Saturday, August 4, 2012

Rhythmic Gymnastics in Anime and Manga

Makie Sasaki from Negima
The 2012 Summer Olympics in London will showcase a variety of amazing athletes from a multitude of sports. One of my favorite sports in the Summer Olympics is Rhythmic Gymnastics because of its beauty, grace, and skill. This sport is not a well known sport in the states since artistic gymnastics dominates the headlines. While this sport is not ubiquitous in the United States, it has heavy exposure all over the world, being part of the sport track in many primary schools all over Asia and Europe. Due to its heavy exposure, Rhythmic Gymnastics is seen in a variety of anime and manga. In this article, I will do a short introduction on the sport and give examples of anime and manga that do show rhythmic gymnastics. After this article, I hope that you have a greater understanding of Rhythmic Gymnastics and will be able to spot it in a variety of anime and manga.

Korean Gymnast Son Yeon-Jae
photo from [Korea Herald]
What separates rhythmic gymnastics from artistic gymnastics is the manipulation of an apparatus as an extension of your body. There are five apparatus that are used in rhythmic gymnastics: ribbon, ball, hoop, clubs, and rope. The sport combines the manipulation of this apparatus with elements of ballet, theatrical dance, and gymnastics. Rhythmic gymnastics can be individual or a team collaboration of 5 people. The team of 5 requires incredible coordination and heavy practice for perfect synchronization. The ribbon is a satin ribbon that is a minimum length of 20 feet, it is attached to a to a stick. During competition the goal is to create smooth, flowing movements with the ribbons. The ball used in rhythmic gymnastics is between 18-20 cm and it must be manipulated for using continuous movement. Hoops used in rhythmic gymnastics are similar to the hoola hoop that is commonly used in exercise, a hoop routine has many circles, throws, and requires heavy body rolling. Clubs are similar to the ones used for juggling, but only two of them are used during rhythmic gymnastics. A typical routine in RSG (rhythmic sportive gymnastics) involves lots of throwing  and catching, but they must use the clubs in both hands or one hand in synchronization with the music. The rope routine used in Rhythmic gymnastics is special since the size of rope is proportional to the size of the gymnast. During competition, a mastery of all five apparatus will lead to a well rounded rhythmic gymnast.

Hikari Kamijou
One of the most influential manga and anime on the sport of rhythmic gymnastics is none other than Hikari no Densetsu. It is a sixteen volume shojo manga by Izumi Aso that ran from 1985 to 1988. The manga was so popular that a 19 episode anime was made that ran in 1986. The story follows Hikari Kamijou who dreams on becoming an Olympic champion in the sport of rhythmic gymnastics. As the story starts, she is a naive girl who performs poorly, but is passionate with flashes of brilliance. A she befriends people and learns around her, she starts to mature and improve herself. For the circus fans out there, Hikari no Densetsu does bear a resemblance to Kaleido Star, except the latter has less focus on romance and a stronger female lead. The series was very popular in Europe thanks to the popularity of the sport there and it remains as one of the classics anime that is well-loved in Europe. In 2000, the series was republished in 8 volumes with more chapters and larger pages. Unfortunately, this series will likely never see the light of day in the United States.

Hikari no Densetu is one of the rare manga whose premise was about rhythmic gymnastics, but there are many well-known examples of it in anime and manga. In Ranma 1/2, there was a major story arc about Martial Arts Rhythmic Gymnastics, and the instigator of the arc Kodachi Kuno is a major character in the franchise. She normally walks around in a leotard and waves a ribbon around as she moves around. In the arc, Ryoga apparently knows enough about the sport that he is the teacher for both the female and male leads Akane and Ranma.  In Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne, the lead character Maron Kuskabe is a rhythmic gymnast. Her friend Miyako is also a rhythmic gymnast. As pictured above, Negima girl Makie Sasaki is a member of the rhythmic gymnastics team. She is one of the most popular characters in the franchise and she constantly ranked high in popularity poll. Her contract art and most of her major character art has her in her gymnastics outfit and apparatus. While they don't directly reference it, much of the stylistic cues from Kaleido Star has rhythmic gymnastic influence.

The elegant sport of Rhythmic Gymnastics is not that well known in the United States. There are five apparatus that are used: ribbon, ball, hoop, clubs, and rope. The use of apparatus are synchronized with the music with the intention that it is an extension of the body. Of the anime and manga out there, Hikari no Densetsu is the major franchise that heavily uses the sport as a main draw. It was also one of the most popular anime released in Europe and it laid the groundwork for the popularity of the sport in many western countries. In anime and manga, there are a variety of characters that represent the sport. Now you know a little bit more about rhythmic gymnastics, and when you see it in anime and manga you know what is the sport behind the character.

Kris Zoleta started working in Anime Expo as a staffer in Manga Library. He worked in Staff Service in Anime Expo 2006 and became the manager of Manga Lounge from Anime Expo 2007-2010. He is currently serving on the Board of Directors for the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation, the 501(c)(6) non-profit behind Anime Expo and is one of the most recognized cosplay photographers in the West Coast.


Erica De Chavez said...

cool beanies! great post kris! i'm totally stalking your blog now. :D

Erica De Chavez said...

Cool beanies! great post. gna totally stalk your blog from now on! YAY! :3

Erica De Chavez said...

cool beanies! great post! totally gna stalk your blog from now on. YAY! :3

KrisZ said...

Thanks, I love having more fans :)