Ah, the Olympics. That international competition of sportsmanship and brotherhood where NBC’s commentators truly get their chance to shine. Unfortunately, the 2012 Olympics coincides with what appears to be the demise of an anime license that is not only relevant to the games, but in this blogger’s opinion, also quite good. I’m talking, of course, about Yawara!
This anime has an odd history in the US and was honestly one I never thought I’d see stateside. About six or seven years back, AnimEigo asked its fans to name a series they never thought they’d see licensed, as a sort of forum contest. Kind of a dare. Yawara! was the result of that contest. In order to release the series, AnimEigo made a deal with its fans – the more folks that pre-ordered the 40-episode special edition, the cheaper the price would go (with the lowest possibility being $80). This was a smart move on their part and a way to ensure at least some return on investment. AnimEigo even offered a free 4-episode preview disc to entice fans to purchase the series in full.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like Yawara! sold that well for AnimEigo.
So why am I here, years too late for this party,telling you that it’s a valid purchase? Well, besides the fact that I never thought to use the blog this way, I absolutely love this show. And in my absolutely humble-not-shoving-my-opinion-in-your-face-no-sir way, I think you should buy it and love it too. Here’s ten reasons why:
1) It’s 19.99 for 40 whole episodes! This is down from AnimEigo’s originally cheapest price of $89.99!
2) This is the series that competed (and often smashed) Ranma 1/2 in TV ratings! That’s right, kids. Enjoyed Ranma but never heard of Yawara!? That’s the unfortunate side effect of this series not getting licensed back when Viz first grabbed Ranma, but in Japan, the two were considered “sister series”, even though Yawara!’s airings seemed to garner higher ratings.
3) Yawara! was created by Naoki Urasawa, famous manga author of Monster and 20th Century Boys. While he may be currently more well-known to US anime and manga fans for his realistic thriller series Monster or his sci-fi adventure 20th Century Boys, Urasawa penned the tale of the reluctant female judoka Yawara Inokuma back in 1986. The manga continued through 1993 and showcases Urasawa’s ability for interesting plots and developing characters, despite the lighter tone of Yawara!
4) It’s an example of a sports anime done well. Perhaps part of this comes from the time period in which Yawara! was released (where you had many good examples of sports anime/manga, such as Slam Dunk and Touch), but Yawara! seems to do what a lot of sports anime and manga have struggled to do since – get readers and viewers interested in a sports series. In live-action television and movies, it seems easier to hook viewers who would watch a sports-based show, but whether it’s a weakness of anime/manga as a medium or just a storytelling skill few creators have, interesting sports series are hard to find. Yawara! hits the right notes, combining the light-hearted plot of a reluctant high school judo prodigy who would rather spend her time on more age-appropriate pursuits with the actual sports and competitive aspects like the tournaments and judo technique.
5) The series is constantly working towards a goal. One of the complaints levied against many current long-running anime series is that they contain too much filler (oftentimes created in an attempt to give the source manga time to catch up). Yawara! has a very specific goal – each episode ends with a countdown to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics – in which Jigoro Inokuma hopes his granddaughter will compete. Which brings me to my next point…
6) This series actually has relevance to real life events. The 1992 Barcelona Olympics were the first games in which females were able to have their own judo competition. Japan’s top contender for the 1992, Ryoko Tamura, actually gained the nickname “Yawara-chan” and many events surrounding her ascent paralleled Yawara’s journey in the show.
7) The characters are interested and amusing to watch. Particularly Yawara’s grandfather, Jigoro (named for the founder of judo, Jigoro Kano). Jigoro Inokuma is constantly scheming to push his granddaughter into the limelight of judo, believing her more than ready for high level competition. While much of this comes from his belief in his granddaughter’s talent and his love for the martial art (Jigoro himself an accomplished judoka), his attempts often come off in Yawara’s eyes as his trying to ruin her life – or at least her attempts to be a normal high school girl. Their on-going tug-of-wills is played out against an endearing supporting cast of bumbling senpai, playboy coaches, obscenely wealthy rivals, hapless sports journalists, and absentee parents with rather strange reasons for being away.
8) It’s a great look at judo. For those interested in martial arts, judo is played relatively straight here. It gives newcomers to the sport an opportunity to watch and understand it, without the superpowered moves that we see implemented in more recent sports anime in an attempt to make them stand out to readers. On a personal note, this is the series that really pushed me further into judo while living in Japan.
9) This series features talented seiyuu. For those of you who pay attention to the voice cast, you’ll hear wonderful performances by Yuko Minaguchi, Akira Kamiya, Chafurin, and Toshihiko Seki.
…and finally….the tenth and final reason you should own the first Yawara! box is….
10) Because if you don’t, I may do something crazy like buy up the whole stock from AnimEigo and give it to friends, family members, and pets of family members for all foreseeable gift giving holidays in the future. And you’d rather Whiskers get that cat staircase he’s always wanted, wouldn’t you?
And who knows, maybe AnimEigo will pick up the rest of the series were to sell out now?
Hey, a girl can dream!