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Breaking the Narrative Episode 101: I Feel Moist! A Review of Hinomaru-Zumou.

Well here is an anime that’s going to be rare and odd for me. I’m going to review a….SPORTS ANIME!
“Wait, wasn’t Keijo a sp…”
A SPORTS ANIME!
This one is called Hinomaru-Zumou or Sumo Wrestler Hinomaru. Now, I know what you are thinking: “Wait, didn’t Keijo have sum…”
You are thinking, what does sumo wrestling have to do with Men’s Issues or Rights?

Well this is partially due to the masculine bonding inherent to sumo wrestling as a sport. A lot of the time when people think of sports they only think of the competitive angle. Frankly I find many sports that are solely about the competition and don’t take too much thought quite boring. Baseball is that way for me. Most of what baseball comes down to is form and timing. You can’t really strategize much in it. American football and soccer are a bit better with this and my favorite sport of pool is as complicated of a game as chess can be.

But what about sumo wrestling? Isn’t that just trying to push and lift someone out of the ring? Just a bunch of fat guys smacking against each other in diapers?
No! Not even close!
There are rules and rituals to the very ceremonial sport that many don’t even begin to comprehend. Ring preparation, diet specifics and how you honor your opponent are all important, and on top of that, not just anyone can pull off being a Sumo. There is a lot of dedication and discipline involved. The stereotype that a sumo wrestler is all fat is ridiculous. In fact, with most sumo they have a lot muscle and any fatty weight is usually to ensure that they aren’t as simple to push around.

Sumo-Wrestling-in-Japan1

As you can see while they don’t have the six pack abs these wrestlers have very strong muscular legs and arms. Also notice that the referee is in regalia., as well. Like I’ve said before, there is a divinity attributed to this sport. In contemporary Japan its one of the few ways for men to attain a warrior’s honor, considering how little fighting is allowed now. So Let’s Hammer This In!

As the title suggests, this is about a fledgeling wrestler named Ushio Hinomaru, (火ノ丸牛) He is just about to leave his middle school and enter high school, and as such has decided to go check out his future school’s sumo dojo in advance. The problem is, he arrives at the wrong school. He wished to go to Ishigami High School, who has a top tier sumo club, but arrives at Odachi High School, whose club only has one legit member, and whose dojo had been overrun by delinquents who trash and disrespect the hall. This, of course, would piss off anyone who is interested in such a strict and noble sport as sumo. When the member Ozeki tries to steer him the right way the pissed off Yankiis decide to trash his diligently-made ring. This is, of course, unforgivable to the young Hinomaru, and as such he can not let it stand.

This is where our main character’s height gets discussed. The minimum allowed height for a sumo wrestler is 167 centimeters (5 ft 6 inches,) but Ushio doesn’t even reach 160 centimeters (5 ft 3 inches). While he could easily pass the medical exams and has the fitness and dedication his height would disqualify him in most cases. Granted, he is about 15 years old. Due to how separation of schools is done in Japan that’s different than what is normal in the U.S. In Japan, elementary school is grades 1-6, starting at ages 6-7. Middle school is grades 7-9, and high school is grades 10-12. It’s only slightly different to US schools but different nonetheless. While at that age, its possible for Ushio to get a sudden growth spurt that would push him the 3 to 4 inches he’d need for qualification it is rather unlikely.

Ozeki tries to protect Ushio (who does not need protection) by trying to appease the delinquent’s boss, Yuma. The prick asks him to give up sumo because its something he values. Again, Ushio does NOT let this stand and refuses to abandon his new friend. The assholes suggested a ‘fight’ called the Human Sandbag. The idea is, the challenger stands and lets himself get beaten for 10 minutes. The amazing thing is, due to the level of training Ushio put himself through he doesn’t move one iota, not even flinching from a punch straight to his face. This lasts for an extreme 15 minutes. He then takes out the leader with a single forward thrust. It’s here that we find out that when Ushio was in elementary school he won two years in a row and was given the title of national treasure as a result.

