With the anime industry facing recession and accused of creative stagnation, a common recent tactic has been to take two well established genres and weld them together, often with questionable results. Satellite Studios‘ Basquash! pulls the same move, merging sports drama and mecha action to depict a futuristic world where basketball is played with giant robots.
Let me just say that again: basketball played with giant robots. While Basquash! is ostensibly a kids’ show, some of you may – like me – be unable to resist watching something based on that concept whatever your age. Set on the planet of Earth Dash, it is centered around Dan JD, a teenage street basketball player that inadvertently becomes the hero of the sport. I say inadvertently because Dan actually hates the giant robots (or ‘Big Foots’ as they are known) – partly because the basketball they play is slow and uninspiring – but mainly because an accident involving one left his little sister crippled. However, when he accidentally re-invents the sport as a high speed, skillful street game he finds himself thrown into prison for a year, emerging to a world obsessed with his new creation. Egged on by his friends, and seeing an opportunity to raise enough cash to take himself and his sister to the Moon – where their advanced technology will allow her to walk again – he reluctantly agrees to take the controls again and play.
So far it sounds like a pretty standard teen action anime show – but there a number of things about Basquash! that make it stand out from that, pretty large, crowd. The first one that strikes you is it’s incredible production values. The world of Earth Side is incredibly fleshed out – its messy but always sunny urban setting is a beautifully rendered playground meets junkyard, infinitely detailed and teaming with life. It is reminiscent of Studio 4°C’s high budget movie Tekkon Kinkreet in many ways, especially in how it manages to convey the feeling of a believable, lived-in world that always feels like cartoon fantasy. The background art is astonishing throughout, especially the iconic, vast, hologram-festooned, neon-jeweled Moon that hangs in the sky both day and night, dominating not only the city visually, but also the lives of its inhabitants economically and psychologically – the source of their oppression and the object of their desires. It is the show’s defining image, both beautifully mesmerising and threatening in equal measures.
Similarly the character designs grab the attention immediately. While obviously drawn up with the teen market in mind; their street-wise urban look also seems just clumsy enough to feel convincing. Even their kawaii genetically engineered pets – seemingly only there to provide an opportunity to shift more collectible capsule toys – don’t grate to hard. But of standout interest are the designs of the Big Foot mechas themselves – instead of going with the almost generic, current trend for post Gundam and Evangelion style of gleaming, ultra hi-tech robot designs the show goes in the completely opposite direction. Scrap built and awkward looking – with their cockpits fashioned from scrapped retro car bodies – each Big Foot looks unique and customised, fitting perfectly with the shows junk yard aesthetic. In fact, almost every aspect of the show’s visuals suggests a staff that, while still ensuring they ticked every box on the marketing checklist, managed to maintain consistent artistic vision throughout the long, laborious production process and apparently with a considerably higher than average budget. A true rarity in the current climate, and making Basquash! worth checking out for this alone.
And there are other ways in which Basquash! is slightly unusual. One of it’s most baffling is the amount of sexual content in the show. Fanservice is, perhaps regrettably depending on your viewpoint, not uncommon in modern anime TV, but there seems to be something qualitatively different about the show some fans are already calling Boobsquash! There seems to have been an attempt to make the shows sexual side fit naturally – as though its an essential part of the chemistry that fuels the shows playful, energetic pulse. It takes the form of more than just the familiar T&A close-ups – though there’s no shortage of these either – there’s a strong, explicit sexual energy amongst some of the key characters, with one female player seemingly orgasming when she loses to a male rival. It’s hugely suggestive but done in a stylistic, knowing way that implies eroticism rather than screams it, but while its a device employed skillfully in past shows like Cowboy Bebop and Michiko to Hatchin, theres no denying that giving Basquash! a sexual edge feels jarring at times – even considering how differently Japanese pop culture treats sexuality – in a show that seems so primarily aimed at children.
And that is perhaps Basquash!’s biggest enigma – what exactly is it’s intended target demographic? It’s common anime industry marketing practice to create child-orientated product that also appeals to wealthier 20-something otaku – but Basquash! pushes it so far at times that it almost feels like, perhaps unintentional, satire. With some interesting things to say thematically about social inequality and the media, hopefully this is part of the writers intentions, and we’ll have to watch some more of the following 21 episodes to see if it lives up to this deeper potential. What is clear is that they intended to create a show that oozes cool, street smarts and above all fun – and whatever you think of Basquash!, it’s hard to disagree that they have, so far at least, succeeded.