Me work hard five days a week, sweeping garbage from the street
Come home not want book to read, not ’nuff pictures for me see
Sit right down in favourite chair, wearing only underwear
Favourite night is Saturday night, ’cause me can watch hockey fights
Me Like Hockey!
–Arrogant Worms, Me Like Hockey
When the Crochet Club’s members, Manaka, Ayaka, Mami and Kaoruko learn of ice hockey lessons being held at the local arena, they decide to check it out. They are surprised that their instructor, Yōko, seems to be tasking them with dance moves as well, but when they get onto the ice, they are impressed with how exciting the experience is. Along the way, Manaka, Ayaka, Mami and Kaoruko meet Riko and Naomi, two former ice hockey players who are getting back into things at Riko’s insistence. After a thrilling first class, Manaka and her friends decide to come back, and the next weekend, after helping with a filming session at the Mizusawa’s ryōkan, the TV crew swing by the arena, as well. However, Mami is a little disheartened after their second session: she’s transferring away during the next term. Once her friends learn of this, Manaka suggests that they give Mami one final parting gift, in the form of a hockey game against a local team. After training for this day, Manaka and her team are annihilated 9-1 (Manaka manages to score in the game’s final moments), but have a great time. On the day of Mami’s departure, everyone sees her off, and although Manaka is noticeably absent, she ends up riding out to bid Mami a farewell. This is PuraOre! Pride of Orange (PuraOre! from here on out for brevity): this anime comes as a bit of a pleasant surprise for hockey fans, presenting an introduction to the sport of ice hockey, which is a minor sport in Japan compared to baseball and soccer. PuraOre! is produced by CAAnimation and C2C; the latter had been involved with Hitori Bocchi and Harukana Receive, both of which were solid series from a technical standpoint. In particular, Harukana Receive had been particularly good with its art and animation throughout the series, and this sets a positive precedence for the hockey that viewers will see as PuraOre! continues. However, for the time being, despite being a hockey anime, PuraOre! has placed more emphasis on character growth as opposed to the sport itself.
The approach in PuraOre! is appropriate for viewers who are newer to hockey: much as series like K-On!, Yama no Susume, Yuru Camp△, Koisuru Asteroid and Houkago Teibou Nisshi had done before, PuraOre! has elected to set the table and establish the friendship between Manaka, Ayaka, Mami and Kaoruko, as well as the fact that Naomi and Riko had previously played ice hockey. This is a deliberate choice to allow viewers the chance to see how their stories began, and show how everyone is off the ice. For hockey fans familiar with things like the National Hockey League or Team Canada, PuraOre! is going to come across as being very slowly-paced, to the point of raising the question of whether or not this is an anime about ice hockey, or an anime with ice hockey as an aside: compared to the fast-paced plays of the NHL, or the unrivaled joy of watching Canadian teams take home gold on the world stage, PuraOre! portrays a group and their humble beginnings. Manaka and her friends can skate, but this is about the extent of their experience on the ice, and in their first game against another team, Manaka and her teammates barely even skate to create openings. Seeing things begin at the very beginning means accepting, and embracing the fact that Manaka and her friends aren’t going to have any special plays, will fan on shots and miscommunicate: this is actually a part of PuraOre!‘s charm, since it gives newcomers a chance to pick up ice hockey’s rules and terminology. While I’m somewhat familiar with ice hockey, having become a fan ever since Jerome Iginla and the Calgary Flames went on a spectacular Stanley Cup run during the 2003-2004 season, it is understandable that PuraOre! is progressing so slowly: Harukana Receive had done the same thing by introducing viewers to beach volleyball with Haruka and Kanata playing against Narumi and Ayasa, before introducing new characters to help them improve as players. PuraOre! is set on a similar trajectory, and with Yū Kiyose joining Manaka and the others, things are also looking to pick up.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Japan’s women’s national ice hockey team is the team that represents them at all international events, and in the IIHF, they are currently ranked sixth: ice hockey might be a minor sport in Japan, but their team still plays solid hockey. With this being said, the choice to show Manaka and the Dream Monkeys beating Team Canada is a bit of symbolism: Canada is known for ice hockey and for producing some of the greatest players around (e.g. Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid come to mind), so to see Japan overcoming Canada in a game was PuraOre!‘s way of showing how far Manaka and her team had come.
