Fashion and Martial Arts Come Together in 'Yawara! A Fashionable Judo Girl!'

If the title alone doesn’t lure you in, let me be of some assistance. Although she’d rather be honing her homemaking skills in the kitchen or daydreaming about teen idols, Yawara Inokuma, granddaughter of revered Judo champion, Jigorou Inokuma, will take you down if she has to. You see, Yawara can’t help it, not as long as she’s living under her Judoka grandfather’s watchful eye.

Naoki Urasawa’s late-eighties manga-turned-anime is the quintessential sports series, featuring an exceptionally talented yet emotionally conflicted heroine in high school student and judo expert Yawara Inokuma, whose overbearing grandfather is constantly pushing her towards martial arts greatness and away from the usual teenage pursuits, like courting boys and following fashion (hence the “fashionable” Judo girl).

It may sound like a downer, but in fact like another popular sports anime, “Touch,” focused on baseball (which “Yawara!” director Hiroko Tokita also worked on), there’s plenty of comic relief in this light-hearted of coming of age tale, most notably in the form of Yawara’s ultra-competitive granddaddy, Jigorou. Simultaneously the bane of Yawara’s existence and her greatest supporter, Jigorou is a crotchety old man who happens to kick serious ass when the occasion calls for it. His only wish is that his granddaughter would succeed him as Japan’s greatest Judo champion, despite her resistance.

The animation may feel a bit dated to fans accustomed to today’s more stylized anime, but the heart and humor of “Yawara!” has aged well since its 1989 debut. And AnimEigo has done a great job of packaging the first forty episodes of the one hundred and twenty-four episode series (at this time the studio has yet to secure rights for the remainder of the series).

The six-disc set features the original Japanese audio and English subs, which is fine by me, as I much prefer watching anime with the original Japanese voice actors than with an English dub. What’s nice about the subtitles on this set is that you can set the display to dialogue only, if you’d rather not have the screen crowded with the occasional cultural notes, a common complaint among fans. Personally, I found the notes to be unobtrusive and relevant to the dialogue when they came up, but again it’s nice to have the option.

The bonus features aren’t as robust as I’d like (my wish list would include a look at the real life “Yawara,” Japanese Olympian Ryoko Tamura, who earned the nickname after medaling at the Barcelona Olympics, and some insight into creator Naoki Urasawa’s portrayal of the sport) but they do include in-depth character bios, an image gallery and an interactive map of Japan which sites certain cities and their relevance in the series, down to the episode.

However the real bonus feature is the seventy-one-page companion guide, which features even more cultural notes broken down by episode, staff bios and a handy glossary of Judo terms.

AnimEigo really did their homework here, which makes this series retailing at $49.99, not only a fun, slice-of-life sports comedy, but also an education in Japanese geography, culture and of course, martial arts.

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