Chasing You, Chasing Me: The Heart of Run with the Wind | OWLS “Masculinity”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s fourth monthly topic of 2019, “Masculinity,” I’ll actually be following up to my review of Run with the Wind, dedicating this entire post to highlight the key player on the Kansei Track Team, Haiji Kiyose (because, you know, he’s that great.) If you’d like a proper introduction to the series, you can check out my spoiler-free review right here!

Last month, we explored the meanings behind the terms “feminine” and “feminism.” This month, the OWLS bloggers will explore the concept of masculinity. We each have our own definition of what it means to be masculine and we will explore our definitions using “masculine” characters from various pop culture fandoms. We will discuss how these characters are “masculine” or show signs of a masculine persona. We will also share our personal stories about the amazing men that supported us in our lives, as well as share some of our experiences growing up as a man or knowing men who struggled with the masculine identity.

If you were hoping for a follow-up to my March “Feminine” post on the brave women of Space Battleship Yamato (this time examining the male leads), fear not! I’ve got a couple more Yamato-related posts loaded in the dock just itchin’ to be written. Thanks Lyn for another tricky and engaging prompt to write for!

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A brief spoiler-free discussion on the male characters of the 23-episode fall 2018 anime “Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru (Kazetsuyo)” or “Run with the Wind,” animated by Production I.G, directed by Kazuya Nomura, and based on the novel of the same name by Shion Miura.

Welcome to the Kansei Track Team Aotake!

In case you need a refresher, Run with the Wind is about ten college guys who are roped into joining their university’s track team by Haiji Kiyose, their dorm’s lead resident assistant of sorts, and the antics that ensue with Haiji’s rigorous training regiment. What are they training for? Why, only one of the most prestigious university races in all of Japan: the Hakone Ekiden marathon.

We follow the majority of the story through Kakeru Kurahara, a college freshman who, after hitting a low point in his life and stealing food from a convenience store, is taken in by Haiji and the Aotake family. But while Kakeru’s hotheadedness and ex-track star status work well enough for him, aside from Haiji, the rest of the guys are complete novices.

Through hard work, butting heads, and lots and lots of running, each of the Kansei Track Team members eventually confront what running means to them as they aim for the top—the steepest mountains in the world. 

haiji headshot

What Does it Take to Break the Silence? – A look at Haiji Kiyose

Before I get ahead of myself, I want to share with you one of the most powerful quotes in the entire show and what prompted me to write a post solely about Haiji:

No one here is running half-assed. Why won’t you try to acknowledge that everyone’s trying their best? 

Is it because they’re slower than you? Is speed all that matters to you?

Then there’s no reason to run.

Ride a bullet train. 

Ride a plane. 

They’re faster.

WAKE UP, Kakeru.

It’s not enough to just chase speed. 

It’s . . . futile . . . 

— Haiji Kiyose to Kakeru Kurahara

I remember having to hit the pause button for just a second after hearing Toshiyuki Toyonaga (Haiji’s VA) plow through this painful line. To see someone so generally happy-go-lucky become so worked-up and defensive. What Haiji speaks, however, is the undeniable truth: there is no practical reason to run. Whether a car, a bike, or the city bus, all of these options are much quicker than running if speed is your only goal.

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But it’s through this tunnel vision that Kakeru initially perceives the world. And this is also why Kakeru fails to get along with the other guys, especially Haiji. In this pinnacle moment though, the words finally cut through to him.

Haiji’s a tricky guy to pin down. He’s both kind and wicked, unreasonable and unreadable almost 100% of the time, much like a Magic 8-ball that never spits out what you want to hear and asks you to do the impossible when it feels like it. (Huh, do they still make those things?)

As such, he’s frustrating to get along with, and I think it’s largely because he doesn’t follow the “stereotype” for a masculine leader. Haiji’s strong, but more in an introverted, persevering way as opposed to your typical energetic and extroverted team captain. Behind the scenes, Haiji’s always calmly and collectively analyzing the shape of his men, both physically and emotionally. If something’s wrong with their bodies, he makes adjustments to their training and diet, simple as that. But when he notices that someone is anxious, depressed, or occupied with other thoughts, he doesn’t try to be overbearing and shoulder the heavy burden of “curing” their mental health. Instead . . .

