Monday, May 16, 2005

Dave got me back on watching Yawara again over the weekend. That show just keeps getting stranger the more often I watch it. For one thing, they don't make these sorts of multi-season sports anime much anymore. Hajime no Ippo (or whatever the hell it is they re-named it for the US release - Fighting Spirit or some damned thing, I think) is one of the few recent examples; I suppose you could count Hikaru no Go if you consider sitting around a go table with a phatasmorphic emotional five-year-old of a mentor a "sport". But the long-winded semi-serious semi-comedic multi-year non-fantastic anime is pretty much archaic at this point - they've been replaced by kids' collector-anime, ninjabait and dogboy dung.

Yawara is kind of strange even for a multi-year, semi-realistic sports anime. These things are almost always paced like shounen manga - the protagonist comes in as a gifted, total neophyte, gets inspired, gets beat about, learns a bit, gets beat about until s/he learns some more, lather rinse repeat. They're celebrations of accomplishment, of the can-do spirit. The main point is the rigid, repeated arcs of ignorance, trial, tribulation, and accomplishment. Both Hajime no Ippo and Hikaru no Go follow this formula religiously.

Yawara doesn't. When we meet our girl, she can already beat the hell out of most of the world. Her judo-god grandfather has been training her secretly and obsessively since she was three years old. The judo competitive world is portrayed as degenerate and feeble, and our Yawara is a god among men. Her mad little dwarf of a grandfather is crafting her as an object lesson upon the heathen judo world, which has fallen from the true faith. When we first meet Yawara, there's probably about five people in the world who are capable of even competing on a level playing field with her. She doesn't really have an accomplishment arc to work through - she is the finished product. Which is why she has almost no interest whatsoever in fulfilling her grandpa-given goal in life, going to the Barcelona Olympics and setting the judo world on fire.

Yawara wants to be a housewife. She's got a monster crush on a cute college boy, she wants to go to a two-year women's college and major in home economics, she goofs off with her girlfriends. Her aspiration is, in short, to be a empty-headed schoolgirl. She does her very best to be an average idiot. But the world, in the form of an obsessive sports reporter at a third-rate Tokyo daily, figures out what she actually is - a sports god in the making - and conspires with her evil-genius of a grandfather to force her into the fulfillment of her destiny.

We're put mostly in the position of the reporter, Matsuda, in that we're expecting a sports anime, and he's desperately searching for his hero, his champion. But it's repeatedly drilled into our understanding of Yawara's character that there's just not that much in judo for her. It's too easy for her. There's literally no-one in Japan who can compete with her to the extent of actually making it fun, excepting possibly her aging, unhinged grandfather. We go more than twenty episodes before somebody challenging shows up. It's a sports anime, but the narrative falls over and dies everytime the nominal central sport takes central stages. There's a line in the ADV translation of the first volume of Princess Tutu, something to the effect of "Those who accept destiny, find happiness; those who fight destiny, seize glory!" Yawara's happiness/glory algorithm is inverted - she's literally destined for athletic godhood; her glory is in trying to be small.

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