I’m a fan of Naoki Urasawa, and one of his manga that got him on peoples’ radar (and the anime adaptation that came with it) was Yawara! A Fashionable Judo Girl. That series was a more conventional sports anime – closer to something like Hajime No Ippo/Fighting Spirit. This year, we got what I believe is our first dedicated girls Judo anime in quite some time – Ippon! Again – a series which follows in the wake of the Cute Girls Doing Cute Things sport anime series of the past (like Pride of Orange), so I was interested to see how this new show bears out.
On the one hand, Ippon! Again is more of a clear-cut sports anime than Pride of Orange is. There’s no slipping an idol plot into the work or anything like that. On the other hand though – it’s a lot more chill than something like Fighting Spirit – or even a more recent girls’ sports anime like Sport Climbing Girls.
I think a big part of this is Ippon! Again is a series that acknowledges that the girls of this high school club love Judo, and because this is a school club at a Japanese high school, it ends up being the focus of their social lives – but the characters do things outside of doing Judo and training for Judo. We don’t get the big archetypal Training Camp arc in this season, and more than that we see the characters in the show just doing stuff that isn’t judo or school. They do karaoke, they go to the beach. In the big tournament that rounds out the season, they’re perfectly willing to talk about restaurants they want to go to, sights they want to see, or regional foods they want to try before they go home if they don’t win – when so many other series don’t have the characters willing to entertain the possibility, nevermind in such a blase fashion.
Even better, the show’s cast is just so different from the girls and women in a lot of other sports anime. They aren’t the bishoujo icons of Aim for the Ace. They don’t fit into the moe archetypes of the cast of Scorching Ping-Pong Girls. They don’t have the sex appeal of the Sport Climbing Girls cast. Instead, we have a variety of body types. We have characters in this show who are built like a brick shithouse, and others who are built like a fireplug, and none of this is played for mockery or comedy. It gets across that a wide variety of people with a wide variety of body types can and do participate in Judo, and do well at it.
Also, unlike a bunch of other similar shows, the characters are perfectly willing to talk about boys. Yes, there’s some possibly queer subtext with some of the characters, but multiple cast members are willing to openly talk about wanting to date guys – even if we don’t see them dating guys. It’s a bit of a surprise when so many of the other shows I’ve mentioned have either omitted any male characters to avoid alienating male viewers, or have vaguely subtextual lesbian content into the series without the willingness and confidence to just openly have queer characters like Birdie Wing does. To be clear, I like queer representation in my anime, and I’m okay if it’s just subtextual, but the girls of Ippon! Again mentioning guys at all, never mind an interest in dating, is a marked difference from so many works in the genre that it bears mentioning.
The animation for the matches is fantastic – the moves of the Judo matches are incredibly well done, giving a strong sense of continuity and positioning within the match. There are occasional moments where the animation of the moves loses track of where the characters on the mat, and where the boundary lines are – but generally that’s done deliberately for the sake of managing tension. Specifically, we’ll have a moment where a character does a move where it seems like they’re certain to get an Ippon (or fall), only for the reveal that both parties are out of bounds, with the referee then calling for them to reset.
I also absolutely need to praise the show’s sound and give a strong recommendation that you watch this show either with good headphones or good speakers with a solid subwoofer. The sound mix gives a real sense of power and weight to the footfalls on the mat, without having it go over the top. It gives the sense of the speed these girls are using to jockey for position, the power as they put their weight behind their moves as they try to throw their opponents, and the force of the impact as they hit the mat. It makes for some of the best sound mix I’ve heard in an anime since The Magnificent Kotobuki.
In all, Ippon! Again is an excellent sports anime, and also maybe worth giving a watch before the Summer Olympics in 2024, before watching Women’s Judo.
Ippon! Again is available for streaming on Hidive. There’s also a manga, but it hasn’t been licensed for a US release yet.