Haiji sits down with them. He talks and offers what support he can, but most importantly, he’s just there for them when they need someone, and that speaks volumes about his character. I think it’s about time we start seeing male characters in sports anime break the silence on what it truly means to support others—because psychological support is just as important as physical ailment, and Haiji breaks away from the mold by finding the validity in simply “being there” for people when they are feeling down.

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To Haiji, dreams aren’t something to look down upon, even if they require the pursuers to look up towards something, in this case the pursuers being the Kansei Track Team and the dream being the Hakone Ekiden. Haiji also firmly believes in the collaborative benefits of teamwork—it’s either we’re all in, or we make changes such that everyone feels comfortable—and that’s a HUGE ideal not only for a “man” to stand up for, but for a man amongst other men.

Thankfully, the Aotake guys take Haiji’s wisdom to heart, culminating in many emotionally-driven, eye-opening experiences like the heart-to-heart with Kakeru quoted above. Haiji’s charisma fuels their motivational drive to improve themselves, and his dream of running in the Hakone Ekiden quickly becomes a goal within reach because of their combined efforts.

Of course, personal sacrifices of any kind must be made to achieve one’s goals. With the deterioration of his knee, Haiji walks (or runs, rather) on thin ice, risking permanently crippling his leg just so that he can discover his own reasons for running. And at last, he finds that in Kakeru, whom he decides to chase after as if every day were his last. Little does he know, Kakeru was chasing after him the entire time.

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But when the day finally comes, all Haiji can do is break down in tears of bittersweet joy, sorrow, and satisfaction knowing that he gave it his absolute all to achieve his biggest dream in life—and with irreplaceable friends that mean far more than any mere medal or trophy. What effort Haiji gives is unbelievable, but what he gets back is even more amazing.

Looking back on this extraordinary journey, we see that Haiji Kiyose was the heart of Run with the Wind all along: a character so charismatic, wholesome, and inspiring that he was able to join the lives of ten men together just to create one precious, finite moment, then guide them back onto their own paths more motivated than ever before.

haiji seeing kakeru

Beyond Masculinity: Not as Tough as We Seem

There’s a preconceived notion that in adverse situations, men should just “tough it out” by themselves and wipe off the dirt. But that’s not what Run with the Wind tells us. Instead, it shows that as strong as men—as strong as people—try to be, we’re not all as tough as we seem. Together, however, we can inspire and push each other to accomplish everything that we couldn’t do alone, and that seemingly small sentiment echoes loudly and proudly in the hearts of Kazetsuyo‘s characters, one Haiji Kiyose leading this inspirational movement.

That’s right, men can be:

Sensitive to others’ feelings,

Responsive to the needs of a friend,

Doubtful of their own strengths, 

Dreamers who are still looking for reason, and 

Individuals that chase after others when they’re lost or confused. 

And when we finally decide to confront this reality—that we’re not only different, but also perhaps not all that “tough” as society makes us out to be—maybe then we can stop moving against our feelings and at last experience the joy and freedom of running with them. That’s just what Haiji did, and look at the lives he transformed—as well as the incredible breadth of emotions he made us feel. 

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Tomorrow, the day after, and the day after that . . . What you need to do won’t ever change. Reality will always be there in front of you. So instead of running from it, why not try running with reality? — Haiji Kiyose


Afterword

I’ve gone on at length about this series now in TWO posts, and would you believe me if I said a THIRD was on the way!? I’d like to use what extra notes I took over the series to make one more post about Run with the Wind‘s other characters (cause you know, they all ROCK). If you’re interested in hearing more about the Aotake guys, then I’d be happy to deliver! As for this post, I’ve never done something this “preachy” before, haha, so I’d love to hear what you thought about it or the show in the comments.