How much of an honor in the sumo world is the name? Onimaru Kunitsuna is one of five sacred swords forged in the Kamakura era by a swordsmith of the same name. It translates to the Phantasmal Demon Beast. With how swift he made his move, despite the stocky build he shows, it’s no wonder he got such a nickname! This is just from our first episode, so this shows how this series is going to be paced.

Now something that will be delved into later is how his short stature was likely due to his mother being rather weakly, and despite his mindset it’s likely his advantage.

After things are cleaned up, Ushio in a very friendly manner invites Yuma to challenge him any time, showing that there is no grudge held. It’s also because of this that Ushio decides to go to Odachi to help his new friend, and since it’s his dream to be the top sumo in Japan it would be a better challenge to start off from a lesser known school than it would be from a school that is known for its sumo club.

This shows that in life, sometimes the strongest friendships and bonds between men are made in conflict. Sure we may have our differences but they can be wiped away in competition. This is why gamers tend to be so close-knit, and not offended by calling each other names and shit because any problem we have is cleared away by working out our frustrations in the competition. The thing about social justice warriors, or as Mark Kern has decided to dub them ‘social terrorists’ (something we consider adopting as a more accurate descriptor,) is that they want the conflicts to stay unresolved, because it’s through their perpetuity that they gain influence – stoking the fires of anger, grief, and regret, letting the frustration build into genuine spite, hatred and disdain. It’s how our politics have gotten so divisive, because the identitarians and bigots that thrive on such have infiltrated most of the entertainment we use to get away from their idiocy. There, they push that idiocy because they don’t want the regular person to have any other choice but to hate. It’s the polar opposite of great men’s methods for conflict-resolution throughout history, but this is the only way they see to exist in this day and age.

Now, before we cover the second episode, we should likely put down what the rules of sumo actually are.

  • The ring is to be approximately 15 feet in diameter raised on a block of special clay that stands 2 and a half feet high.
  • The only article of clothing allowed in the ring is one’s mawashi (the specialty belt and loincloth) and if needed, a hair-tie.
  • One must perform a series of claps and movements around the ring to show that no weapons are held, blessing the ring with salt at the same time.
  • Both wrestlers are to crouch down with their fists on the floor until the referee opens the match.
  • To win you must force your opponent out of the ring or to the ground.
  • A rikishi (competitor) may use any technique to win the match save for: hair pulling, punching, striking the ears, choking, or going for the groin.
  • A rikishi can lose the match by performing an illegal technique (kinjite) or if their mawashi comes undone.
  • Finally as soon as a rikishi is brought to the ground or pushed out of the ring the referee announces the winner along with the winning technique (kimarite) of the bout.

Now that the rules are determined, let’s see how our second episode holds up to these regulations. Now to do this we of course need a baseline. For this baseline we will be using a match between Asashoryu Akinori and Baruto Kaito. This match is from 8 years ago and is before Baruto-san had retired from Sumo to go into Mixed Martial Arts, something that a fair amount of sumo wrestlers do as they age, considering the intense and quite specific conditioning that one’s body has to undergo to become a proper yokozuna. As I said before, this sport is not for everyone. In fact, there is a concept that speaks of ‘born sumo.’ This isn’t so much a genetics thing as much as it is a matter of the mind and traits of a body that develop more out of nurture. Many top-tier sumo hail from Hokkaido, Japan’s most northern isle. Due to its more rural conditions and poverty, certain traits tend to develop.

For example, a sumo is typically of a stocky build with strong hips due to many having to walk through heavy snows. These men have typically been born into farming families, which helps begin a shift to a traditional strict sumo diet. In addition, there is the fact that many sumo tend to have longer torsos with shorter legs, which provides a very specific center of balance which is part of what I referenced earlier with the mandated minimum height. The reason for this is a fairly short stocky wrestler has a very specific unfair advantage of having a lower center of balance, and can condition themselves to not be moved easily, while acting as a pivot to more easily throw their opponents out of the ring. Hinomaru views references to his height as being the usual insult, but actually it’s a stab at him having an unfair advantage against more traditional sumo.

