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PuraOre: The First Ice Hockey Anime

[Topic: Hockey, Entertainment, Anime, Japan]

Good morning / afternoon / night!

This is where I throw a bunch of words at you and hope you make sense of it…

The day is finally here! An anime about ice hockey! The very first one ever! And it’s pretty good. Do note however, that there has been mentions of ice hockey in other animes, but never an anime solely about ice hockey. There has also been a few ice related animes (figure skating in particular), with “Yuri on Ice” probably being the most popular, at least here in the west. I believe there is also an anime about field hockey, but don’t quote me on that one.

A few notes – Even though Japan is a nation of islands, its length is still close to the distance between Maine and Florida. Ice hockey is not that popular in Japan, however, it has a long history and has been gaining much more popularity in recent years. There are roughly 167 rinks throughout Japan, compared to the ~8300 in Canada [link]. And while I cannot find a specific reference, I believe they play on the full Olympic-size rink, not the smaller NHL-size rink that is common in North America.

Ice Hockey in Japan started about 1915 when “Ryozo Hiranuma imported ice hockey armor” (translated from the JIHF website, I’m not sure it’s an exact translation) [link]. They had a professional men’s league (Japan Ice Hockey League – JIHL) from 1966 – 2004, where there was 6 teams at the time. The league folded in favor of the more international “Asia League” which consisted of teams from Japan, South Korea, Russia, and China. (The upcoming 2022-23 season consists of 5 teams from Japan, and one each from Russia and South Korea). There is also the “Women’s Japan Ice Hockey League – WJIHL“, which was founded in 2012 and is nicknamed the “Smile League” (I’ll explain more on that later). 9 teams participated in the 2020-21 season, 8 of which are located in the northern island of Hokkaido, with the other in Tokyo. (This is similar to the PHF where all the teams are located in the northeast US with the exception of the Minnesota Whitecaps).

In addition to the leagues, there has also been an “All Japan Men’s Ice Hockey Championship” held once a year, since 1933, where 4 teams compete for the cup. Think Koshien (bi-annual Japanese High School Baseball tournament) or similar to the Beanpot in the states. The Women’s Championship has been held annually since 1982. Japan also has Olympic / National teams. In the latest 2021 IIHF rankings, the men’s team was ranked at 25th, while the women’s team was 6th. The women’s team qualified for the upcoming Beijing 2022 Olympics, while the men’s team did not. The women’s team is nicknamed “Smile Japan” which started during the 2014 Olympics, by Carla MacLeod, who was one of the coaches at the time. Read the full heartwarming origin [here]. (The baseball teams are nicknamed “Samurai Japan” and the women’s soccer team is nicknamed “Nadeshiko Japan“). There are also leagues ranging from learn-to-skate all the way up to college – the same as here in the states / Canada.

Smile Japan’s Twitter Profile Picture

Author's note: I will never claim to be an expert on the cultural subjects, all of the previous and following is just what I've gathered over the years from various and numerous sources across the internet and other mediums. If you see anything wrong or would just like to add on, please feel free to comment or send me a message.

Now without further ado, I present “PuraOre – Pride of Orange“! Henceforth known as “PuraOre“, “the show”, or “the anime”.

Some more notes, more so related to PuraOre: a lot of animes use real locations – the animators “draw-over” or otherwise recreate real-life locations. You can see examples [here and here]. Additionally, especially more recently, the teams will have “experts” for sports-related accuracies and many are using motion capture with real players for the action sequences / scenes. For example, in the show “Tamayomi” (a women’s baseball anime that I may reference a few more times in this post), for the action scenes they motion captured the local women’s high school baseball club, in I believe Koshigaya. (In my recent research I couldn’t find the specific school, but I remember reading it a while back). For PuraOre, there were also a number of current and former hockey players, as well as the JIHF (Japanese Ice Hockey Federation) themselves, that helped with the making of PuraOre [link].

Yet another note: I will try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but please be forewarned.

PuraOre – Let’s start with the animation – because that’s usually what I am most interested and fascinated in – the good, the bad, and the whatever. Overall, I would give the animation a positive rating. The hockey scenes are fluid, although the majority of the shots are close-ups which, however, is not only common in anime, but many sports movies in general. The few sequences that show more of the full action are very smooth though.