- When PuraOre! began, I wondered if this would be a series that I could blog in an episodic fashion. After the first episode concluded, it felt more appropriate to write for this series in my usual manner: episodic posting is quite demanding when done correctly, and requires a blogger to continuously piece together where a series is going while keeping the big picture in mind. For me, unless a series is one I’m inherently familiar with or consistently offers new material to consider, I find it’s much better to write about things periodically.
- A large portion of the first episode is spent in the crochet club’s room, but once Manaka and her friends hit the local arena, the hockey piece to PuraOre! begins. Manaka’s expression says it all here, and so far, her personality traits are an amalgamation of K-On!‘s Yui, GochiUsa‘s Cocoa and Koisuru Asteroid‘s Mira: she’s endlessly cheerful and optimistic. Conversely, her younger sister, Ayaka, is similar to Azusa and Chino. Familiar archetypes are often a problem for folks, but I’ve long held that this is to the anime’s advantage: rather than worrying about setting up individual characters, it frees up writers to focus on interpersonal dynamics and storytelling.
- The Dream Monkey’s mascot greets Manaka and her friends upon their arrival, and Yōko also introduces herself. Yōko is a bit of a boisterous and dramatic individual, bringing to mind Wake Up, Girls‘ very own Junko Tange. However, whereas Junko is voiced by Noriko Hidaka, Yōko is voiced by Mikako Komatsu (Jan from Tari Tari, Miuna of Nagi no Asukara, The Aquatope on White Sand‘s Kaoru, Saki from Girls und Panzer and Momoko from Magia Record). The younger girls are all played by newer voice actresses that I’m not terribly familiar with. On the topic of mascots, if and when I’m asked, Harvey the Hound is my favourite NHL mascot bar none.
- Once introductions are done, the girls get to their first session. Here, Yōko starts the class with stretching drills, which are almost immediately spotted as being dance moves in all but name, hinting at the fact that there is more to their version of ice hockey than putting pucks on net and teamwork. After stretching concludes, it’s time for the main event: Manaka and the others head off to get changed for their first experience on ice.
- Unlike Manaka and her friends, Riko (left) and Naomi (right) have prior hockey experience, so being here is a return to the ice for them. The others marvel at the equipment, and Yōko’s assistant, Sō, remarks that while hockey is a very physical sport, body checking is prohibited under their rules. Generally speaking, a check is a technique for separating an opposing player from the puck, and while the NHL allows for body checks on players with the puck, under IIHF rules for women’s hockey, such a hit is illegal and would be punished by a minor penalty. Instead, there are other modes (e.g. poke checks and stick checks) which are used to interfere with the opponent’s possession.
- For now, checking is above the girls’ skill levels: their initial exercise is to get a feel for skating around on the ice. Fortunately, PuraOre! establishes that everyone’s taken skating lessons previously and are therefore able to move around on the ice without problem. This takes away the need to train everyone from zero and allows the story to push forward a little more quickly. Harukana Receive had done something similar: while Haruka is a novice in beach volleyball, she is very athletic and is familiar with volleyball, allowing her to pick things up more smoothly.
- Once the basics are in place, Yōko sets the girls up with their sticks so they can begin passing drills. The experience excites and impresses Manaka, who’s smitten with ice hockey and becomes enthusiastic to continue on with the lessons, which happen weekly. Back at the Crochet Club, Manaka can be seen perusing a book on ice hockey when the others are doing club activities. The sharp contrast between the two activities is likely a visual means of conveying to viewers how far Manaka and the others have to go before they’re ready to play at a more competitive level.