You likely noticed in the previous episode how swiftly he pushed his opponent out. This is because he took advantage of a state of mind where he ignores pain, then uses his musculature to put a lot of force within a swift movement with a short reach due to his size. Many think a strong punch or slap is simply from the movement of one’s arm, but if you train properly in any form of martial arts you quickly find that stronger moves use the entire body’s muscles to direct more force into your strike. This is true not just in throwing punches or kicks but in blocking them, as well. Knowing which muscles to use to either inflict or absorb a blow and how to redirect that kinetic energy is key to many major martial arts forms. (Didn’t expect a loose physics lesson with this did you?)

You can see this in the short match, including how Asashoryu used Baruto’s force against him by redirecting his forward motion into flipping him. If you look at his legs you’ll see how, after he grabbed him by the mawashi, he shifted slightly to his left and pivoted on the ball of his foot to throw Baruto to the bale or edge of the ring. If you look at some Greek wrestling, they developed some similar tactics but with not quite as strict rules, Probably due to the fact that many early matches in Greece were found to have been fixed as pure entertainment. What do you know? Contemporary pro wrestling does keep to the Greek tradition! Who would have thought?

So how does our next episode hold up to this information? First, it states in the intro about the lack of distinct weight classes, which gives heavier contenders more of an advantage, so you would think there would be no problem. However, if you put more strength and weight into an attack that is redirected to be used against you, the blowback is that much worse. In the beginning of the actual episode it doesn’t take 5 seconds to not only denote the important basics, but also a proper depiction of a sumo throw. The animation quality even for such a small bit is pretty nice, albeit subtle. This just goes to show you the speed of the sport compared to the Greco-Roman and American pro counterparts. It even so much as says so in the episode title, “Wrestling vs. Sumo.” Sumo is not a slow sport whatsoever, as you only have to throw your opponent to the mat or push them out of the ring.  That’s why in such a sport, a lever approach like Hinomaru’s is so dangerous.

There is another aspect that is at times shown in the opening, but is in the previous episode, as well. While you may not use weapons or a balled fist you can use your open hands for slaps, grabs and thrusts. It’s not uncommon for a strong slap to the face to throw novice sumo directly out of the ring. With most of what I’ve seen there are stylized sparkings and flames to show the hot-blooded natures of so many of the characters. However, other than that, nothing exaggerated such as ki attacks are visible. This series pays proper homage to the reality of the sport. In addition, what could be interpreted as gusts of winds from the attacks are more likely animated sound waves to give that much more flare to the combat, as this is still an anime.

So in their search for new recruits, as they need 5 members to go into a tournament, we see one of the things sumo bond over – food! Specifically I’m referring to Chankonabe, a stew that is surprisingly light and hearty, but carries a lot of protein needed for a sumo’s diet. Sadly for Hinomaru, his cooking skills leave a lot to be desired. This is partly because he put protein powder in it, which is a big no no.  You are usually better off using fish, shrimp, or even ground beef along with bok choy in a dashi broth. Dashi is usually cooked shitake mushrooms, bonito and dried kelp along with either anchovies or sardines.  Hinomaru’s mistake did net them one potential new member that formally trained in Lucha Libre style wrestling.  This is definitely going to be interesting, to say the least.

Kunisaki Chihiro, said wrestling club member, offers to face off against Hinomaru in an exhibition match. It’s this act that really gets people interested in the Sumo club, right after the resident school heartthrob is introduced in the form of the student council president Reina. She shows her insanely short temper; in other words steer clear past! This is not your waifu!

Of course the stew approach didn’t work in attracting new members. However, this is where the bull-headed Ushio (if you know Japanese you’ll see what I did there) shines, in showing a ‘direct’ demonstration of the art. Starting with a loud clap, Hinomaru squares off with Chihiro and explains that contemporary Pro-Sumo is part ritual and part entertainment. This answers a question of flexibility in the sport, as most believe that it can only be done on some hallowed ground. This is of course ridiculous because how else could neophytes start practicing if it were so restricted?