All the characters wear bubble helmets, which as a photographer, the bubble helmets are more visually appealing and awesome (for myself, I prefer a cage when playing though), but I think for the show they chose them for both the visual aspects, as well as they are simply easier to animate. Early on you may notice that any character not in focus / in the background, will have a “glassed-over” face shield / bubble – this is to save on animation time (the creation of) – trying to draw every single face and expression for all the characters in the background for every frame is something only a big studio with a big budget would work on due to time and money constraints. Also if everyone in the background has an emotionless expression, it can look weird and off-putting. The “glassed-over” look can also be a little weird, but I think it’s a bit less distracting.

Another thing I noticed in PuraOre, during the in-game shots was that during intermissions, the team would huddle around the bench and not go into the locker room. I think I am just so used to watching college / professional hockey where they go into the locker room in between periods that I forgot that at the lower levels they don’t always go to the locker rooms and resurface / Zamboni the ice during that time. In addition, I saw in one shot that the ice on the rink continued out the Zamboni door. I was recently watching a Japanese college(?) level game and at that rink they did indeed have the ice continue out the Zamboni door, which I found interesting. (They also huddled at the benches in between periods).

Dydo Ice Arena (real, in Tokyo) (left) vs PuraOre (right), both with ice continuing out the Zamboni door.

Speaking of using real locations, PuraOre takes place in the city of Nikkō, a city of about 80,000 per the latest census and is home to the Nikkō Ice Bucks of the Asia Hockey League. With the home rink of both the Ice Bucks and the Dream Monkeys (the team in the show) being the Nikkō Kirifuri Ice Arena, which can hold around 2000 fans [see the rink on Google Maps here]. A fun fact is that this arena hosted the IIHF Women’s World Championships in 2007. As for the animation, the rink in the show is nearly a 1-to-1 replication from the real one, with only names being altered. There are a few times when the rink corners look square and not the normal rounded corners, but overall, the “environment” has been drawn very well. Apparently, the Nikkō Ice Bucks helped a lot with this show for the “rules and realism”.

Nikkō Ice Bucks vs. the Nikkō Dream Monkeys

A quick cultural note: Sometimes animes are made, not for the story, but in an attempt to boost local tourism, awareness, or other cultural reasons. (And personally I think the US should do the same). But PuraOre is one such anime. For one, it was created to boost interest and excitement in ice hockey in Japan, especially with the Olympics coming up, but also the show is abundant in Nikkō cultural ques. For instance, the fictional team name “Dream Monkeys” is what I would assume to be a reference to the literal monkeys that commonly walk around the city [Wikipedia link]. Additionally, the city is well known for its onsen’s, or hot springs / public baths, which one of the character’s family in the show owns one and is a frequent stop for the characters throughout the show. The hockey shop in the show is also a real hockey shop that you can visit [Google Maps link]. I’m sure there are many other things that someone more local could pick up on. (If you’re interested in another fun, cultural, tourism anime, I would suggest watching “Sakura Quest” – it is not about hockey though).

Moving on, I want to give a mention to the series composer, or the main writer who drafts concepts, comes up with major events, and decides on the pacing of the overall show. For PuraOre, the series composer was Touko Machida, who was also the series composer for Tamayomi. For both shows, I thought the pacing was good, with a “good” ending. Many other sports shows / movies I’ve seen have had a disappointing or otherwise unsatisfying or predictable ending.

But I digress into the “monkey (elephant)” in the room – idols, the musical kind … and hockey? If you start watching PuraOre and see the characters in sparkly outfits and dancing and singing, you’ll probably be thinking, “wait, I thought this was about hockey?”. First, a disclaimer, I am a fan of idol music, usually. It’s fun, happy, and catchy, albeit often generic and unimaginative. So when I saw PuraOre heading down that road, I had mixed feelings, leaning more on the negative side. The songs are fun, but why does a show like this need idols? I signed up for hockey, not dancing. The reason in the show / canon-wise, is that the coach wants the fans to be more engaged and entertained. Adding theatrics will get more people interested in the game of hockey and in the stands, supposedly. And while not idols, the Vegas Golden Knights of the NHL, do put on quite the entertainment during their games. I do enjoy the entertainment, but is it really necessary at the u18 / high school level?

I then read a take from another reviewer saying how immensely popular idols are in Japan and that the show is following the “Umamusume: Pretty Derby” method. (Uma-Musume, literal “horse girl/daughter”, is a show about horse racing, except the rider and horse are combined into one creature, but not in a centaur kind of way, and then the winner of the race sings a song and dances). The “Umamusume Method”, is where they make a show / anime, usually 1-2 seasons and then continue the story in the gacha game. “Gacha” games are immensely popular in Japan and are essentially the free-to-play mobile (and sometimes console or PC) games that include micro-transactions / loot boxes, usually the “10+1 pulls” where you try to get the “ultra-rare” character to help build up your team for whatever gameplay mechanics the game employs. Umamusume has become extremely popular in Japan over the last few years and there are many shows trying to copy it. Apparently, the second season of Umamusume was very good and that’s part of the reason for the recent success, but I have only watched the first season, so I cannot comment on that. But, the “Umamusume Method” is basically a sports anime + idols + “continuing the story in the gacha game”.

