change in momentum: intent on avenging their teammate, they will play with increased ferocity and determination. This occurred during the Stanley Cup finals, when the Winnipeg Jets’ Mark Scheifele slammed into the Montreal Canadiens’ Jake Evans with an illegal hit. The players promised to avenge Evans, and this level of intensity led them all the way to the finals against Tampa Bay.
- While Tampa Bay smashed Montreal in five games, this was one example where a player injury galvinised a team into playing their best. For Naomi and the others, concern for their teammate leaves them more distracted, but this difference in mindset comes as a result of a disparity in experience. Indeed, once Riko is back, the Dream Monkeys continue to perform, and when Mami makes a return to visit, Manaka and the others welcome her back with open arms. It turns out Mami had joined another team, the Ice Rabbits, after enjoying the experience, and although she describes herself as being a weaker player, the training she’s had also helps her to improve.
- Unlike Manaka, who put all of her efforts into ice hockey after making the Dream Monkeys, Mami had continued with her embroidery to the point where everyone begins asking Mami to make them something. By this point in time, Yū’s become very much a part of Manaka’s group of friends, and even gets along with Mami just fine despite having only met her now: Manaka’s very fond of speaking about those around her, so for both Yū and Mami, it does feel as though they’d previously met. After promising to meet up again and perhaps face off against one another on the ice, Mami returns home.
- PuraOre! thus enters its final act: their game is going to be against Snow White, Yū’s former team. In an attempt to raise themselves from the lower-seeded division, the Snow Whites have acquired Canadian player Maya Walker, and while she’s been carrying the team with skill in hockey befitting of a Canuck, Eri (Yū’s old teammate) does become worried that the others are depending too much on Maya. This sort of problem can be especially frustrating for teams with a star player: while exceptional players like Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin and Connor McDavid can produce goals consistently or set plays up, hockey is a team sport, and every star player has a line backing them so they aren’t checked off the puck, blocked or otherwise interfered with.
- Conversely, when other players on the team are able to capitalise on a star player, they can dominate games. I have found that even on teams without star players, consistently cohesive team play makes all the difference. Prior to the postponement of games, the Calgary Flames have been doing very well because of a combination of players being willing to skate, secondary scoring supporting the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk, and the fact that both Jacob Markstrom and Daniel Vladar have been around to make key saves. We don’t have a star player per se, but everyone plays consistently. Back in PuraOre!, despite being frustrated by Manaka’s carefree, happy-go-lucky attitude, Ayaka admits that at times like these, it’s reassuring to have someone like her around.
- Thus, while each of Manaka, Yū, Ayaka, Kaoruko, Riko and Naomi enter their game against Snow White nervous, they’re also excited to have a go with a team that’s also rebuilding. I will note here that how PuraOre! frames hockey matches is dramatically different than what I’m used to seeing on Sportsnet: the anime prefers to place the camera at the ice level in order to capture the players and their emotional tenour, whereas viewers are accustomed to the frame showing players a view of most of the ice so things like player movements can be seen more clearly.
- As a result of this, it isn’t possible to accurately assess how the Dream Monkeys and Snow Whites are when it comes to play itself: from an over-the-shoulder perspective, we can’t see passes, shot attempts and positioning. Originally, I’d been wondering if PuraOre! was something I could do episodic reviews for. I know enough about the basics of hockey so that I can speak to the characters’ actions and decisions during a match (to a much better extent than something like Harukana Receive), but since PuraOre! starts things from the very beginning and focuses more on individual growth, I ended up deciding against writing for this series in an episodic fashion; had the series had a larger emphasis on hockey, I’d be able to break games down, but as it was, there wouldn’t be much to discuss on a per-episode basis.
- On the day of the game, the Nikkō arena is packed, bringing Yōkō’s dream to live. It seems like everyone in the community has shown up to see this game. Located in Togichi prefecture, Nikkō is a city of around 80000 people. As PuraOre! shows, Nikkō has a very strong tourism industry because of its onsen, but the area is also involved with power generation, food processing and metalwork. Both Nikkō and my hometown has a humid continental climate, with warm summers and cold winters, making it a suitable spot for ice hockey.