He says that he intends to compete in Kokugikan Arena, the top stage for sumo someday. He considers the exhibition a form of practice for performing in front of crowds. It’s not an illogical mindset honestly, and it’s this earnestness that gains Hinomaru the complete respect of Chihiro as a worthy opponent. This is reinforced when Hinomaru states his intent is to use what he learns from this bout to improve himself, a worthy goal for any martial artist. Chihiro offers an interesting criticism of Sumo, showing that he at least knows the basic rules of how the match is ended, if even a bit of your hand touches the ground or you step out of the ring. His criticism is that Sumo isn’t difficult to win, so it’s not as worthwhile.  However, Hinomaru argues the exact opposite, that it’s easier to completely takedown an opponent than it is to keep to such strict rules of not even letting your pinky touch the floor after the match begins.  Both arguments have their merits, depending on your perspective.

I like this approach, as it shows that both can be right and wrong at the same time. That neither of these mindsets is the ‘right’ one. They are simply different points of view informed by different circumstances. Interestingly enough, they agree to fight their own ways and by their own rules, at Hinomaru’s suggestion. He shows his point with his actions as opposed to drawing out an explanation like Chihiro did. I find this brilliantly establishes that Hinomaru, despite his occasional foolishness is not an idiot by any means.

Moving on to the actual bout, we begin with Chihiro taking no chances and going straight for a high-speed tackle. If this were most other opponents, the match would be over, but remember we’ve seen Hinomaru stand up to 15 minutes straight of punches to his face – he isn’t going down that easy. In fact he catches the wrestler outright then pushes him straight downward to the ground. It is then explained that if the match were pure sumo he would have just ‘died’ in the ring. Then our bold Ushio offers the national high school wrestling champion here another shot. Chihiro goes straight for an ‘airplane throw’ tactic. This doesn’t take the typical sumo weight and build into account, so Hinomaru quickly recovers. He goes for a sumo style barrage of strikes and surprises Chihiro with an armbar counter similar to one he showed earlier. At this point, we are starting to see what I think will be Ushio’s defining trait, that despite his hot-blooded nature, when in a match, he is extremely even-tempered and cool headed. Almost calculative. Even if he were to never be allowed as a yokozuna he would be a masterful trainer.

It’s this awareness of himself and his surroundings that leaves us with Hinomaru winning the match outright, knowing exactly how to position his weight and center of gravity to counter every move Kunisaki could have made with his knowledge of martial arts. Where Chihiro faltered is that he kept trying to be a Jack of all trades fighter, but that never wins against a well honed specialist.  This inspires Chihiro to switch clubs to the Sumo club, along with another new member in the form of a later introduced character, Mitsuhashi Kei, and also Yuma, who turns out to be Reina’s big brother. Once this is established an old friend of Hinomaru’s, Tsuji Kirihito, the one who gave him the original directions to the school he was intending on going, comes to the club. However, he doesn’t join as a member, but as a trainer. With that final addition, we see how Hinomaru has used the male bonding inherent to the sport and the details of its training to build a team, despite the circumstances he originally encountered upon visiting the school.

Any further development will have to wait until the third episode, which airs on the Friday after this article posts. However, I do see in this that we will likely have an interesting show of rivalry developing into friendship with this series. This is something the social justice left refuses to comprehend about competition as a natural force. Sometimes the most heated opposition can become your closest friends, and perhaps two polar opposites can be as brothers. This is actually a common theme in shonen anime.  This concept in and of itself I may touch upon next month. However next time, I think I’ll jump onto a concept that is rattling in my head, Breaking an Opinion. Until then Please Remember to Game Freely!

Alex Tinsley
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Alex Tinsley

A student of Fine Arts and Japanese culture of six years at Murray State University. Having never graduated due to difficulties with a specific teacher has gained a unique perspective upon the issues being faced by men and boys. A father of a young boy and loving husband.
Alex Tinsley
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Alex Tinsley

A student of Fine Arts and Japanese culture of six years at Murray State University. Having never graduated due to difficulties with a specific teacher has gained a unique perspective upon the issues being faced by men and boys. A father of a young boy and loving husband.