By Liam Dempsey
A samurai, a ninja and a prince all grab onto a bar…
Anime is a timeless medium, transporting us from ancient civilizations to the farthest dystopian futures, so it’s an odd but refreshing feeling to see one take us back to a time period where no anime has gone before—November 2002.
From the creative team behind ZOMBIE LAND SAGA at studio MAPPA, this season’s The Gymnastics Samurai follows 29-year-old gymnast Jotaro Aragaki as he comes to terms with his advancing age in the world of sports. Evoking late ’90s and early ’00s nostalgia is a key part of their vision for the series, and the first episode alone treats us to an abundance of it!
Let’s start with The One that’s most breathtaking:
Jotaro needs to break the news of his retirement (not!) to his adorable daughter Rei, so they take a heartfelt father-daughter trip to Kinugawa. Rei raves about a ninja flick to her father, comparing a bullet-dodging scene to the most iconic backbend in cinematic history.
Rei and Jotaro take in the feudal sights at Edo Wonderland, a real-life outdoor theme park with samurai and ninja-themed exhibits, but the illusion is abruptly broken when men in black burst onto the scene (literally). Rei excitedly and rightly likens the shadowy figures to Agents from The Matrix.
This isn’t the first time that The Matrix and anime have intersected—MADHOUSE and STUDIO4°C animated an anthology series titled The Animatrix that came out in 2003!
Then, as Leonardo swiftly escapes with his flashy ninja acrobatics, Rei yells out “Yamakasi!” She’s not calling five matching dice, but a French parkour group that inspired a film of the same name in 2001. The original title, Les samouraïs des temps modernes, roughly translates to “the modern-day samurai.”
When we talk about pop culture nostalgia, we can’t forget about catchy beats of the early ’00s, which The Gymnastics Samurai has in spades. Arguably the snazziest opening theme of Fall 2020 is actually a cover of Shanghai Honey by J-rock band Orange Range, sung by the main trio.
And speaking of nostalgic tunes…
Jotaro’s ringtone is a 1990 song titled “Roman Hikou,” or “Romantic Flight” by KOME KOME CLUB (active from 1982 to 1997). It was the second best-selling track of 1990 and was even used in television ads by Japan Airlines! You can listen to the full original song right here.
From East to West, The Gymnastics Samurai is rich in nostalgia as it is in brilliant acrobatics! What first comes to mind when you think of the late ’90s and early ’00s?