atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#343: Yawara! (finally)

Buy it. AnimEigo is working on releasing it, so buy it.

...if it ever becomes available.

Yawara! (Y!) is an older series. In fact each episode of the series (at least as far as episode 50, which is the latest one I've seen) has a countdown card at the end saying "XXX days until Barcelona!" which refers to the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barecelona, Spain. The animation is all ink and paint on acetate, and then photographed, and then transferred to video--so it's not going to look as clean as, oh, Cardcaptor Sakura, or other series which were done digitally. (In fact there's a good chance that the soundtrack is mostly mono, too.)

But if you're one of those people who can't stand to watch a series unless the animation is perfect, you're going to miss out on one of the great sports anime series of all time.

The basic story:

Yawara Inokuma is a 17-year-old high school girl, who wants to have a normal life. She wants to have a boyfriend, go to a womens' college, learn to cook, and wear nice clothes. The only problem is, she's an extremely talented judoka--she's an expert at Judo.

Her grandfather, Jigoro Inokuma, is a sixth a seventh an eighth-dan blackbelt in Judo. He's practiced the martial art all his life, and married a woman who was the daughter of a great judoka, and took over her family dojo. He went very high in the Japanese judo world, and intends to see to it that his granddaughter exceeds him by winning a gold medal at Barcelona and the Japanese "National Achievement Award". (I'm sure this exists. I've just never heard of it.)

Her father left home years ago, and her mother has spent a lot of time trying to find him, so Yawara has basically been raised by her grandfather.

The story begins with Yawara foiling a purse-snatching with a perfect one-arm shoulder throw, and in the process the skirt of her school uniform flips up, exposing her panties. This act is witnessed by Matsuda, a sports reporter working for a third-rate paper, Daily Every (that's how they translate the name, anyway). "Kameda!" He snaps at his photographer, who dutifully captures the throw on film. Matsuda immediately sees how good at judo this "panchira musume" is; and the things he does accelerate Jigoro's careful plans for his granddaughter.

I'm sure that I'm not giving anything away by saying that ultimately, Yawara wins the gold medal and the National Achievement Award. But the series takes 150 episodes to get there, and it's as much about Yawara's daily life, and her successes and failures with friends and relationships, as it is about judo. By episode 50 Yawara has graduated from high school and begun to attend the college of her choice--Mitsuba 2-year Womens' College, which does not have a judo team!--and finds her desire to avoid judo thwarted as if Fate were playing with her.

For example, Yawara decides to take part in an exhibition match with the rather scary-looking Yuki Toudo, who is about three times Yawara's size and very dedicated to judo. Yawara plans to throw the match, just so she can put all the judo nonsense behind her; but during the match she discovers that Toudo is a very weak opponent (well, "weak" compared with Yawara, anyway, as Toudo is actually a well-accomplished martial artist). Yawara fights for a while, letting herself get pushed around, long enough for Jigoro to twig to what's happening and to try to stop the match; but just as Yawara is about to lose, she sees her mother watching, and flips Toudo right over her shoulder, winning the match with a single throw. In the ensuing stillness, when everyone is utterly shocked to see the fight end so abruptly, Yawara pleads, "No no no no no! Forget that!" The judge immediately decides the match in Yawara's favor, of course, and Toudo has to be carried out on a stretcher--she was not ready for the fall she took.

I was hooked on this series from the first. Originally fansubbed by Neko Creations, I managed to amass a collection of episodes as far as number 45, and Live_eviL Anime subtitled seven more, through number 52--in fact, Y! was the reason I found a torrent client and began downloading digisubs!--before AnimEigo licensed it. AnimEigo talked about licensing Y! in 1999, which is when I first started collecting the fansubs; eight years later it is promised to come out in "early 2007", and the first quarter of 2007 has already passed us by.

I find it very hard to believe that I have only seen a third of the series, especially after all this time. It's one of the best, and it's hard to wait. But it's worth it.

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