While there is certainly no shortage of amazing content this summer, it’s never too late to add FASTEST FINGER FIRST to your weekly rotation! FASTEST FINGER FIRST is an anime that brings together a lesser known activity to a classic stage. This series shines a spotlight on quiz bowl, something entirely new to many viewers. I know I’ve never seen an anime about trivia, let alone one about competitive quiz bowl!

Despite this seemingly educational concept, FASTEST FINGER FIRST transforms the dull and didactic to fresh and fantastic. Characters are pleasantly ordinary, struggling with simple things like shyness or finding friends. Plus, unlike a typical school or club anime, there are no mystical student councils or supernatural powers. For a series delving this deeply into an intellectual activity, boredom is an obvious risk. But with the first few episodes, FASTEST FINGER FIRST has crafted a new archetype of anime and proven it can be even better than its forerunners.

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Join the Club

Quiz bowl is an activity everyone knows, but few really understand. Teams of students are asked a question about history, politics, media, pop culture, etc. Once the quizmaster begins reading the question aloud, it becomes a race to click a small buzzer and answer the question within five seconds. Competitors are free to buzz in before the entire question is read. Some questions, called “classic questions” are incredibly common, and can be answered within seconds. But sometimes, even classics are twisted around to keep students on their toes. On top of that, questions can vary in difficulty within single rounds. All of this makes competition within FASTEST FINGER FIRST as much a strategic exercise as an intellectual one.

The trivia-packed series begins with the first day of classes at Buzou High School. Students walk into a crowded mess of clubs trying to recruit new members. Usual picks like sports teams get members easily, but main character Shiki Koshiyama has no interest in anything like that. Within a few seconds of walking onto campus however, he comes across Quiz Bowl club president, Gakuto Sasajima, emphatically recruiting new students. Koshiyama himself is as new to this as the average viewer will be, setting the show’s pace to one that most will appreciate. For those who understand how Koshiyama feels as new student, it feels good to watch him succeed, because it’s like we’re succeeding right alongside him.

Image: Crunchyroll
Koshiyama absentmindedly answers sample quiz questions during class.

There aren’t many anime that focus solely on non-athletic high school clubs. Of those that even tangentially mention non-sports, very few have a learning aspect like FASTEST FINGER FIRST. Other slice-of-life style shows like YURI!!! ON ICE or WELCOME TO THE BALLROOM deviate from standard masculine sports. But most people understand ice skating or dancing. Quiz bowl has components I could have scarcely imagined that make the activity seem a lot more gratifying.

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An Introvert Overwhelmed

During an assembly just a few hours into his first day, Koshiyama is selected to participate in the Buzou High School “New Student Fast Finger Quiz Championship” alongside classmate, Mari Fukami. This is essentially a nightmare for an introvert, but even Koshiyama is intrigued by the thrill of the buzzer. The first question is rather simple and read in its entirety. It only required a little bit of knowledge of how the fourth month of the year is said in English, and something any watcher would get. Just like the show itself, the leader of the quiz bowl team was catching everyone’s attention, making the activity accessible to people with very little trivia knowledge.

Image: Crunchyroll
An easy question for a Japanese student with cursory knowledge of English.

A solid portion of the series’ beginning is Koshiyama’s inner monologue. There’s an incredible amount of time spent letting him vocalize his sheepishness and worry. This stream of consciousness, however, is a form of nervousness familiar to anyone who’s been through high school. There’s pressure to join every club, do great things, and make a difference. Just talking to other students or interacting with classmates agitate Koshiyama and his mental state. Activities like reading are what calm his thoughts. Because of Koshiyama’s nervousness, viewers will naturally associate his erratic thoughts with clubs like quiz bowl. This sets up a neat gradient when he warms up to the idea of intellectual competition, even in front of the entire school. As he becomes happier with the activity, his thoughts clear up as well.

Rather than some quick, lazy explanation of the trick to answering a question, FASTEST FINGER FIRST shows us the process, breaking down every step. It’s like we’re standing beside these new students and trying just as hard as they are to be impressive in front of their classmates.

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Growth Through Competition

Fukami begins to absolutely dominate the competition suddenly, growing more serious the moment she tucks her hair behind her ear to hear better. With frightening speed, she answers every question correctly, pointing out that even these reasonably difficult questions (to me, at least) are all basic. After watching Fukami, Koshiyama finally buzzes in fast enough. Unlike her, he has to rely on the five-second answering period to think his way to the correct answer. Logically speaking, he’s incredibly fast, and is able to reason his way through things to answer a question nobody else competing knew. For the first time, he does something big in front of his peers and feels some relief from the usual anxiety he gets.

Image: Crunchyroll
Koshiyama suddenly realizes the pattern behind Fukami’s quick buzzing.