Funny story, this was initially to be about ALL of the boys, but it ended up being way too long. So I cut it down to Haiji, Kakeru, and Prince, only to find myself writing well over 1,000 words on Haiji alone. That’s when I thought, “Hey, what’s wrong with a Haiji-exclusive post?” And you know what, there’s nothing wrong with a post all about this wonderful boy. So here it is, I hope you enjoyed it (as spoiler-free as I could make it)!

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This concludes my April 13th entry in the OWLS “Masculinity” blog tour. The lovely and eloquent Irina (I Drink and Watch Anime) went right before me with a post on Natsume’s Book of Friends (imagine that!) that you can check out right here! Now, once again, look out for my good friend Crimson (Read at Night) with a post specifically about the construct of masculinity itself this coming Monday, April 15th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Run with the Wind: Wholesome, Heartfelt, & Inspiring Every Step of the Race | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 23-episode fall 2018 anime “Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru (Kazetsuyo)” or “Run with the Wind,” animated by Production I.G, directed by Kazuya Nomura, and based on the novel of the same name by Shion Miura. 

kazetsuyo line up


“Hey, Do You Like Running?”

Kakeru Kurahara has hit a low point in his life. Once a former elite runner at high school, the young college freshman finds himself alone, lost, and starving. While being chased for stealing food one night, he runs by Kansei University student Haiji Kiyose. Haiji  saves Kakeru and persuades him to live in the old dilapidated “Chikuseisou,” or more fondly “Aotake,” apartment building.

Unbeknownst to the other Aotake residents, Haiji’s spent the last four years of his college career carefully crafting and assembling the “perfect” team so that they can all enter the Hakone Ekiden Marathon, one of the most prominent and prestigious university races in the nation. Kakeru just so happens to be his number ten. Now realizing that they were all deceived, the guys are understandably left speechless with confusion and rage. But even more shocking is when Kakeru quickly finds out that aside from Haiji and himself, all of his new roommates are complete novices.

An air of reluctance hangs over Aotake for a while, but eventually everybody comes around (some definitely more optimistic than others). Slowly but surely, this oddball mash-up of personalities matures into a humble and inspirational group worthy of the name “Kansei University Track Team.” They train hard and work tirelessly to reconfigure their individual lifestyles, and as the fated day of the Hakone Ekiden draws nearer, the boys hope to answer the question lying at the bottom of each of their hearts: What does running mean to me?

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As one can imagine, getting the entire crew on board with Haiji’s wish isn’t as simple as just “learning how to run.” These guys have their own troubles to worry about, be it job hunting, maintaining a social life, or figuring out what to do after college. But oh man, the dude doesn’t back down! (Haiji’s a terrible person, yet it’s actually hilarious and kinda charming??) I had so much fun looking forward to each week’s episode and seeing what new evil thing Haiji would cook up to torture the guys.

But through their communal living experience and Haiji’s agenda—which includes torturous practices, rigorous diet reconstructing, bath house relaxation, and endless hours of running—the lives of ten young men slowly intertwine as they bond together.

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Realism, Recourse, and Reinvention

As a sports anime, Run with the Wind breaks away from the pack by building a story around a group of guys who, for the most part, have no interest in the titular sport. Some even detest running, and the tensions formed through these clashing viewpoints and personalities result in quite the compelling drama. Add in individual character motives grounded in realism and you’ve got the perfect formula for a story with even more motivational pathos than your average Joe sports anime (and one that’s five times better, might I add).

At first, each of Kazetsuyo boys takes running at their own pace, the fast ones (namely Kakeru) leaving the slackers (like Prince) in the dust. While the more resilient guys use the sport as a means to confront personal troubles, others take running as a chance for reinvention—an opportunity to better one’s physical and psychological health. One guy, Nico-chan, takes a complete 360 and decides to both quit smoking and lose weight! Another guy, Prince, surrenders to running not because he likes it, but because he’d detest himself even more if he didn’t get out and try it. That’s some powerful writing, and I’m barely scraping the top of the iceberg here.

Anime has gotten a mixed rep for how it handles issues like weight loss and self-worth. In most sports anime, our cast is already pretty fit and motivated; perhaps the leads are just searching for how to take down their foes and rivals and rise to the top. But for every single one of the Kazetsuyo boys, they themselves are their own enemy. We have characters screaming how much they HATE running, not love it. How much they HATE themselves for the way they are, not celebrating the things they are good at.