- Moments after the game begins, Maya manages to bury the puck behind Kaoruko, putting Snow White up 1-0. Hockey is a game of momentum, and usually, teams that score first are able to capitalise on improved spirits to build up the lead. Against a good team, resilient players will not worry too much about being a goal or two behind, and instead, focus on doing what they can to get onto the scoreboard. In previous years, the Flames were particularly weak here: if an opposing team scored a goal or two, the Flames were prone to giving up the game. Since we acquired coach Darryl Sutter, however, things have changed considerably, and I’d actually been hoping that with Sutter at the helm, the Flames would be able to make it back into the playoffs.
- This, unfortunately, is up in the air right now: a few weeks ago, many of our players tested positive, and subsequently, the team postponed all of their games. This brought our team to a stop, although more recently, there’s been a glimmer of hope; players have largely recovered, and the Flames’ season resumes tonight with a game against the Seattle Kraken. I’m not sure if the Flames will be able to maintain their momentum from before, but with Sutter’s leadership, I remain optimistic. Back in PuraOre!, Yōkō pushes her players to stay on Maya and pressure her. Unaccustomed to having this much trouble scoring, Maya becomes frustrated and makes rookie mistakes, allowing the Dream Monkeys to take the initiative and put themselves on the board. It turns out Maya enjoys going for the five-hole, and once Kaoruko becomes aware of this, the Dream Monkeys begin to have more confidence in stopping her plays, as well.
- During intermission, Yū and Eri exchange a conversation: the new Yū is able to see what her old self had not, and she apologises to Eri for not thinking of the others when she’d voiced her frustrations. Eri and Yū reconcile subsequently, and they both resolve to give everything they’ve got in the final period. In this moment, Yū is freed of a burden, and she is able to play with her best without anything held back. Third periods tend to vary: in games where one team is steamrolling the other, play becomes more defensively oriented as both teams aim to prevent the other from scoring. Conversely, if the scores are close, they can become very physical and emotionally intense.
- PuraOre! captures this in a completely different way than the typical Saturday night hockey match: rather than players fighting for puck possession with more grit and putting more shots on net, we’re instead treated to an internal monologue for each character explaining what drives them in this moment. This still conveys the sense that the players are pumped up, and with the whole of the Dream Monkeys’ aspirations now riding on one final play, Yū makes one final pass to Manaka, whose shot finds the back of the net.
- For dramatic effect, PuraOre! has the Dream Monkeys score the game winner with a second left on the clock. This does happen in games, but more often than not, players will prefer to allow the clock to wind down if there’s a draw game, and then hit overtime with fresh skates. Conversely, a team that’s down by one or two goals will pull their goaltenders and put an extra attacker on the ice to tie the game. The outcome of this match, however, is reminiscent of the Canadian classic, “The Good Ol’ Hockey Game”, where the home team scores on their last shot of the period to win the Stanley Cup.
- In the end, Snow White loses the game by a goal, but I found that in their loss, they also gained something invaluable: the knowledge that Yū was on the money about working as a team means that now, the Snow Whites will know how to push their players to play as a cohesive unit to really bring out Maya’s skill, rather than simply leaning on her as a crutch. For now, Snow White will stay in the lower division, but the learnings here will allow them to improve and make the most of the players they’ve got. Here, the players shake hands. This particular setup is a little unusual: I’m more used to the handshake line, during which players skate and shake hands with every member of the opposing team. While games can become very charged, hockey is a sport, and this means sportsmanship is part and parcel with the competitive side of things.
- Boston Bruins’ Brad Marchand states it best; it’s about showing respect for one’s opponent and acknowledge their effort, win or lose. These sentiments span everything from the most junior level games, to the world’s best, and this is the aspect about sport I care for the most: it’s the pursuit of excellence, but it’s also about the fact that one’s opponents are just as capable, skillful and competent as oneself, and they want to win just as badly as one would. Granted, Marchand isn’t exactly the epitome of good sportsmanship (at least, not like former Flames Captain and current Seattle Kraken Mark Giordano), and not all players share the same thoughts, but for me, I do believe that at the end of the day, there is such a thing as win-win; as inspiring as sports is, life is a little more flexible and more than being a just zero-sum game.