The official game for PuraOre is “プラオレ!〜SMILE PRINCESS〜” or “PuraOre! ~SMILE PRINCESS〜” which comes out sometime in March of this year (2022) and is available for mobile (Android and iOS) as well as PC through the DMM Games launcher. Note: the game is only available in Japanese and you would need to use a VPN to download it on your mobile device because of region locks, (I did not need a VPN to access the game on PC though). If you’re interested in getting it for your mobile device, I suggest using the free version of TunnelBear to access it.

PuraOre! ~SMILE PRINCESS〜 mobile game

Backtracking a bit, for those of you that are as confused and mildly disgruntled as I was about the idols, PuraOre does not throw them in your face every 5 seconds and definitely focuses more on the hockey rather than the idols – they are mentioned every few episodes, briefly. And frankly, at this point, if it helps get more people interested in hockey and doesn’t take away from the main story, then I’m all for it.

The opening and ending songs are available on both YouTube and Spotify.

Now at this point, I feel like I should talk about the story at least a little bit, minor spoilers ahead. PuraOre starts off with a middle school / high school embroidery club discovering a local “learn-to-play hockey” clinic hosted by the local ice rink. They all try it out and find it exciting enough to keep coming back in the following weeks. Another spoiler – in one episode, the coach tells the goalie character to “find her voice” and to communicate with the team more. And while I did not have as much of a soul-searching conclusion, I did have nearly an identical situation and conversation around the same time (age-wise) with my (soccer) coach as I was the goalie at the time on my team as well, so I connected a bit with the character in that moment.

One complaint I have seen a few times is that the entire show (primarily in relation to the games themselves) only focus on the 6 main characters and how there is “no line changes” and the veteran players on the team on never shown. While I do agree that playing 60 minutes of hockey would be absolutely exhausting, line changes are not always the most prominent thing in movies. For example, (I can’t remember specifically, but according to Wikipedia) in the original Mighty Ducks – they have a full team, but in the new reboot on Disney+, there is only 6 players on the team. (Also, when I played when I was younger, the squirt team was combined with the mites – we had one line of each, but of course, we were not playing at the high school level). But story-wise, I think it’s fine focusing on the main characters. After all, they don’t show the whole 60 minutes of the game, so it’s implied that there were line changes, the creators just decided not to show them.

Overall, I would give PuraOre a 9 sizzling pucks out of 10. I am the type of person that generally rates things really high, but the show is good enough to give a thumbs up. Maybe I’m looking at it through rose-colored eyes since it is the only ice hockey anime to date. But in my defense, of the four women’s baseball animes I’ve seen, Tamayomi is not only my favorite, but I think the best overall in terms of pacing, story / ending, and “realism” and the aforementioned Touko Machida was the series composer for both. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Regardless, I would recommend giving PuraOre a watch, it’s in no way a masterful work of art that should be displayed in the Louvre, but it is a fun and relaxing show to watch before bed. I have also read that many parents have said that they enjoyed watching it with their kids / their kids enjoyed it.

What’s your take on PuraOre? Did you enjoy it? Or was it a miss? Is there other things that I didn’t mention that you think should be? Please comment below.

You can watch it on Funimation for free (with ads – an ad-blocker usually blocks the ads though). Link [here]. You may need to make a free account. Do note that the audio is only in Japanese, but there are English (among other) subtitles. It runs for 12 episodes at about 24 minutes each.

A few more links that I used while writing this post: [here], [here], [here], [here], [here], and of course the PuraOre page [here]. The official PuraOre website [here].

Also, I want to apologize in advance for the ads that appear on this site – I despise the ads specifically on these blog sites (the same ones would show up on Blogger as well) – but I do not currently have the funding to rid this site of those foul beasts, so in the mean time I would suggest (for here as well as general internet browsing) downloading an ad-blocker onto your browser. I use and recommend “uBlock Origin”.

To view more of my up-to-date happenings, feel free to check out any of my social media (particularly Instagram and Twitter). The links are here somewhere…

Well, that’s all for now. Check back in another four months for a new post.

Matta ne! またね!


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