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And that’s why these ten men need each other—to acknowledge and accept one another’s flaws and say “Hey, let’s work on improving that together.” Kazetsuyo is FULL of these kinds of raw emotional moments, and you can bet these were the ones that made me tear up most while watching. I don’t think the anime community has realized how truly important it is to have a show like Run with the Wind representing the sports genre.


I’m not sure if these people are my friends or not, but at the very least, they recognize me, my ideas, and my worth. Among them, there is no high or low level. The only thing that matters is who we are! — Kashiwazaki Akane AKA Prince


Celebrate the victories, but never forget the losses. As I’m sure anyone else who watched the series figured out, Run with the Wind was never about winning. Rather, it was about finding purpose in the things you do, and moving forward only when you’re 100% ready. It’s a story about us, the norm, not the exception.

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My NEW Favorite Production I.G Sports Anime

Production I.G has this thing with their sports anime where they like to reuse some of the same exact scenes ad nauseam for emotional impact and thematic consistency (love ’em both, but see Haikyuu!! and Welcome to the Ballroom). For Run with the Wind, it was the first episode’s “Do you like running?” bike scene, and thankfully they stopped shoving it in our faces around the second half to replace it with symbolic animation of Haiji chasing a glowing Kakeru.

Not only was I glad they made this switch, but it established a powerful positioning of characters and a nice check for how they evolve over the series. In their minds, Kakeru and Haiji were constantly chasing after one another, and the spatial light show really shines as an iconic duality unique only to this series.

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Speaking of beautiful directing, Run with the Wind features stunning landscape shots, whether a chill rainy morning in the park, the blazing sunset against the Hakone mountains, or a quiet night in the city under a blanket of stars. Particularly, the emphasis on changing seasons creates such a mood fit for the show. The scenic framing leaves you stunned speechless, and as our all-star team stands side-by-side gazing out at the countryside view, you’re left not with words, but with feelings. Inspiration. Passion. A breath of fresh air. Nature. Life. Taking it all in, and letting it all out.

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The track races are also animated with intense energy and vigorous movement. Production I.G pours a lot of time crafting its breathtaking still-frames, but you can tell the animation budget was reserved for the Ekiden race itself, which encompasses the entire finale, a mammoth five episodes of constant motion.

Subtle shifts in character postures and habits (like Prince’s god-awful running form, Nico-chan’s thinner body, and the way Kakeru slowly moves closer to his teammates during practice and starts to crack a confident smile here and there) also lend themselves as a great source of characterization, to which I.G delivers without fail. Best of all, the animation syncs astonishingly well with the real force driving this show: the beat of Yuki Hayashi’s soundtrack.

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Chill Vibes, Heart-Pounding Winds

I’m honestly not sure what more I can say about Yuki Hayashi at this point. You’d all probably know that he’s my favorite composer for anime. The entire soundtrack Hayashi has put together for Kazetsuyo is by far one of his most emotionally resonant ones. His slow piano tracks transcend into harmonious ballads once you add in the glorious vocals and his signature soaring string melodies. It’s lengthy and intense build-up, but oh-so satisfying pay-off each and every time, much like the story itself.

For more subtle moments, Hayashi sticks to playful jazz-like guitar plucking and simple percussion for accompaniment. I have a playlist on my iPhone labeled “Vibes” (no joke), and literally half the OST is on it to inspire me when I need it.

Above all, the main theme of the series is by far the most positively-charged anthem I’ve ever heard in an anime—and it kicks in RIGHT when it needs to every single time. Even now, just listening to that piece brings happy tears to my eyes as I remember the spirited efforts of this underdog team, the trials and tribulations they had to overcome to get as far as they did. Through his ascending melodic lines, Hayashi is able to paint the picture of a runner on a dewy, drizzly spring morning, the sun just barely peaking through the city skyscrapers . . . Clearly, he was meant to write the music for this series, and I know only he could’ve made each uplifting moment so raw and powerful.

kazetsuyo cheering

And if you didn’t think it could get any better, Run with the Wind was BLESSED with four equally exciting and motivational OP and ED themes! Fan-favorite UNISON SQUARE GARDEN starts us off on a high note, while Q-MHz feat. Mitsuhiro Hidaka (aka SKY-HI) follows it with a pumped-up OP worthy of the show’s second half.

