Every year at the start of the summer vacation the biggest cycling circus of the world opens its doors for three weeks of almost inhuman labor. The Tour de France is without a doubt the biggest cycling event of the year, and to celebrate that with a film there's really only one serious option available. Add some blistering hot weather and it can only mean one thing: it's time for my Nasu fix.
When talking about sports anime people will automatically feel that 80s vibe. Soccer and basketball were hot in anime land, but once the 90s came around the genre pretty much dried up. Sporadically a new series surfaced (Prince of Tennis), but nothing that would revive the golden days of outrageously spinning balls and net-splitting attacks.
An interesting detail about these anime series is that they mostly feature sports with balls. I guess these kind of sports are a little easier to animate than say ... a cycling race. The focus of the animation often lies on the ball, not on the players. Animating people who are running or walking is hard enough as it is, but transferring the emotions of grinding away on that bike is near impossible. And yet Kosaka does a tremendous job. No doubt he is a true cycling fan at heart.
After the first Nasu (which played during the Vuelta), our Belgian team (to be honest though, there's nothing Belgian about it) travels to Japan for some serious training in the Japan Cup. Even though there's some little background drama with references to the death of Marco Pantani, Kosaka keeps most of his attention on the race at hand, only using the drama to enhance the emotions of the race.
Visually this sequel has improved a little over the first Nasu. Not dramatically and not all changes are actual improvements, but overall there's a bit more to look at here. There's a significant rise in CG (often used to great effect) though during the descents in particular the movement of the bikers is a little too slick for its own good. I'm pretty confident that hand-drawn animation would've worked better in this case.
Kosaka's Ghibli roots are still very much apparent in this Nasu episode. Character and background design are heavily influenced by the Ghibli signature, though Kosaka's style shows a bit more detail here. Especially the characters are richer in detail compared to the previous film.
Voice acting is solid as you'd expect from a film like this. No overly active Japanese squeaking, but subtle and strong voice work. The music is on a similar level. Nothing extraordinary, but effective in its use. It could've used a few more memorable tracks, but as it is it works fine.
The strength of Nasu is crystal clear. There is no sports anime that ever came this close in mimicking the race dynamics of a particular sport. It's insane how the film knows to capture the excitement and drama of a cycling match in such a short span of time. But it does, and it's superb to behold. By the end you're cheering and hollering at the screen (or at least mentally), hoping Pepe is going to win.
There is no one point where Nasu excels, it's a combination of realistic animation, understanding of the race mechanics and a little dramatical tension inserted at just the right time. It raises the bar for sports anime to almost mythical heights, deserving a golden medal of its own.
An interest in the cycling sport comes in handy. You'll notice many familiar situations and even recognize some funny little parallels with the real world. It's very economic running time (just over 50 minutes) makes it an ideal film to take a little breather from the Tour itself and sink back into your couch to tap into Kosaka's near-instant cycling fix.