Review: The Gymnastics Samurai – The Complete Season (Blu-Ray)

Referred to fondly as ‘The Samurai’ by his fans due to his ponytail, Jotaro Aragaki is an olympic-level Japanese gymnast who has been losing relevency as he grows older and can’t keep up with the new generation of gymnasts. When his coach suggests retirement, Jotaro attempts to break the news to his daughter Rei during a trip to the Edo Wonderland theme park. However, he fails to do so when interrupted by a man dressed as a ninja namd Leo, who ends up following Jotaro and Rei home when he is in need of a place to stay. Given time to mull over his situation, Jotaro comes to the conclusion that he loves gymnastics and doesn’t want to give up. After failing to retire at a press conference, Jotaro is fired from his gymnastics club by his coach, and needs to figure out how to continue doing what he loves.



From the studio behind the anime series Dororo and Jujutsu Kaisen comes The Gymnastics Samurai, an original Studio Mappa production about gymnastics, family, and the highs and lows of competition. Unlike a lot of well-known anime series about sports that tend to become THE anime about the sport they represent (the notable swimming anime Free! and volleyball anime Haikyu!! in particular spring to mind – maybe to be a true sports anime, Gymnastics Samurai needs some exclamation points in its title), The Gymnastics Samurai features gymnastics as a core element of its narrative but does not delve into the machinations of the sport in depth. Of course, there are bits and pieces of interesting information to absorb such as naming conventions for new moves in gymnastics and how moves are scored, but the focus of the series is definitely more on the characters and maintaining (or sometimes finding) passion for the sport that has become their career.

Of course, that isn’t to say lots of good anime sports tropes aren’t present to enjoy. Jotaro has his rival, the young and insanely ambitious Tetsuo Minamino, with an attitude as vast as his aspirations. The Gymnastics Samurai also heavily features the pressures of failure, and the dichotomy between competing to win versus the joy of competition itself. A lot of these standard anime sports tropes also feel a little bit fresher given Jotaro is an adult and gymnastics is his career and has been for a long time. This offers a different perspective as a successful veteran of the sport rather than your genre standard high school kid figuring out what they want to do with their life. Jotaro has figured out that he loves gymnastics, and at 29 years old has to balance that with adult responsibilities like trying (and sometimes failing) to look after his daughter and struggling with the realisation that maybe he hit his peak performance years ago. But the joy of the series is in Jotaro wondering if he has hit his limit in his gymnastics career, and still wanting to push on anyway out of enjoyment for the sport.



As previously mentioned, The Gymnastics Samurai has plenty of good sports tropes to enjoy, but a lot of the series’ personality comes from it being a charming and quirky family drama. Its core cast functions as a family of oddballs (of the biological and found variety), including Jotaro, his daughter Rei, Jotaro’s mother Mari who runs a bar in Ikebukuro with a ganguro-styled bartender named Ayu, Rei’s South American Bird aptly named Bigbird, and of course the ninja Leo who followed them home from a theme park. Each one gets enough time in the spotlight to feel like fully realised characters, Leo in particular having a fairly interesting character arc that complements Jotaro’s as they each consider their careers, passions, and how the pressures placed upon them to perform can negatively impact their love of their craft. Yes, this interesting and existential arc about trying not to lose your passion for things you enjoy features a character who primarily dresses up and acts as a theme park ninja. But the larger than life characters are really charming in their oddness, and the layer of absurdity they bring to the series works pretty well alongside the gymnastics elements, making for an entertaining watch.



The Gymnastics Samurai is a solid and quirky family drama, with a good amount of gymnastics performances on display to enjoy. Perhaps more drama than sports anime, the series still offers the best of both worlds with a good helping of absurdity and passion that makes for an overall fun viewing experience.

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©Gymnastics Samurai Project

A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.