If you’re an anime fan, you know it’s not as easy as Overtake! just made it look. I bemoan that this show was as short as it was, because sports anime this good demand ample time to tell their story. The arc of a sports series doesn’t lend itself to a single cour, but that just makes the job Sekine Ayumi and Aoki Ei did here that much more impressive. The advantage of an original series, of course, is that you’re buying bespoke and not off the rack. If you have twelve episodes, a good writer can craft a story that fits like a tailored suit. I wasn’t sure Sekine was a good writer going in, but I’m convinced now.
I’ve just finished a bespoke series myself, about sports anime, which makes this finale feel rather timely. There was one episode that stood alone, naturally – #9. It had nothing to do with sports and everything to do with the human condition, and in truth Overtake probably could have stood as an excellent finished product without it. But both because it was staggeringly brilliant as a standalone and because it made what were already good character arcs even better, that episode – the best of the series and one of the best of the year – raised the level of the entire show.
I don’t think there was a whole lot of surprise in this finale, but that wasn’t the point. At twelve episodes there just wasn’t time to take the long road through all the peaks and valleys of the traditional sports protagonist’s journey. Haruka was going to stand on that podium one way or the other and Kouya was gonna photograph him – the story would have been incomplete otherwise. There was some question about which step Haru would be standing on, but that actually didn’t even really matter that much. In that sense Overtake’s short length is actually a luxury rather than a curse.
Race day at Fuji for the season-ending F4 championship is the setting here. The old dogs and the young guns contemplate the day in their own way, Sae and Kouya banter like the married couple they were (and might someday be again, who knows). Tokumaru gets his redemption moment, apologizing to Haru for- well, for generally being a total dick to him. And generally being a total dick. He’s the #1 driver for Belsorriso, but fate has a cruel hand to deal him (again, given the narrative demands of a one-cour series, it’s not surprising that it wound up that way).
Haruka qualifies 6th in his mom & pop sponsored car (a nice callout to Scuderia Coloni, though the fact that they – and Hattori Naoki – never had any success in Formula 1 isn’t mentioned). He could have qualified higher to be sure, but with the matter of saving the tires never far from the mind, trusting in Haruka’s ability to climb the board during the race is a necessary risk. Sae – indignantly protesting her ability to wield a camera even as she rejects Kouya’s indirect kiss – takes some of the load off him in order to let Kouya concentrate on the money shots. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t struggling with his demons even at this late hour.
Haruka’s final benediction to Kouya before the race is perfectly fitting – he calls him Komaki Motors’ “mom”, because of his unconditional love. That’s such a Haruka thing to say, and it captures the Kouya dynamic perfectly. Maybe that’s what Haru needed in his life, with Futoshi already filling the father role. But Haru’s real father is no less an inspiration to him here. “Ultimately we do it for ourselves” – maybe that is true. But I still think repaying Futoshi for his faith and effort, Kouya for his unconditional love, and standing where his father stood are driving Haruka forward. If he’s doing it for himself, it’s because he’s the sort of kid who couldn’t live with himself if he didn’t do everything he could for them.
Tokumaru’s bad luck is a rather convenient dramatic turn, but it does free up the stage for the main players. Once it was down to Satsuki and Haru it was pretty clear who would come out on top. This was Haruka’s moment, but no less so Kouya’s. He had to hold up his end of the bargain, because Haruka certainly did. He didn’t keep his promise to make his first portrait shot Haru on the podium, but that doesn’t really matter in the end (and there was already a history there, anyway).
Like all good sports anime, Overtake excels at both the competition and the story of the people taking part in it. Sure there was a lot of CGI here, but it was used very well, and some of those “drone shots” in the finale were really artful. Aoki is a very accomplished director, and his hand is all over this series. But Sekine delivers the goods with Kouya and Haruka. The cast here is generally very endearing, but those two have one of the best relationships in anime this year. Sometimes you just want to root for genuinely nice people, and these two are certainly that. Their problems feel very real, too – they’re a pair we can identify with on a fundamental level even if we’ve never spent a minute on a track or sold a photograph.
It’s always extra satisfying when a sleeper pick comes good, but the signs were there with Overtake. I will say that even in that context it exceeded my expectations, partly because of Episode 9 but generally speaking as well. It was a show that exuded confidence, telling a coherent story from start to finish and doing justice to its chosen sporting canvas. I love sports anime and always will, and one this good is to be treasured that much more given their relative rarity these days. There are more important ways to define success than fanfare, and Overtake more than measures up to them.