A mean, self-centered, usually at least borderline psychotic person, has their worldview shattered by a rival they cannot control through money or power or sheer force of will.
Typically, the hero/ine is wholly unaware of their “rival’s” feelings. Often they are unaware that they have a rival at all. No, the strong emotions live one-sidedly in the teeny little obsessive heart of the evil rival. Let’s face it, A-ko never gives B-ko a second thought.
In Yawara, A Fashionable Judo Girl, Inokuma Yawara is uninterested in her rival, Ho’onami Sayaka – indeed, she’s largely unaware of her until Sayaka makes her presence un-ignorable.
For old-school Yuri (and Yaoi) fans, this kind of relationship is full of nostalgia. Before we had actual GL and BL couples, we had this. And that was pretty much it. So, for a lot of reasons, slipping Volume 1 of Yawara into my DVD player was pretty nostalgic. That, and seeing AnimEigo’s logo being rained on. Anyone who started watching anime in the late 90s knows what I mean.
Yawara is from about 1989 and is mind-bogglingly based on a manga by Urasawa Naoki, better known now for such adult-focused series as Pluto, Monster, and 20th Century Boys. Everyone has to start somewhere, eh? :-)
The story follows Inokuma Yawara, a high school senior who wants, more than anything, to be a “normal” girl who goes shopping with friends and has a boyfriend. Unfortunately for her, her grandfather and guardian is a former national Judo champion who has trained her to international levels of skill. Yawara doesn’t really like doing Judo and has no interest in competing, but forces combine to bring her into the public eye.
In Volume 1, Yawara comes to the attention of rich girl Sayaka who has always excelled at everything she’s ever done. What she needs, she knows, is a real rival – someone to pit herself against in order to force her to strive. When she learns of Yawara she’s determined to make Yawara that rival – so much so, that she turns women’s Judo into a media circus just to force Yawara out. She even sets up a national Yawara “boom” in order to hound Yawara onto the mat with her. But the “way of Yawara” isn’t that easy for either girl and Sayaka’s just going to have to wait her turn.
The title of the series is a pun, by the way. “Yawara” (柔) is the same word as the “ju” in Judo, which means the way/path/road of gentleness. Yawara is a gentle girl with killer Judo skills.
For me the best thing about the series – other than the not-quite-hot rivalry – is the actual Judo. The techniques are well-animated and identifiable. There’s even a little booklet with description of the techniques mentioned. The martial artist in me loves that.
The worst thing about the series is Yawara’s grandfather who is a typical impolite monkey of a grandfather. He’s not a pervert but he is an asshole. His assholishness is supposed to be funny, but it isn’t really. There are also panty shots, which *really* makes me wonder about you guys and your obsessive need to look at women’s crotches that extends even to animation.
Other than Jigoro, this series has pretty great characters, which is a pleasure. The reporter who “discovers” Yawara really believes in her, Sayaka’s coach; who is a well-known playboy finds her skills fascinating; the president of the Judo club at her school is a great big, sweet lug and her friends look and sound like actual human beings. Even her mother, when she shows up, turns out to be awesome, reminding her that doing Judo does not make her less feminine, women should be strong and that any guy that disses her for doing Judo deserves an ippon.
The one physical extra is a booklet that contains all the notes for the episodes (which are also included separately on the menu for each episode) and the Judo techniques that are discussed in the series. The video menus are decidedly old-school – after each episode, you’re transported back to the main menu to choose the next episode. After you choose the episode, you’re offered scenes, then language choices. The soundtrack (finally!) defaults to Japanese with full subtitles.
Subtitles are a story all of their own, as it happens. They are taken from a fan translation done in college, I believe, by someone you already know – the translator of Strawberry Panic!, Ana Moreno. The same Ana M. who is our Okazu Superhero here AND the very same Ana M. who is the sponsor of today’s review. So, triple thanks to you Ana for allowing us to share in your fannishness!
Overall, this series is a lot of fun. It was back in the day when I first watched it and it’s no less fun now, if you can manage to stand characters that don’t look 6 years old and act their age.
Art – Old school 7
Characters – Also old school 8
Story – Typical sports anime 8
Yuri – 1
Service – 3
Overall – 8
Aside from everything else, it’s great to have a real sports anime with a female lead over here. Fergit all those baseball and basketball series – *this* is Japanese sports, with lots of style. If my Gift Guide had included anime, this 40-episode collection would have been included. It would make a great gift for anyone into sports stories, strong female leads, old school anime or anyone interested in Urasawa’s early work.