The real gems here, however, are Taichi Mukai’s ED themes. “Reset,” the first (and my fave of them all) focuses on Haiji and really suits the tranquility of a misty morning run. And whereas the first is all about the individual spirit, “Michi,” the second, ties the entire series together with feelings of celebration, family, and at last, freedom.

(Special shoutout to Toshiyuki Toyonaga who makes Haiji’s lines flow out so naturally. It was dialogue unlike anything I’ve ever heard from observing a Japanese dub, and Toyonaga is just, AGH, so perfect!)

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Against the Flow

Run with the Wind could have been a very simple anime. It could have just been a fun comedy shounen series with sports as the subject and winning as the goal. But it didn’t do that—it became something so, so much more. Drama anime usually revolve around unique circumstances, over-the-top twists, and a focus on “How shocking” as opposed to “How painfully relatable.” And yet here we are with a sports drama series that excels at everything it sets out to do and then some with delicacy and honesty. Every single leg of this well-written, 23-episode-long circuit remains simultaneously down-to-earth and extraordinarily heartfelt.

This anime is so much more than a simple sports comedy series. It’s the greatest feel-good story I have become this fond of in quite some time, and rooting for these goofy guys for over half a year was easily one of the greatest pastimes I could ask for. I fell completely in love with the cast and the music, plus it’s incredibly well-written and well-paced. For comparison, while I fell head-over-heels for the Haikyuu!! cast, I felt for the Kazetsuyo characters.

Every step of this journey felt sincere and wholesome, and I absolutely enjoyed laughing with the Aotake guys just as much as I did crying with them. Whether you’re a fan of sports anime or not, a genuinely passionate and realistic series like Run with the Wind isn’t the kind that comes often—so don’t miss it. Otherwise, you’ll be sleeping on what is perhaps one of the best anime to come out in years.

In Kazetsuyo, complex feelings and conflicting agendas clash both on the track and off it. We learn that not everyone will want to support your endeavors in life—some individuals would dare to directly oppose you, in fact. But sometimes, in the long-winded process of finding ourselves, we have to go against the flow to truly run freely with the wind. Just like the Kansei Track Team, we have to be willing to shout “We are here. We are running. And we are aiming for the top no matter what you do or say about it!”

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The mountains of Hakone are . . . the steepest in the world! — Haiji Kiyose (The Kansei Track Team Motto)


Afterword

For one of the most painfully realistic yet wholesome anime I’ve ever seen, Run with the Wind is without a doubt worthy of the house “Caffe Mocha” title. Winning a solid 10/10 from me (as well as my heart), I’m happy and proud to honor Run with the Wind as one of my favorite anime of all time. Every chord it struck resonated with me so hard, and the ending is just made me melt with happiness.

That said, I don’t believe the series is perfect; I mean, anything could use some sort of improvement. But the point I wanted to make with this post was that none of the faults bothered me enough to seriously stick out. Heck, I would’ve loved to learn more about the other guys besides Haiji and Kakeru (like Yuki, or Musa), but I simply can’t complain with what we got. Watching Kakeru grow from an angsty, easily set-off teenage firecracker into a helpful and considerate team player was really something special.

Man, I enjoyed this emotionally-charged journey so much! I’m really going to miss these idiots. I’ll miss Aotake. So much character, so much heart.

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Whew, this review has turned into me gushing over Kazetsuyo for 2,000+ words, but I guess it can’t be helped, hahaha! What did you think of Run with the Wind? Did it grab at your heartstrings as much as it did me, or did you find other areas of the series to be critical of? I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts, so please, share to your hearts content! That’ll be it for me, but before I leave, tell me . . .

“The mountains of Hakone are?”

– Takuto