Y a w a r a ! (Madhouse Productions, 1989, 124 episodes)
Yawara Inokuma is a fashionable judo girl, or at least that is what everyone else wants her to be. Yawara is the granddaughter of the judo legend, five-time champion and eight-dan black belt, Jigoro Inokouma; he wants Yawara to be the queen of the judo world, gaining the gold medal at the 1992 Olympics and the National Achievement Award. Growing up under difficult conditions, Yawara has been taught judo to a very high level. However, instead of embracing her obvious talent Yawara just wants to be a normal girl, who goes out on dates, dresses up in pretty clothes and enjoys cooking. Yawara is therefore trapped inside two different lives, her secret life as a possible judo star, the life that others see for her, and her desire to be just a normal girl who studies home economics at an all girls university. Unfortunately, Yawara is unable to lead the life that she wants, no matter how hard she tries; she cannot get judo out of her life. Due to some innocent misunderstandings, Yawara becomes a media sensation and every attempt to cool down the situation only makes things worse. After an accidental collision with Sayaka Honami, the international sports star and wealthy individual, an unexpected event occurs. This incident provokes Sayaka into taking up judo and making Yawara her rival. However, all does not go to plan when Matsuda, the reporter spots Sayaka’s coach Kazamatsuri Shinnosuke at Yawara’s family home. The scene is set, a reluctant rivalry born and the key players identified, so just how does Yawara pan out.
One thing that stands out particularly in Yawara is that its pure 1980s character designs and fashions. Yawara wears all sorts of bizarre hairstyles and outfits, as do her friends, and Jigoro Inokuma is the perfect old master, small, white-haired, wise, super-strong and incredibly greedy. There is something refreshing about these designs, especially in comparison to some of the current trends in character design. The multi-stranded narrative means that despite the title, this show is for everyone, the girls have Yawara and Sayaka to identify with and the attractive male cast to look at (including Kazamatsuri wandering around in just a black thong! The guys have Matsuda and his dream of finding the decade’s newest sports star, his friend and the school hard-man mohawked judo fan, Hanazono Karou to identify with. In addition, there is the sexy Sayaka and, of course, Yawara (complete with the obligatory panty shots!) to lust over. Not only are there characters for everyone to enjoy, but the story is entertaining too, with a good mix of action, suspense and comedy. The series is has a good degree of subtlety and does not fall into the trap of becoming repetitive unlike some current examples, i.e. Naruto. The only downside is the soundtrack, which on occasions could be more varied in particular some of the suspense music during the judo scenes feels as if it has been stretched a little thin. One thing that will have you humming is the opening theme, this song has a knack of getting in your head, and there are occasional smatterings of pop rock too that liven up episodes.
Yawara is a real gem of a series, it contains many interesting elements that are cohesively put together and the result is something genuinely enjoyable. The characters are well rounded and easy to identify with and there’s also lots of good humour, despite the serious themes that make up the overall plot. Yawara is a classic series that is a must for sports anime fans and well worth looking at even if you are not. If you liked recent series like Hikaru no Go or Naruto then you will probably like Yawara and her magical touch!
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