Why the tournament arc is the most popular Shonen anime trope
From Mortal Kombat to World Martial Arts Tournaments in Dragon Ball, Tournament Arcs in shonen anime and other media tend to be incredibly popular. This particular trope doesn't seem to upset anime fans as much as others do, which may seem surprising at first glance.
But regardless, there are many reasons, ranging from new characters to storylines to rivalries being settled, why the tournament arc persists in shonen anime. This article will discuss the same.
Note: This article is the author's opinion and will contain spoilers for popular anime.
Why is the tournament arc popular in Shonen anime?
New characters are usually introduced in a tournament arc. These characters are usually background characters going forward, sometimes one-offs. This usually means they only have one arc to make a statement. This can be done in any number of ways in Shonen anime:
- Having an ultra-powerful opponent (Younger Toguro from Yu Yu Hakusho)
- Someone with a grudge against a mainstay hero (Inasa Yoarashi/Gale Force against Shoto Todoroki in My Hero Academia)
- Introducing a villain or a new hero (Team SSSN, NDGO, CVFY for heroes and Cinder fall in RWBY)
Sometimes the new characters will have either a fresh design, awesome power sets/skills, or their own stories to tell that fans will eagerly eat up. It helps greatly when these characters become part of the cast rather than fade into the background.
Tien and Piccolo became part of Dragon Ball's following the Tournaments they debuted in, Naruto's cast vastly expanded after the original Chunin Exams, and the Mortal Kombat series of games always have new characters to get attached to in every new tournament.
The main reasons tournament arcs tend to be so widely acclaimed in Shonen anime are the matchups/fights themselves. They're akin to wrestling matches people will gladly pay to see live or on PPV, only animated! They tend to feature conflict without huge character drama so that people will bounce back from it.
It's just fun seeing heroes battle other heroes or villains introduced that challenge the heroes.
Either a fun fight like Team SSSN vs. Team NDGO from RWBY, a titanic struggle like Goku vs. Jiren from Dragon Ball Super's tournament arc, the Tournament of Power, or an emotional brawl like Deku vs. Todoroki from the Shonen anime My Hero Academia's U.A. High Sports Festival.
The point is that fights generally tend to draw crowds. Goku fighting Jiren certainly did so in Dragon Ball Super, apparently inspiring the composer of Dragon Ball Super: Broly's music to compose the soundtrack like a wrestling match based on the live event he attended wherein people commented on it like one.
The stories around them!
The stories around tournament arcs usually interrupt them. Examples include The Vytal Festival from RWBY leading to the Fall of Beacon, Yu Yu Hakusho's Dark Tournament being an excuse for bloodshed, and the original Chunin Exams leading into a massive battle between the Sand and Leaf villages in Naruto.
Sometimes stories happen within the arcs, with heroes entering for whatever reason they desire, like money, fame, or adoration. The Chunin Exams from Naruto had several dozen stories interspersed between them, like Naruto vs. Neji after Neji nearly killed Hinata or Sakura vs. Ino to settle their rivalry.
As a last statement on the stories, they can have lasting effects on the characters that win them.
Examples are the deaths of notable characters like Penny during RWBY's VYTAL festival, MHA's Todoroki's bad blood with Endeavor began in the U.A. Sports Festival, and Sasuke's betrayal of the Hidden Leaf from Naruto started in the Chunin exams.