Posted: 07/21/2011

 

Yawara! A Fashionable Judo Girl

(1989-90)

by Jef Burnham




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This impressive 6-DVD Set, now available from AnimEigo, collects the first 40 episodes of Yawara! A Fashionable Judo Girl’s 124-episode run.

The series is based on the manga of the same name by Naoki Urasawa, creator of such other series as Monster, 20th Century Boys, and Pluto, the brilliant retelling of Osamu Tezuka’s “The Greatest Robot on Earth” Astro Boy storyline as a murder mystery. Yawara, in both its incarnations, was an enormous Japanese cultural phenomenon that’s never quite caught on in the U.S. And that’s a shame, because it’s a highly entertaining and rewarding series with enormous humor and heart. Combining the tropes of a sports anime with the romance and humanism of an excellent shojo story, the series has a perfectly paced, engaging throughline that pulls you steadily along without ever feeling rushed or unnecessarily drawn-out. The overall experience is truly a satisfying one.

Yawara tells the story of Inokuma Yawara, a girl trained in secret from birth to become a world champion judoka by her grandfather, Inokuma Jigoro (who happens to share his name with the sport’s creator, Kano Jigoro). While her strength and proficiency may indeed be unsurpassed in all the world, Yawara wants nothing more than to be a normal girl, greatly preferring boys and bargain sales to judo. However, those around her conspire to see her fulfill her potential, and she quickly becomes a national judo sensation.

The wonderful thing about this story is that it is very heavily character driven. Every character, antagonists included, acts according to their own unique motivations so that the major plot points of the series are arrived at organically through sincere exploration of the characters. One never gets the sense that the writers are attempting to manipulate the viewers. This, I suspect, can be traced back to Urasawa’s source material.

The only drawback to the series is that the quality of the animation tends varies often within a single episode. Occasionally the variance is so wild that characters may be rendered all but completely unrecognizable. In one scene, for instance, the incredibly fit Yawara looks downright fat! And the movement of the characters’ mouths doesn’t always match up with the original voice work. But it’s honestly hard to hold this against the series when it’s just so darn charming.

AnimEigo’s DVD release respectfully contains no English dub of the series, making the viewing of Yawara in its original Japanese mandatory. The subtitles are correspondingly respectful of the material, using different colors when multiple characters are speaking to make dialogue easier to follow and featuring an incredible amount of cultural and translation notes that run along the top of the screen. In some scenes, though, especially where Japanese wordplay or judo jargon is involved, the cultural and translation notes come at you so fast that you’ll find it pays to have your control on hand so you can rewind and play catch-up.

Most prominent among the extras in AnimEigo’s Yawara set is an impressive 72-page booklet containing cast and crew bios; series, educational, and episode notes; a judo handbook; and the lyrics to the opening and closing songs featured in these 40 episodes of Yawara (with an English translation of the lyrics). The DVDs themselves include program notes, character bios, an interactive map, and an image gallery by way of special features.

Unfortunately, AnimEigo has yet been unable to obtain the rights to the remainder of Yawara, and it is currently unclear whether or not the series’ licensor has any future plans for Yawara on the U.S. market. As such, this set may become something of a rarity down the line, should it prove to be the only official Yawara release ever in the States.

Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.



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