#1 Unbearable crybaby protagonist
The greatest failure of Aim for the Ace is that it has the perfect setup for a classic underdog-style sports story, only to then ruin it by making protagonist Hiromi Oka impossible to sympathize with. A story like hers was bound to have emotional moments, but her constant breakdowns and melodrama made this an exasperating anime to sit through.
Hiromi Oka is a freshman at Nishi High School and the latest recruit for its tennis club. She is an energetic and motivated young girl, but seemingly nothing special when it comes to tennis. However, Oka’s carefree days come to a sudden end when a mysterious new coach takes over the club and immediately promotes her to the school’s varsity team, replacing a tournament-winning senior. Rumors about favoritism or an illicit relationship between Oka and the coach spread like wildfire, causing the club’s members to turn on her. What is this coach thinking promoting a rookie to the very top? And, more importantly, can Oka endure the bullying and criticism as she struggles to live up to the coach’s expectations?
The initial episodes did a good job of casting Oka in a sympathetic light. She is the treated unfairly in spite of working so hard, she is exceptionally kind, and she never even really wanted all this conflict. The problem is that any amount of pressure or responsibility causes her to collapse immediately. So much of the show’s runtime goes towards her training and growing her self-confidence, only for her to enter a tennis court and make a total embarrassment of herself. Kinda like Gunbuster‘s Noriko, but instead of saving the world Oka just needs to be decent at tennis for a few minutes.
Aim for the Ace keeps presenting Oka as a prodigy with immense potential, but almost any match she plays makes it seem like she can’t even handle the basics of tennis. She is easily overwhelmed by just about any opponent, which is made cringe-worthy by just how inept she plays. Oka constantly trips and falls over, always making sure to take on the most tragic of poses as she does. She keeps making rookie mistakes and gets hit by the ball like 20 times per match; all while supporting characters keep complaining about how unjust it is that a tournament player is expected to actually put up a bit of a fight.
While Oka does improve over time, she throws countless tantrums on the way there. Even towards the series’ end she’ll still randomly break down when receiving any amount of criticism or lashes out at her friends because she’s fed up with training. There are multiple episodes about her quitting tennis until she has some kind of epiphany and redoubles her effort, which only makes it more exasperating when she has a match the next episode and immediately tries to give up… again.
#2 Animal abuse
What doesn’t help Oka’s case is that she’s an animal abusing little shit. We don’t learn a lot about her life outside of tennis, since she disappears into her room immediately whenever she returns home. This is also where she interacts with her pet cat Goemon, though it’d be more appropriate to say that she attempts not to interact with him at all.
This is mainly played for comedy, but even as a joke it reflects poorly on Oka’s character. She ignores him, accidentally hurts him due to being careless, or gets angry whenever Goemon tries to draw her attention. She rarely plays with or even acknowledges him, and when she does it’s usually in ways that Goemon clearly doesn’t want. And while most instances of Oka physically hurting Goemon are accidental, there are also times where she physically and verbally abuses him.
The point where I completely stopped caring for Oka came when she just outright punched Goemon. Just straight up, clenched fist, punched her pet to get it to leave her alone. No matter how bad your day was, physically taking that out on a little cat is just incredibly low. Fuck right off with that shit.
#3 Obvious animation shortcuts everywhere
When dealing with older anime, you’re naturally not going to get animation on par with today’s standards. Especially when reviewing a show from the literal early years of TV anime. But even when compared to some of the oldest TV anime I know, Aim for the Ace is shockingly ugly.
A lot of the anime is stitched together through still image shots that linger on screen for as long as possible, sometimes with a little bit of bare-minimum animation thrown in. Stuff like simple animation loops to add a tiny bit of movement or characters shifting around the screen to give the impression that they’re standing up or moving around. Shockingly, however, these still image shots aren’t even that good. Characters are often left without faces or, even more eerie, just have featureless white eyes. This isn’t just for crowd shots either; Oka, the coach, and several other main characters oftentimes just don’t have their eyes drawn in for shots that linger for several seconds.
When it is actually animated, Aim for the Ace clearly struggles. Animations are very obviously looped, with some action shots being reused several times back-to-back or multiple times in the same episode. They attempt to obscure this by aiming for an artsy appeal, but the same visual gimmicks get recycled time and time again. These also hurt the anime’s merit as an actual sports anime, because it’s rare to actually get straight-up shots of characters playing tennis.
Hilariously, when Aim for the Ace does actually let you watch some tennis, the desperation to make it last is painfully obvious. You don’t get frames per second, you get seconds per frame; the animation slows down so much that it’s basically a slideshow. And even then, these sparse few actual tennis scenes still have an overreliance on animation loops or suffer from blatant animation mistakes. This is as close to a 1/10 as you can realistically get.