- The NHL will probably sooner fold than consider including idol performances after every Stanley Cup final. This particular aspect is reminiscent of how Uma Musume: Pretty Derby does things, and mirrors the fact that PuraOre!‘s anime adaptation was merely meant to be an advertisement for the upcoming mobile game. This would account for why the anime plays things safe and sticks to an approach that had previously worked; emphasis would be placed on character exposition above all else, to promote the mobile game.
- Overall, PuraOre! works well enough as an anime, sufficiently so for me to grant it a B- (2.7 of 4.0, or for those who prefer the 10 point scale, 7 points). This is no substitute for the NHL, and it certainly won’t fill the gap left by the lack of Calgary Flames in the past few weeks, but it was fun to see a group of novices find their footing and take an interest in a sport that is otherwise not played with much frequency in Japan. I found the characters likeable: I’ve always wondered what would happen if Cocoa or Mira were to take up ice hockey, and PuraOre! provides the answer for this.
- This is going to be my last anime post, and my second last post for the year. 86 EIGHTY-SIX had also been on my watchlist, but owing to production delays, its finale will now air somewhere in March 2022, so I’ve got no plans to write about this one until at least then. With this, I’m now done all of the anime posts I’ve wished to write for 2021, and there’s only one more post left for the year: a talk on Halo Infinite. Entering the new year, I have plans to write about Slow Loop and Girls’ Frontline. Other shows that catch my eye, but for which I have no plans to write about, include Akebi-chan no Sailor-fuku and Shuumatsu no Harem. Tabi wa ni was also on my list of shows to write about, but I’ve not heard whether or not it will make the schedule for the winter season.
Owing to what it focuses on, PuraOre! does not entirely capture the energy and speed of ice hockey as Yōkō envisioned it. Examples of teamwork brought on as a result of trust, familiarity and player chemistry are conveyed through off-ice moments and lengthy internal monologues, rather than through the players’ actions. Details in ice hockey itself, from setting up for a power play, to strategies for maintaining puck control, are never covered. Offsides and icing are similarly omitted, as is the fact that owing to its pace, players are constantly swapped on and off the ice in shifts. Strategies and methods seen in professional hockey are discarded in favour of emotional moments: for instance, it would be unusual that Yōkō puts Yū’s line against Snow White’s first line during their match right as the game starts. Typically, matches open with their starting line ups, and then coaches mix things up in response to where a game is headed. For instance, Maya’s line is offense-oriented, so a third line would be used to counter them, but out of the gates, Dream Monkey’s starting line-up, consisting of more experienced players, would be used. PuraOre! is ultimately the equivalent of an anime about software developers, portraying the journey of beginners who reach as far as writing a simple Python script to generate valid Sudoku boards for coursework: although the anime portrays personal growth and its contributions to the team in a satisfactory manner, viewers hoping to see NHL-level plays, such as Johnny Gaudreau’s playmaking and incredible speed, Matthew Tkachuk’s trick goals, or Jacob Markstrom’s solid goaltending on nights where he faces thirty-plus shots, will be disappointed. As it turns out, PuraOre! is intended to be a promotion for the upcoming mobile game of the same name, and as such, was written in a way as to set up the Dream Monkeys’ team dynamics by adding background to their stories. The actual hockey itself, along with the Dream Monkeys’ journey to be the world champions, appears to be something left for the mobile game, although even then, I don’t expect the game to rival the NHL series in terms of gameplay. As such, PuraOre!‘s story concludes here for the present, and while it definitely will not offer world-class hockey as viewers were hoping, it does set the stage for the mobile game by establishing the teamwork and camaraderie amongst the Dream Monkeys. Folks looking for a taste of hockey in a slice-of-life style series may find PuraOre! engaging, although longtime hockey fans would do better to pick up a Sportsnet subscription so that they can watch proper NHL matches, which provide the best hockey on this planet.