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Twenty Years Later: Dan Doh Anime Series

7 min read
In a lot of ways, I always felt like I was not only the only one watching Dan Doh, but also the only one excited about it.

Dan Doh
Dan Doh

In a lot of ways, I always felt like I was not only the only one watching Dan Doh, but also the only one excited about it.

Like a lot of other shows that grab me that don’t go wide for any number of reasons, the quirkier shows and the ones that aren’t just more of the same tend to draw my attention simply because of the sheer quantity of anime I watch. When something is outside of the norm, even if it is structurally the same as most other series of its genre, it opens up the potential for something new and interesting. Originally starting as a manga series in Weekly Shonen Sunday back in 1995, Dan Doh!! grew in popularity over the years and was finally animated in 2004. While the show isn’t quite the kind of golf series that some folks have clamored for, such as the one manga series by Kazuo Koike, what Dan Doh!! brings to the table is your standard boy’s fare series where the focus is entirely on the spirit of friendly competition, learning about yourself, and growing closer bonds with your friends. This is actually a fairly standard motif in many sports-oriented series which is why they’re often so addictive and easy to get into. Dan Doh!! really is no different in this regard.

That’s not to say it’s among the best of the sports anime out there. Dan Doh!! actually starts off very weak and jumps around a fair bit which makes it rather difficult to get into. We’re introduced to young Dandoh and his friends Yuka and Kohei when they’re playing some baseball at school but Dandoh hits one pitch too far and it breaks the principal’s potted plants outside. This sets the stage for them to get into trouble with him but it turns in a moment where the principal, an avid golf fan who had a student nearly go pro, ends up turning all three of them on to the fun that is golf. Seeing the former student who ended up in an accident that cut his career short, the three become fascinated by the sport and end up seeking him out for training.

Shinjo, a gifted player who hasn’t played since, takes them in surprisingly easily and the trio starts their training while dealing with the normal issues of schoolyard bullies who are actually golfers themselves and think they can do better than the rookies. Where things get really awkward along all of this is that it seems like it’s a two-week training curve but it’s been about three months since the trio first started playing the clubs and they go for the challenge offered to them by participating in the Kumamoto Junior Championships. Shinjo isn’t exactly for them doing this but his kind of teaching style has them understanding that golf is supposed to be about being happy playing the sport and enjoying themselves. Dandoh takes this very much to heart and his balls are all drawn on with a happy face. Yuka adopts this as well with a girly set of eyes and Kohei’s have huge eyebrows which is amusing.

The bulk of the confusing section of the show is relegated to the first episode though as before you know it, the trio is participating in the tournament and being split into three groups with each of them bringing in two other players that expand the field of competition. The show wastes little time in really getting to the competition part and it’s through this that we really start to get a feel for the characters as it provides flashbacks to their training, you get Shinjo providing mental commentary about each of them and their potential as well as other onlookers who have hidden interests in the three of them. And of course, each of the new competitors have their own internal monologues that come into play as the tournament proceeds. It is safe to say that the most common comment made about the show before its original release was, how can you make golf interesting? I had certainly thought the same thing for the longest time, but I had also not long before this surprised myself by getting hooked on Hikaru no Go and that particular game. Similar to Go and other sports in this area, a lot of what goes through the heads of the characters is the kind of strategy needed to play the game, from the clubs, positions, traps, and so forth. From that perspective, and with the variety that the courses offer and the challenges provided by the other players, the show succeeds on that level.

Dan Doh Volume 1 Manga
Dan Doh Volume 1 Manga

Where it’s much more of a challenge to get into is dealing with the characters themselves. Dandoh is really the main issue and that’s because he’s such a two-dimensional character that everything about him is worn on his sleeve. His motivations aren’t explored until late in the second half of the series, and that does help, but at first, he’s a fairly average character in that he has a lot to prove because his mother left when he was born supposedly because of financial issues so he’s lived with just his father all this time. His father is a rather cold and almost mean person who deals with his son in a tough love manner and what little we see of him doesn’t offer much but there are deeper agendas going on here that will slowly impact Dandoh.

The character weakness, particularly early on, doesn’t help the show much but as it progresses and the various kids compete against each other with very different backgrounds and motivations it starts to solidify a fair bit. The characters do start becoming a bit more believable than some of the shots that Dandoh comes up with which is amusing in itself. Dandoh, a kid who only started playing golf three months prior and uses only the six iron, putter, and sand wedge, is actually some kind of golf prodigy if not for the thoughts in his mind that throw him off at times. It’s hard to really criticize these kinds of moves in the game though because it’s simply the same across the sports genre in general when dealing with this age group. Maybe it’s different in the manga world where men’s golf manga, appealing to those in their thirties and forties, is possibly treated more seriously but here it’s pretty much your standard boy’s world.

Dan Doh Image 1This show came at an interesting time in the anime release history in North America as well, as the sea of releases was strong, bidding was going way too high for many titles and the start of the unsustainability of the market was really beginning to enter into things, particularly as non-legal digital distribution was seeing a serious upswing as bandwidth, cable and speeds were improving constantly. With this show being one that was of limited audience overall as even sports junkies would think twice about it, Bandai Entertainment did two interesting things. The first is that they put it in the packaging model of doing three sets instead of six single disc releases, getting it out quicker and pricing it cheaper in order to make it a lot more appealing. They had some unfortunate replication issues at the time that kind of cut into that a bit, but back when you had so many shows coming out at 3-4 episodes a disc, a nine-episode release for the same price was pretty damn appealing. The other thing they did was they outsourced the dub to Singapore, utilizing Odex to handle the process. That brought in some interesting talents that we heard in a few different shows at the time that were trying to build that market, which included Chio Su Ping, Denis Tan Shu Fen, and Mark Kaufmann taking on the lead roles. That caused a bit of an uproar in the voice actor community and among fans since rates were already low and the threat of competition from overseas with potentially lower quality just sent the wrong kind of reaction. For a title like this? It was probably the best way to do it, since everything was being dubbed. Nowadays, it would have been released subtitled-only and the fans of the show would have been ecstatic to just get a release.

Like many titles from years gone by, Dan Doh is largely forgotten by most. Strangely, it’s always held an attraction for me since it brought something new to the table with its look at golf, its all-age openness that it presented, and the way it worked as a sort of teaching series. It had a lot going on overall and while it started in an awkward way, it was pretty fun to watch as it went on, even though it was largely predictable as most sports series are. With the series coming out in 2004, they had a lot to work with. Sakata’s original manga had run for twenty-nine volumes before ending in 2000. And that only ended because it shifted from Weekly Shonen Sunday to Shonen Sunday, where it ran for another four years and generated another fifteen volumes as Dan Doh! XI. And even then it kicked off a sequel with Dan Doh! Next Generation, though that only ran for four volumes while the anime itself was airing. Dan Doh won’t be remembered, and in some ways that’s kind of a shame because it does have an innocence about it. It’s not the most charming show on the block and its simplicity may drive some batty, but it has the right kind of hooks for me and left me pretty pleased with it overall.

Dan Doh Complete

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