To tell a story about competitive running is to instantly conjure up images of winners and losers. Even “The Tortoise and the Hare,” with its moral of consistent hard work reaping rewards, is framed as “slow and steady wins the race.” But the anime Run with the Wind emphasizes a lesson different from the old folk tale and even many other sports anime: while there will always be those who are faster and stronger, ultimately the true race is the one you run against yourself.
Titled Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru (“The Wind is Blowing Strong”) in Japanese and based on the novel by Miura Shion, Run with the Wind centers around the dream of one Kiyose Haiji. A senior at Kansei University, he wants to win the Hakone Ekiden: a 10-man relay marathon that pushes the limits of its participants. However, the group he’s managed to assemble is about as rag-tag as it gets–from a literal prodigy to a manga otaku who hasn’t experienced a real sweat in his life. Even qualifying for the event seems like a pipe dream, let alone winning.
Because the characters come from such wildly differing circumstances, each has a personal challenge to overcome. Kakeru, the aforementioned savant, is far and away the best of the group, but a troubled past leaves him conflicted about both running and being a team player. The geek, nicknamed “Prince,” is on the far opposite end, and is unable to even imagine running 20 kilometers. There’s practically a 0% chance that Prince could ever catch up to Kakeru even if he trained for a decade, but the series emphasizes an idea: it’s less important to prove superiority over others than to grow as an individual and to help others grow as well. Fujioka Kazuma, a character introduced later as the #1 college athlete, views his running not as an opportunity to triumph over others, but as a way to push himself to greater heights. The use of the Hakone Ekiden in the story itself beautifully reinforces this concept, as individual runners must overcome their own section and the expectations both internal and external set out for them.
Speaking from a personal perspective, I am ostensibly a runner. I go running once a week with a group, though I’m nowhere near the fastest person, and my times haven’t gotten better in a long time, but I can look back at my old self and say, “I thought I could never run this much, but here I am.” “I used to think I couldn’t keep going, but now I know I can do it.” I never finish first, and I doubt I ever will, but challenging myself to keep at it, and then beating it, always tells me I’m going somewhere.
I believe that Run with the Wind’s lessons are extremely relevant to people today, as I increasingly see people both young and old who are paralyzed by the fear of competition and comparison. In their eyes, there’s no point in building up the stamina to climb a hill when others have successfully scaled Mt. Everest, no point to learning martial arts because they’ll never defeat a world champion, no point in working on personal appearance because they’ll never be as handsome or beautiful as movie stars and celebrities. But what Run with the Wind says is that the race to be #1 is not the only race worth running. Those who have given up before even trying, and those who trivialize their own improvement simply because they’re not better than the rest, should take this to heart and find their confidence, however small.