#1 Smooth as fuck animation
When I saw that Aim for the Ace was listed as a recommendation for those who enjoy Legend of Light, I must admit that the cynic in me began preparing for the worst. I was ready for yet another tedious shoujo anime that would only barely qualify as being animated. So imagine my surprise when I fired up Legend of Light and it looked absolutely stunning.
This is a series all about rhythmic gymnastics. The story follows Hikari Kamijou, a young girl determined to become a competitive gymnast. She joins her school’s team and soon works her way up to participating in high-level competitions.
I went into this show not knowing much about rhythmic gymnastics, but Legend of Light does a stellar job at making it seem amazing. The performances are exquisitely animated with fluent movements and intricate physics. This makes the near-static tennis matches of Aim for the Ace seem laughable by comparison. These aren’t rare flukes either; the gymnastics routines are quite common and take up several minutes each time, with very little animation work being recycled between them.
I don’t recall the last time when a show converted me from reserved cynicism to fascinated excitement in such a short span of time.
#2 Not an underdog story
What also helps sell the story of Legend of Light is that Hikari is distinctly not an underdog. She isn’t some meek, helpless girl who wants to be liked; she is a fierce (though still likable) woman with a competitive mindset.
Sure, she is nervous when she has to perform before a crowd, but the passion for her sport always conquers any doubts in her heart. She is confident in her skills and determined to prove that this confidence is not unwarranted. I also appreciated some of Hikari’s youthful eccentricities, like how she gets angry at herself when a trick doesn’t work out or how she never stops having fun, even during serious competitions.
There is some drama to the series, but none of it is caused by Hikari being incompetent or too emotional; pitfalls that I feel only take away from the empowering potential of shoujo anime. The contests and rivalries of Legend of Light instead benefit from this dynamic, because you can be certain that Hikari is always determined and always bringing her A-game.
#3 Cute character designs
Due to being a shoujo series, Legend of Light uses a softer artstyle with bright colors. A look that really accentuates the cute designs Aso Izumi’s characters.
Hikari looks especially great. Her light-brown hair isn’t too eye-catching, yet stands out thanks to the detailed haircuts that Hikari alternates between. She also has a wide range of expressions that add wonderfully to her characterization. While hanging out with friends she is adorable and goofy, but when she gets serious for a competition the animators succeed in drawing out her elegance. Absolutely splendid work right there.
The rest of the cast mostly consists of other members of the gym club. While they don’t have as much detail to them as Hikari, their designs are still very cute. I was especially fond of Hikari’s friends Yukko and Satomi, as well as her first rival—the red-headed Megumi Mita.
#4 Shoujo romance
In the downtime between competitions and practice, Legend of Light also plays around with romantic themes. With a plot revolving around a bunch of high school girls, of course their love lives are going to play an important role.
For Hikari this becomes complicated. Through the club she gets particularly close with her fellow gymnast Takaaki Ooishi, who is the ace for the boys’ team. He helps her out when practice gets tough and there’s undeniably some good chemistry between the two of them. Problem is, Hikari’s senpai Hazuki Shiina is also close to Ooishi and has been so for a much longer time. They look like a couple already and—though Hikari and Hazuki are friends—Hikari has no intentions of backing down just to let Hazuki have her romance.
At the same time, there is Hikari’s childhood friend Mao. While Ooishi is the prim and proper type, Mao is a bit of a delinquent with dyed hair and an imposing attitude. Only Hikari can pierce through his projected arrogance and speak to his true self, but Mao is hesitant to confess his feelings for her. Especially when he picks up on her interest in their mutual friend Ooishi.
It’s a classic struggle for romance which doesn’t have anything too shocking going on, but is interesting to follow all the same. It’s a traditional part of the shoujo soup and I daresay it’s particularly tasty in this serving.
#5 Mao’s Music career
And a final side-story with a lot of substance to it is Mao’s career as a budding musician. He and his delinquent pals are setting up a band together, which steadily grows more popular as the series continues.
First and foremost, this creates a fun contrast between the two protagonists. Hikari’s performances are set to classical music pieces, while Mao’s band plays contemporary J-rock. This dates the series somewhat, because Mao’s music doesn’t even come close to sounding loud or rebellious by today’s standards. It’s nice music, but you do need to mentally put yourself in the perspective of 35 years ago or else Mao might seem weirdly tame to you.
Relentless passage of time aside, watching Mao’s music career progress is an interesting storyline to parallel that of Hikari’s. He has some steep challenges to overcome, most of which come down to corporate meddling fueled by adults that believe they can easily exploit this hapless punk.
More anime & manga like this
Anima Yell: Sports anime centered on a dance-like activity.
Cutie Honey Flash: Shoujo anime with a confident protagonist.
Cirque Arachne: Romantic story centered around acrobatic girls