- As it turns out, after Naomi lost interest and switched over to figure skating, Riko followed suit, feeling that she wouldn’t be able to continue on her own. This is probably a sign that despite her cheerful demenour, Riko is the sort of individual who isn’t very confident and worries about losing people around her. It’s certainly not a fair assessment to belittle Riko for it, as some have chosen to do: the characters of PuraOre! are middle school students, a time when social interactions are very important. I am of the mind that, especially as viewers with a bit more life experience, it would actually be quite immature to judge anime characters for the decisions that they make.
- Instead, my approach towards a given anime is to make an honest attempt at understanding why characters make the decisions that they do, and determine how this fits into the overall themes. Complaining about minutiae, especially this early in the game, contributes nothing to discussions. Here, Manaka and her friends prepare to introduce the TV crew to the family ryōkan. The shoot goes very well, and the TV crew even agree to go check out the local arena when the girls head for practise. Yōko is thrilled with this, and despite her antics, she does offer some inspiring words on what makes ice hockey worthwhile.
- However, things quickly go south when Mami reveals she’s set to transfer away, leaving Manaka devastated. Something similar had happened in Koisuru Asteroid, although there, Ao ended up managing to negotiate an alternate arrangement that allowed her to stay with Mira. Conversely, in PuraOre!, Mami’s departure is inevitable, and once the initial shock wears off, Manaka, Ayaka and Kaoruko decide that Mami should spend one more memorable moment with everyone: playing their first-ever match against another team.
- Meanwhile, Riko manages to convince Naomi to pick up ice hockey anew by treating her to sweets at the local confectionary store. Insofar, while bits and pieces of her and Riko’s story have been presented, I imagine that there is more to things. Traditionally, anime present the idea that it is only be through being forward about one’s feelings that certain conflicts are resolved, so it wouldn’t be too surprising if those elements return later. For now, Riko’s managed to get Naomi back into things, enough to allow Manaka and her group the requisite number of players to have a training match against another team.
- With Manaka, Ayaka, Kaoruko, Riko, Naomi and Mami, there’s enough people for Yōko to begin assigning positions. She’s just as excited about the match as the girls are, but for Yōko, being able to revive interest in ice hockey and promote the sport in her own manner seems to be her goal. In the end, Kaoruko becomes the goaltender, Mami and Manaka play as wingers (offensive players who score goals or make plays that lead to goals), and Ayaka and Naomi take defensive positions. With her experience, Riko is assigned the centre, who can cover more ice than the left or right wing and create plays by passing: in fact, a centre is more defense oriented than the wingers because of their flexibility.
- While visiting the ryōkan with Naomi and Riko, Manaka remarks that making memories is what their main goal is now: while everyone’s been training for their first matchup, their main concern is to create something noteworthy for Mami before she leaves. Here, Naomi also reveals that despite her quiet disposition, she’s also got a fondness for manga, and immediately opens up when she spots that the ryōkan has her favourite series on hand. Naomi is rather similar to Yūki Yūna is a Hero‘s Mimori Tōgō in this regard; both are taciturn and serious, but when the topic of their interest is brought up, they light up like a Christmas tree.
- Ahead of their inaugural game, Ayaka and Mami unveil a banner for the Dream Monkeys. This first match is strictly a practise round, and I am reminded of Girls und Panzer, where Miho and her team have a practise match against Darjeeling and the St. Gloriana Academy. However, whereas Girls und Panzer eventually gave Miho an ironclad reason to fight for her school, and Harukana Receive is about Kanata picking herself back up and facing off against her former partner at the nationals to show she found her way, it remains to be seen whether or not PuraOre! will do the same: Manaka and her friends aren’t playing for keeps right now, so it will be interesting to see whether the stakes increase later on.
