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FEATURE: 5 Anime Where the Protagonists Acknowledge the Difficulties of Pursuing Their Dreams

Aoi in Aoashi


As Debbie Harry once said, “Dreaming is free.” This is true, to some extent, if you ignore the time, money, and supposedly never-fading smile required to achieve your goals. Pursuing your dreams can be so exhausting that sometimes it feels like there’s nothing left to do but give up. That’s why there’s no better tale than the journey of a dreamer who rises from the ashes and improves themselves in the process. Anime understands what it means to root for — and even be — a determined underdog with big goals and bigger obstacles. These five series are great examples of characters who, against all odds, do their best to try and achieve their dreams.


Dance Dance Danseur


Junpei in Dance Dance Danseur


Goal: Be the premier danseur noble at Bolshoi Theatre.
Obstacle: Late start at classical ballet, anxiety, and gender norms.


Though it is filled with beauty and grace, the art of dance can feel like a cold-blooded battlefield you traverse with broken glass in your shoes. Murao Jumpei never considered ballet as a long-lasting career. He didn’t think it was an option for boys thanks to the influences in his household. Jumpei was involved in so-called “masculine” sports at a young age, competing in wrestling and soccer while striving to keep a promise to his father about becoming a “real man” after his untimely death. 


But what does it mean to be a man? Do real men follow their dreams? 


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Jumpei’s dreams were set aside to honor the ideals left by his late parent, but hidden from the public eye he would dance as much as he wanted before putting the mask back on the next morning. Jumpei’s conflict was born of the notion that ballet is an activity solely for girls. However, after a sudden encounter with the energetic and beautiful Godai Miyako, his perception of ballet changed as he realized gender didn’t matter in the world of dance. But no one takes amateur dancers seriously, especially if they didn’t start training by at least the age of five. Jumpei’s obstacles lead to him having anxiety attacks, but the very act of dancing helps to ease his worries and push him to keep going forward.




Aoi in Aoashi


Goal: Become the best forward in soccer history.
Obstacle: Lack of money, discipline, and talent.


Some will stop at nothing to be the very best at everything they do. That’s how Ashito Aoi approached his love for soccer. Unfortunately, life isn’t always about the excitement of the game. Sometimes it’s difficult to buy new shoes, fresh food, or pay for education.


Ashito Aoi is a kind boy who knows the struggle of reality, but he still keeps dreaming of being the best forward in history. That said, he sometimes forgets what his abilities are good for and his vivid imagination can be his own worst enemy. When Ashito is scouted by famous soccer player, Tatsuya Fukuda, it seems we know how this story will end — a teenager from a poor family becomes the best of the best through his strong will and fateful encounters. However, Aoashi breaks most of the stereotypes of sports anime and changes its basic style to a dramatic one.


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The reason why Ashito wants to become the most talented forward is to help his mom forget their financial struggles and live with happiness and freedom. Soccer is just what he can do to earn money and help his family. Eventually, his pure intentions hit reality and his favorite sport becomes a living hell with repetitive practices, disappointed peers and coaches, bullying, forced hunger, and tears. Through it all, he keeps going with the image of his mother’s smile in his mind.


Stars Align



Goal: Stop the soft tennis club from shutting down.
Obstacle: The fragility of growing up.


The perception of drama varies from the spectator and the latter can find a tragic note in even slice-of-life sports anime. Stars Align balances sports with a distressing tone of real life in its rawest form. The innocent plot of middle school student, Toma Shinjo, trying to stop the soft tennis club from shutting down with the help of his old friend, Maki Katsuragi, escalates to an unbelievable degree. The boys still hold their rackets at practices, but behind the field, they have to deal with domestic violence, family issues, bullying, anxiety, and lack of self-esteem.


RELATED: Stars Align Proves Winning Isn’t the Most Important Thing in Sports


Don’t be fooled by the watercolor and pastel frames, it’s working as an antithesis to the darkness that the main characters are living in. The struggles with gender identity, pursuing artistic talents and belonging in a family haunt every one of them, but it all helps them grow closer to each other. The group finds comfort in playing soft tennis, leading you to realize that it’s not just about saving the club, it’s about saving themselves and not losing their individuality.


My Dress-Up Darling


My Dress-Up Darling


Goal: To become a kashirashi.
Obstacle: A hard time fitting in with peers since old-fashioned hobbies are considered weird in modern society.


A lot of fans were smitten by the energetic Marin Kitagawa and invested in her enthusiasm for cosplay. However, the more shy and reserved Wakana Gojo was also trying to follow his dream. At an early age, Gojo saw his grandfather making beautiful, traditional Japanese Hina dolls. Since that moment, Gojo had decided to follow the same steps — only the reality appeared to be much harder than it looked.


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Being fascinated by old-fashioned things can lead to scrutiny by your peers. Most of the young people Gojo knows are interested in gadgets, video games, and social media. Gojo doesn’t fit into their box and has accepted his “loser” badge, which worsens his mental health and lowers his chances of becoming a real kashirashi. If not for his sudden encounter with Marin, he would still only sew clothes for dolls and not find the courage to draw on their faces — the most important part of making Hina Dolls. Sometimes the only push you need to continue to pursue your dreams is to be understood.


Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!


Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!


Goal: To become an animator.
Obstacle: An animation club has already existed at school, a family’s preconceived notions.


Midori Asakusa can’t spend a minute in reality and prefers the imaginary worlds that she creates for her future cartoons. That’s why she’s so good at background drawings. She insists that “concept is everything” in animation and there is nothing you can do without a detailed world on paper. Even though she spends all her time daydreaming and mastering the craft, she’s too shy to take the big step of creating real animation. Her close, grumpy friend, Sayaka Kanamori, encourages Midori, only to be faced with another problem — the animation club doesn’t do anything creatively at all!


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The dilemma was solved when both girls meet popular fashion model and actress, Tsubame Mizusaki, who wants to be an animator, too. Two animators with a vast imagination and one producer (Midori) are a dream team for sure! All three girls see the world differently and want to do things in a way that feels right to them. If the animation club isn’t working out you make your own. If your rich parents want you to pursue a successful career that’s not animation related, run like your favorite shojo heroine and prove them wrong.


In the end, Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! reminds us that there are still people who share, and want to pursue, the same values as you.


Let’s dream together and watch anime on Crunchyroll!





Asya Zabolotskaya is a RU Editor for Crunchyroll. You can find her on Twitter.