It is typically hard for this American to relate his own high school experiences to anime series about Japanese high school life. This summer season’s Fastest Finger First, of all shows, is a notable exception.
Koshiyama Shiki, newly-minted freshman high school student and bookworm extraordinaire, must deal with his first major high school decision: What club or student association will he join? His options look grim, as he has no interest in athletic or culture clubs. There is, however, one option that sticks out from the rest of the club fair ruckus, which may be the weirdest of them all.
It is the Quiz Circle club, led by the enthusiastically eccentric Sasajima Gakuto, dedicated to playing what are essentially trivia quiz game shows, complete with light-up buzzers. Koshiyama is befuddled by the whole spectacle but takes a quiz question sheet from the club president regardless. He does not pay what he witnessed much mind afterward, though.
If only he had seen a pretty freshman girl, Fukami Mari, take an interest in it...
You’ve heard about all of this before, haven’t you? From literally every other anime in existence about high school activities, right?
If this has already lost you, I totally understand. Based on the first two episodes, I feel Fastest Finger First is thoroughly average in almost every respect and not set to tread any unusual narrative ground. I do appreciate, though, that it at least had the decency to only make one (so far) recurring panties joke in the first episode, and hey, they even up the sophistication in their perv game by the second episode with how they invoke zettai ryouiki. Cool beans?
Look, I am not here to vouch for the quality of this show. I am, however, here to confess that Fastest Finger First is likely to be one of the approximately three or four anime series that I will be keeping up with for the Summer 2017 anime season. The reasons why have maybe one-fifth to do with how good the show is. The rest is because of something entirely personal, related to how some of my high school life was spent.
I was part of a high school club dedicated to playing quiz games—the Academic Competition Team, it was called there. We even traveled to competitions hosted by other schools in the local area to test our mettle.
Not that things were exactly like Fastest Finger First. For one, the game format we used was quite different from what the anime has shown thus far. Rather than a linear succession of trivia questions, ours were picked from basically a low-budget Jeopardy! board drawn out with chalk or marker, complete with successively greater point values for questions of the same category. It will also be interesting to see whether the anime’s games are going to revolve around individuals, or if things will be similar to my experiences and be more team-based.
Additionally, whereas Fastest Finger First is shaping up to have everyone get Haikyuu-hardcore serious about honing their quiz skills, Academic Competition Team at my school was a far more casual affair. To me, this wasn’t a place whose fondness rested on the pursuit of past glories. I remember it mostly as where I met many of my favorite people from high school, including the club advisor, who would eventually be my physics teacher. Competition meetups were one of the few ways through which I got to travel outside the sphere of my school, and despite me not being good at them whatsoever, they were always fun times.
Well, I did have one glorious streak during one of those meetups. One of the categories was all about Bible trivia. It just so happened that all my time in middle school and half of high school were spent attending a Christian private school. Hence, picture little me, seemingly out of nowhere, single-handedly almost sweeping the whole category for my team. Coming into my own for a few minutes, combined with props from my teammates, felt good.
However, it does need to get at least one thing right, and it must be something about its chosen subject matter. On that front, Fastest Finger First displays encouraging signs. While most of the show is thoroughly average, it comes into its legitimately entertaining own once actual quiz game action is involved.
Take the first episode. The latter half takes place during an assembly in the school auditorium where the clubs make presentations to promote themselves. Sasajima, president of the Quiz Bowl Circle, dedicates his time towards holding a quick impromptu quiz game with four of the students, and Koshiyama gets roped into it involuntarily. This is by far the best part of the episode, and the one thing that makes the show worthy of a “yeah maybe check it out” recommendation. It is that engaging.
Its focus on the strategy behind the quiz show experience is why. Only a sliver of the action is focused on the amount of trivia knowledge—at least, the “answers” part of trivia as most of us define it—that players have, and that is for the best. For one, I had almost no goddamn idea about most of the questions they were asking, which strikes, in turn, at the more fundamental reason why. The amount of trivia that someone knows does not make for an interesting barometer of skill to develop during the course of a television show.
Interestingly, it even downplays the ultimate importance of being a walking encyclopedia by getting across that quiz knowledge does not automatically translate to doing good at quiz games. Knowing the answers is only half of the battle; what good quiz game performance truly revolves around is being—wait for it—the fastest finger first. Or, more specifically, being the fastest in a way that is strategically feasible.
To that end, one thing that I did like about the school-life stuff before the quiz game was how they used the “main guy picks up the quiz sheet dropped by main girl” plot point as visual foreshadowing of a technique that would be seen later. Clever goose!
Which all means that, yes, pretty much everything that rose above the average-ness was stolen from sports anime.
Guys, assuming that Fastest Finger First. continues to do as well as the first episode suggests, this might go down as the definitive argument that Free! truly has saved anime, or at least demonstrably made it better in its wake. Because the sports anime boom it birthed now appears to be seeping over into other shows, and it’s making even school-life schlock like this more entertaining than it has any right to be.
Guess the only way to find out for sure is to continue watching. In that case, may it keep the school time memories coming.
Currently streaming in the US on Crunchyroll, for the curious.