3 anime that took us by surprise

Every now and then an anime comes along with a focus on something I never knew I would enjoy, and yet after watching, I found myself completely fascinated and mesmerised by the subject matter that particular series introduced me to.

Today, I want to talk about three series I’ve really enjoyed over the years which did exactly this. These series tend to have a sports-based focus or at least draw from the sports anime formula — can’t blame them, it’s a great one. 

So without any further delay let’s jump into some of these great series that came out of nowhere and swept me off my feet!

Anime That Took Us By Surprise

Welcome to the Ballroom

On the topic of sweeping people off of their feet, first up is a series all about dancing — ballroom dancing, to be specific. Welcome to the Ballroom aired back in 2017 and originally piqued my interest because of its unique art style — these characters have a lot of neck — and the romantic aspects of the show. 

The series focuses on Tatara Fujita, a person with no particular plan for the future. He has gotten through life by avoiding any kind of confrontation and blending in with the crowd. One day his bad luck leads him to meet a man named Kaname Sengoku. He’s a man with a rich background in professional ballroom dancing and an inspiring presence.

This leads Tatara to take an interest in the sport — something he never would have considering before being dragged into Kaname’s studio. Here he is presented with the chance to practice with a fellow classmate, Shizuku Hanaoka, and it’s here that his passion for dance is born.

Rather than blending in with the crowd, he gets a taste of the limelight that dance can give him, and slowly becomes infatuated with the world of competitive ballroom dancing. 

As I say, my main attraction to the series and the reason I gave it a chance when it was airing was because of the romantic subplot. However, that quickly took a backseat to the incredible moments that the actual dancing scenes provided. The series really displays the difficulty of the sport and just how much practice and coordination there needs to be between two ballroom dancers.

With the main character having a different dance partner who isn’t his classmate Shizuku, we get to see a sense of satisfying rivalry as he proves himself in her eyes. It’s an awesome series that allowed me to appreciate a sport I otherwise never would have considered.

Anime that surprised us


Next up, Chihayafuru. This series originally aired back in 2011, a time when I was a completely different breed of anime fan — one who could and would watch anything, no matter how garbage or cliché it was.

So as I was marathoning series after series, I came across Chihayafuru, which I had thought was just going to be another romance anime. What I found was a series that is very distinctive in the way it feels like a conventional sports anime, but isn’t at the same time. 

Chihayafuru is a series that focuses on the traditional Japanese card game known as Karuta. Based on the Ogura Hundred Poets anthology, this card game where poems are studied requires excellent memory, agility, and tremendous endurance from the players. The main character, Chihaya, is introduced to the game as a child by her friend Arata and along with another friend of theirs, Taichi, the three fall in love with the game of Karuta. 

The Karuta segments of the series are presented in a way that pushes the characters both mentally and physically as they try to constantly outplay one another and this is what makes the series feel like a sports anime. However, it’s the characters and their journeys alongside the game they all once loved when they were young which carries the series.

The card game almost takes a backseat and is used as a device for the characters to display their growth. Whether it’s discovering their passion or rekindling their enthusiasm for something they thought they had lost, the series uses the game in such a unique way. 

Anime that surprised us

Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai

I remember when this series first came out, but it actually took me a couple of years to actually sit down and give this anime a go. At first, I thought it was just going to be another generic romance series that was, once again, set in high school.

What I actually got when watching was something that reminded me more of the Monogatari series in the way characters are being bizarrely affected by ‘puberty syndrome’ happening to them.

Mai Sakurajima is a third-year high school student who gained fame in her youth as a child actress but recently halted her promising career for reasons unknown to the public. She is well known throughout the school, but none dare interact with her — that is until our main man Sakuta Azusagawa sees her wandering the library in a bunny girl costume.

Despite the eye-catching costume, no one seems to notice her, and after confronting her, he realizes that she is another victim of Puberty Syndrome. As Sakuta tries to help Mai through her predicament, his actions bring him into contact with more girls afflicted with the elusive disease.

This series really surprised me at multiple points throughout its run of episodes, the main one being the way the main character was written. He really didn’t care about what happened to him and was willing to stick up for people regardless of the risk of public humiliation. Despite his somewhat aloof and uncaring exterior, Sakuta proves himself to be an extremely thoughtful person.

Along with some great side characters and a romance that feels genuine, the series ended up taking me completely by surprise.

Over to you, then. What anime series have you watched that ended up taking you by surprise — be it getting you interested in subject matter you’d never have considered before, or simply subverting your expectations? Share your stories down in the comments or on the usual social channels — or write us a letter for the Rice Digital Friday Letters Page!

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Conor Evans
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