May 09, 2020

Rifle is Beautiful

Sports is the most enduring genre in manga and anime. With the conflict built into the narrative, athletic competition is an always reliable source of story material. Baseball has long been the king of this particular hill, but the genre has tackled everything from mahjong (Saki) to archery (Tsurune) to bicycle touring (Long Riders).

And just when you think maybe all of those permutations have been exhausted, competitive karuta makes a brilliant contribution with Chihayafuru. And shogi becomes the center of the masterful melodrama, March Comes in like a Lion.

With both mainstream team and individual sports, significant parts of the story are often fashioned out of the play-by-play. Even Yowamuchi Pedal (bicycle racing) and Chihayafuru spend multiple episodes on a single competition, at each step along the way diving into the winning strategies of the players.

But with archery, there's not a whole lot to make of an arrow striking a target. Either it does or it doesn't (though roster order apparently matters). So Tsurune focuses more on the mental than the muscle, starting out by giving the protagonist a bad case of target panic as a source of the conflict (along with a bunch of teenage angst and a family tragedy to boot).

Even archery is more action-oriented than firearm "bullseye" or "range" shooting, where the "objective is to score points by hitting a round shooting target as close to the center as possible with slow precision fire." When the shooter is doing everything right, the only thing that moves is the trigger finger, and imperceptively.

Rifle is Beautiful (distributed in North America as Chidori RSC) is about a high school shooting team, so it could go down the melodrama route (like Tsurune) or slice of life. It takes the latter approach, what I call the "cute girls doing interesting things" genre, though more competitive aspects do emerge in the concluding arc at the national high school championships.

Now, given that Japan has some of the most restrictive gun control laws in the universe, the obvious question is what kind of rifles they are shooting.

Two of the girls in the series participate in air gun competitions. Doing so, we are told, is expensive. In order to purchase an air rifle (as opposed to less regulated airsoft and paintball weapons), you have to present a certificate obtained by attending a gun safety lecture and pass a test at a local police station. Thereafter, the certificate has to be renewed every three years.

So the emphasis of Rifle is Beautiful is on "beam."

Not a laser beam. The light source used in a beam rifle is the same kind of xenon lamp used in electronic camera flash units. The result is a weapon that literally couldn't hurt a fly (unless you smacked the fly with the butt of the rifle). A well-hit line drive, by contrast, is seriously dangerous. Not to mention a bow and arrow.

The target of a beam rifle is a photoelectric grid that feeds the "hits" to an electronic display that generates the sound and calculates the score. From a gadget point of view, this is totally cool technology. As an extracurricular activity, it means a shooting range can be set up in a high school gym. Of course, it helps if the high school has already purchased the equipment.

Not many have, so the entire Tokyo regionals can be held in a high school gym.

Hikari Kokura chose to attend Chidori High School because it did have the equipment. According to the well-established formula, she has to scrape together enough members to form a club. That turns out not be much of a challenge either. There isn't a whole lot of drama in Rifle is Beautiful. It's more about the how, what, and why of the sport.

Hikari gets a bit of a character arc at the end, but as with series like Laid Back Camp and Long Riders, your entertainment value will depend on how much you enjoy the subject matter and the characters and the comic relief (supplied by the club's scatterbrained faculty advisor), and less the threadbare plot. As a low-stress entry in the slice of life genre, it worked for me.

Here's footage from the 2019 high school championships at the Tsutsuga Shooting Range in Hiroshima Prefecture. It's been held there ever year since 2006 so you will recognize the setting from the series. If you wonder why the girls are walking rather stiffly in their uniforms, the series explains that as well.

Treat Rifle is Beautiful as a promotional video and you should have a good time. It's been officially endorsed by the National Rifle Association of Japan (first and foremost a sports organization). All the power to them if the series can excite more interest in what is, at heart, a very Zen activity.

Related links

Chihayafuru (CR HD)
Laid Back Camp
Long Riders
March Comes in like a Lion (CR NF)
Rifle is Beautiful
Tsurune (CR HD)
Yowamuchi Pedal
A title by any other name

Labels: , , ,

# posted by Blogger Joe
5/11/2020 1:46 PM   
Watching the video of the high school competition, I was struck at how differently the girls bowed. Is this a personal thing or regional thing?
# posted by Blogger Eugene
5/12/2020 9:18 AM   
Probably both, like shaking hands. The school can make a big different too. Some schools are more militant about etiquette than others (and the vast majority of Japanese high schools are way more militant about etiquette than the vast majority of American high schools).