- For a training match, the usual rules of hockey are modified: periods are shortened to ten minutes, although since Manaka’s group only has six players in total, they must play for the whole of the period without stoppage. Normally, teams are composed of a minimum of twenty players and no more than twenty-three, with at least two goaltenders. This is to allow players to play in shifts: owing to the high intensity in hockey, players will play for an average of 47 seconds before returning to the bench. For this match, the lack of additional players mean that Manaka’s team was fated to lose.
- After the opening faceoff, the other team immediately sets about burying Manaka’s team, scoring several goals in rapid succession. Whether it was a limitation in the animation or inexperience from Manaka’s team, it appears they’re standing still. Because hockey is a high-paced sport about positioning and movement, players must skate in order to continue tracking the puck and make plays. When players stand still, this creates no such opportunity. There are cases where one should hold a position (e.g. when playing defensively during a short-handed situation), but at this point, PuraOre! has not reached that point.
- The end result of pitting a moderately experienced group against novices results in what is colloquially referred to as a a “blowout”. There is no standardised definition for what makes a blowout, but in the NHL, the largest such game occurred in 1944 when the Detroit Red Wings buried the New York Rangers 15-0. The Calgary Flames’ worst loss occurred against the Vancouver Canucks in 1992, where we were handed a 11-0 defeat. For Manaka and the others, the overwhelming difference is demoralising, but towards the end of the game, Manaka trips after scoring on the rebound, marking her first goal in any match of the season.
- The other team remarks that seeing Manaka and others in fine spirits after playing their first game was a little surreal, and this gives Mami one final happy memory of everyone together before she moves. On the day of, everyone’s come to see her off, although Manaka is noticeably absent from the proceedings. Manaka and Mami’s departure is a dramatic one, with the former showing up right as the train pulls away from the station.
- Given the nature of anime, I am guessing that Mami and Manaka will end up playing one another at some point in PuraOre!: playing against former teammates can be emotionally charged, and I am reminded of the time when then-captain Mark Giordano almost got into a fight with former Calgary Flame Jerome Iginla during one game back in 2017. Being an anime, hockey fights are decisively off the table, but having Mami and Manaka playing against one another could really fire the two up in ways they’d not imagined. For now, a new player, Yū, will join the team and take Mami’s place: it’ll take a little bit of time for her to acclimatise to Manaka, Ayaka and Kaoruko, but I expect that once she settles in, the team will really be able to begin exploring new directions. In the meantime, since the 2021-2022 NHL season is live, I look forwards to seeing how the Flames perform.
One other aspect of note is that PuraOre! plainly written for a Japanese market: during the game shown in the series’ very opening, Manaka and the Dream Monkeys manage to score a game-winning goal against a Canadian team with mere seconds on the clock, and then in their victory celebration, they give an idol-like performance on-ice. Firstly, Canadian teams consistently beaten Japan whenever they play. Secondly, while goals are possible in a game’s dying moments, in a tie game, players will often adopt a more defensive approach and allow the clock to wind down: a sudden-death overtime setup would’ve made the moment more exciting. Finally, I’ve certainly never seen anything like this in any NHL or international game before, and this aspect was, more than likely, meant to help PuraOre! sell image albums. The approach seems a little gratuitous, but previously, Uma Musume had employed a similar approach with the horse girls and also managed to engage me with the sport of horse racing. One can’t fault PuraOre! in taking this route: most Japanese viewers aren’t likely to be as familiar with ice hockey as viewers over here, and PuraOre! does feel like it is intended to accommodate folks who are new to hockey in its earlier episodes. However, as with Uma Musume and Harukana Receive before it, once the basics are done, PuraOre! has plenty of opportunity to engage and excite viewers with its story of Manaka and her friends’ journey through ice hockey, as well as increasingly sophisticated plays and deepening feelings of camaraderie as everyone gets to know one another better. As it stands, I’m rather excited to see where PuraOre! ends up, and I will note that as a Flames fan, I will be making references to my favourite team when I continue on with this series. For now, I intend to return once the whole of PuraOre! is in the books, but if the series continues to offer a great deal of hockey to talk about, I could see myself returning periodically to offer my thoughts on things.