This works on two levels. Not only do we get a level of hands-on character development, we learn quite a bit about how quiz bowl works. On top of that, Fukami and Koshiyama have plenty of cute interactions through their fascination with the club. Fukami herself has been a quiz buff since middle school, learning the activity alongside a close friend who ended up attending a different high school. For her, quiz bowl is a way to grow close to like-minded people while growing intellectually herself. Plenty of viewers can relate to finding classmates in a new school that remind you of former friends. Once that former classmate becomes a strong adversary, that friendship becomes even more interesting.

Becoming Quiz Kings

All it took was a single episode to solidify my addiction. I literally watched a bunch of freshmen answer trivia questions, and my heart was racing. The slight delay between the sound of a buzzer and the revelation of who hit it feels like an eternity in the thick of competition. Just like a sport anime might delight viewers with quick movement and shows of strength, FASTEST FINGER FIRST is an intellectual home run. But if these are the easy questions, what are the hard ones like? How fast are the best quiz bowl competitors? This is an activity where someone’s age, gender, and physique are mostly irrelevant. Rigorous dedication and practice make someone good, which is why it’s a perfect club for those who don’t usually get a chance to be involved in any kind of competition.

The challenge is the structure that competitors like Koshiyama and Fukami have to work hard to decipher. Learning when a question is asking directly about something or just a trick question comes first. Then, you have to discern the precise moment when the entire question becomes clear, allowing you to buzz in early. Finally, you have to hit the buzzer faster than everyone else you’re up against. And those are just the basics! Over the next few episodes, the show introduces even more advanced concepts that I had to pay close attention to. Learning those harder concepts is rewarding, and the vast majority of information is accessible even for those unfamiliar with quiz bowl.

Image: Crunchyroll
Club president Gakuto Sasajima briefly explains common patterns in quiz bowl questions.

It’s generally true that you don’t need to know much about what characters do in an anime to still enjoy the anime. It doesn’t take a fine understanding of swordplay, for example, to enjoy watching people fight with them. FASTEST FINGER FIRST is a bit different in that it teaches you the activity so you have a greater experience watching it.

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A Growing Team

Unlike their competition, Buzou high school does not have an established team until this year. In fact, they don’t even have real buzzers. They have to push different buttons on a calculator to determine who “buzzed in” first. The newness of the club means every member needs to get to know one another. This lets viewers learn more about each person. As with most club-based anime, there’s a good personality balance that echoes into competitive performance. The uber-serious club president pairs well with Koshiyama, who is incredibly smart but otherwise shy. Sasajima has an unclear past, but garners respect from other schools.

Fukami is commendable for her incredible knowledge of the structure of quiz bowl while also specializing in foreign language. Her insistence on finding new club members is what brings the team together, and her quiz bowl friends from middle school bring connections to other schools. Daisuke Inoue, who joins in the second episode, is quirky and has solid knowledge of media and obscure topics the other two would never really encounter. Otaku concepts as niche as ‘absolute territory’ come easily to him. He helps round out the relatively classical knowledge of the others.

Image: Crunchyroll
Inoue excitedly buzzes in and answers a question about a popular idol group.

The Buzou team quickly realizes that other quiz bowl competitors have specialties and tricks they use to win. Overtime Koshiyama, Fukami, and Inoue develop a neat rhythm that takes advantage of everyone’s unique skills. To me, the bond they share goes beyond just quiz bowl. This is a trio of real people with a common passion. Quiz bowl is just the medium for that shared passion, not the reason for it. Each member is a bit quirky, and all of them appear to truly be friends with one another. They experience genuine happiness when any one of them shows sign of improvement. In a sort of ironic twist, their lack of total fixation with competitive success is the reason they perform as well as they do.

A Season of Questions and Answers

FASTEST FINGER FIRST is a departure from the standard types of shows that have dominated for years. While there isn’t a heavy emphasis on action-packed experiences, there’s a fantastic amount of relatable plot points. Unlike a lot of other anime, FASTEST FINGER FIRST roots itself in something very real and stands by it. There is an intellectual fixation that teaches the watcher something new while telling a story.

We’ve seen a few anime like this before. Notable examples include SOUND! EUPHONIUM or BAKUMAN, which combined a learning element with proper narrative. Series like this capitalize on untapped anime capital and will hopefully keep growing in number.

Even better than its predecessors, FASTEST FINGER FIRST exposes viewers to a branch of activities most never get into. It then takes that a step further and immerses viewers in a competitive and intellectual experience. These in tandem act as the hook that keeps people coming back for more and makes this an anime worth watching. It’s been about a month since the premiere, and the freshmen recruits are far from true competition. Knowing that, I can’t wait to see the incredible depth of knowledge they wield in the weeks to come.

Featured image from Crunchyroll.

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