There’s something fascinating about WAVE!! Let’s Go Surfing, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the content of the show. It is, in many ways, emblematic of a kind of content-farm approach to media that is driven entirely by profit. These series usually have large single-gender casts and, before the first episode even premieres, come prepackaged with plans for a gacha-based mobile game, multiple manga series, radio shows, and thousands of character goods with interchangeable, nonthreatening smiling teens plastered across them.
I’m not blanket condemning all multimedia projects, although to be honest I tend to view them with deep suspicion. Many of them are perfectly fun and some, like Hypnosis Mic, are downright weird. However, WAVE!! embodies the cargo cultish nature of such projects, in that it was clearly approached as a marketing tool, with the people behind it assuming that its intended audience would go wild at the sight of cute anime boys on surfing boards without bothering to actually put in any effort or attempt at substance or quality. The resulting product is, naturally, shoddy and dull.
Take, for example, Naminori Boys, the mobile game released as part of the project. The game was so shoddily programmed that it was almost unplayable and was taken down for “emergency maintenance” after only three days, and canceled service a month later without it ever becoming playable again. The company couldn’t even be bothered to make sure it was using the correct kanji for the voice actors, which includes some very well-established names.
This is approximately the level of love and care that was also given to the anime, which was originally released as three theatrical films and then cut up into a twelve-episode anime. Since I haven’t seen the series in movie form, I can’t speak for which is better; however, because of the way things are paced, I suspect there isn’t much difference between the two other than adding an opening and ending every twenty-five minutes or so. Each episode isn’t structured like an individual installment to a larger story, with its own rising and falling action; they stop and start mid-conflict with little rhyme or reason unless you stitch every four episodes together.
Not that much actually happens to begin with. Removed from the context of its creation, WAVE!! completely lacks anything of interest. It fails to be about anything other than being a cog in the capitalist machine, a product of the endless churn of content creation. It is empty and devoid of any kind of creative spark or spirit, a postmodern mishmash of sports anime cliches thrown together without any care and thought. Over and over, whenever something happened, I would ask, “Why?” Every single time, I could not conceive of an answer for the question.
Consider, for example, the first episode. When Masaki finally takes an interest in surfing after seeing Sho on the waves (and there is, at least, a plausible explanation for that: homoeroticism), Sho takes him surfing for the first time the same day they meet, even though Masaki doesn’t know how to swim. Why would they do something so stupidly dangerous? There is no plausible in-universe expectation, only the meta-awareness that the narrative demands for Masaki to take a sudden interest in the sport. By the end of the episode, Masaki, Nalu, and Sho are all bestest best friends and there’s already a one-year timeskip in the name of getting Masaki into a tournament (because oh yeah, he’s also a prodigy). Why no, we don’t get the satisfaction of seeing him learn to surf.
The story is plagued by choices like this. Things happen either to satisfy the standard plot beats of a sports anime, or for seemingly no reason at all. There’s a major character death in the first half of the series, but it’s predicated on him making a choice that makes zero sense for him, and it’s never really explained except in the most jaw-droppingly cheap whale crap twist in the finale. If character writing is the lifeblood of sports anime, which I believe it is, then there’s nothing but seawater in WAVE!!‘s veins, because there’s nothing but cheap gimmicks without a sincere moment to be found. One of the surfers’ designated character traits is that he’s an otaku obsessed with a magical girl anime, and his big development episode was about… him being sad that the show might be ending. The half-Hawaiian character is constantly strumming a ukelele, which I’m pretty sure is actually racist. They’re all about as deep as a tidepool.
Well, okay, the writing is hackneyed and shallow, but the animation must look good, right? After all, this was originally released in theaters, and movie animation generally looks great. That’s what I figured would be the case, personally. However, it didn’t take long to realize I was dead wrong, when in the very first minutes of the premiere, the surfing animation was so static and obviously CG that they looked like plastic models. I’m not opposed to CG in anime – it’s preferable to the staff avoiding animating the sport altogether – but you have to put some effort into giving it a sense of life and motion.
Wait, effort? I think I found the problem.
The hand-drawn elements don’t fare much better. There were times when the characters were so awkwardly posed, without moving an inch for several minutes, that it made me laugh out loud. Their designs are attractive enough, I guess, but forgettable enough that many of their faces are already fading in my mind, and I certainly couldn’t tell you their names. They’re just as lifeless and calculated as everything else about the story.
Background music rarely stands out to me unless it’s especially good or especially bad, and unfortunately for WAVE!!, it stood out to me this time. If I were looking to be kind, I would call it “minimalist,” as there are maybe a dozen different pieces of music used throughout the show, and few of them evoke the kind of mood that would seem appropriate for the scenes they are played in. The individual tracks could be played by a single synthesizer.
The kindest thing I can think to say about WAVE!! is that it didn’t upset or offend me, but even that isn’t strictly accurate; its very existence and everything it stands for offends me. Under its deliberately banal surface lies the rotting heart of cynical calculation inherent to art as a purely capitalistic endeavor. It is an act of creation totally devoid of creativity, its only source of inspiration the hope that women will spend money on it.