What They Say:
The eye-popping world of women’s professional wrestling is sweaty, sadistic, and savagely sexy. Famous Japanese pop idol Sakura Hagiwara is better suited for the dance floor than the wrestling ring, but this ravishing songstress is about to put her body to the ultimate test.
When she and fellow idol Elena are assigned to pose as wrestlers for a very special show, a vicious lady brawler by the name of Rio decides to teach the girls a lesson they won’t soon forget. Rio unleashes a flurry of ferocious of attacks on Elena, contorting her divine female form into an array of very naughty positions. Shocked by the blush-inducing beating taken by her friend, Sakura vows to get her heavenly curves ready to rumble and redeem the good name of idols everywhere by becoming a bona fide diva of the pro-wrestling world!
Contains episodes 1-12 and OVA episodes 1-6 in a chipboard art box.
The audio presentation for this release is familiar enough as we get the original Japanese language track in stereo while the English mix gets the 5.1 bump, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The show is one that has that kind of fun mix of action and dialogue to it where when it hits the action, you want to get in all the right grunting and other sounds of impact and struggle, which both mixes do well. There’s plenty of fun with the audience sounds, the sounds of the matches themselves, and the general use of the ring and all involved there to keep it alive and moving. The dialogue side itself is fairly straightforward throughout as there’s not a lot there that stands out when they’re not in the ring, but it’s all handled cleanly and clearly throughout with both languages tracks, resulting in a problem free mix.
Originally airing in the fall of 2013, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episode series is spread across two discs with nine on the first and three on the second, along with the OVAs that make up another episode’s worth of material. Animated by Arms, the series has a pretty good look about it overall, though it goes more for an average look without anything that really strikes out in a big way. The transfer largely captures this look, which means you can see some of the cost cutting aspects in the source, such as the blue/green backgrounds where there’s a lot of noticeable gradients and noise. The gradients themselves are more visible throughout in general, though they’re not horrendous like older shows. But they are a noticeable part of the source that the transfer does its best to cope with.
The packaging for this limited edition release is colorful and solid all around as we get a good, bright looking heavy chipboard box that’s done with bold yellows and blues to make it eye catching. The front of the box has the main cast of characters in their respective uniforms, which looks good and reflects the general level of detail, while the back cover goes for a Sweet Diva cast shot and their respective uniforms, set against the same background. Rarely does yellow and blue in this shade work so well together! Within the box we get the two Blu-ray cases where each holds a different set of discs by format. The front cover pieces are great as we get the various characters in the ring with one dominating the other. The artwork is clean and appealing and with its color design and fanservice, well, it sells the show well. The back covers are kept simple where we get the blue background that breaks down the episodes and extras by disc with the text in white and a little bit of yellow to add some more flavor to it. Each case also has artwork on the reverse side that shows more of the same kind of artwork as the front, expanding on the ring look, which brings over the Japanese artwork in a good way. There aren’t any other items or materials included in the release such as inserts or booklets.
The menu design for this release is pretty decent overall, though it’s a slow build one that’s kind of surprising in a way. Like most FUNimation menus, it’s all about the clips and material from the show, and this one uses lots of the ring footage. But mostly just footage of the ring itself for a lot of it, before it finally gets to showing some of the characters in their poses and looking like they want to be the strongest. The logo takes up a good chunk of real estate along the upper left while the navigation strip along the bottom goes for the blend of yellows and blues from the cover, though not quite as rich. Navigation is simple and easy to get around in and the result is a decent menu that sets the tone – eventually.
The extras for this release are definitely a treat overall as both dub and sub fans get well served. For English language fans, we get a pair of commentary tracks that lets the cast have fun with the show and makes me wish they did a video commentary. For sub and dub fans, we get the six OVAs, which clock in at about four minutes each, which goes for some short form fun and silly fanservice in a good way with more nudity. Often these kinds of shorts are not dubbed, but they went the distance here and dubbed them, so getting them in bilingual form is very welcome. Add in the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences and it’s pretty good all around.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga written by ESE and illustrated by Kiyohito Natsuki, Sekai de Ichiban Tsuyoku Naritai!, aka Wanna Be the Strongest in the World, is a twelve episode anime series that premiered in the fall of 2013. The series was one of the first longer form shows based off of a Comic Earth Star property and it got a whole lot of flack for its opening episode, and pretty much its entire run, because of fanservice and the camera angles used to present the story of these glorious anime women of wrestling. There’s plenty to be critical of to be sure when it comes to shows like these, but I have to admit that there’s something to be said for a show that wholeheartedly embraces what it is rather than doing it in a half-assed way. And as the show progresses, if you give in to it, it plays out in fairly traditional sports style. Just with a whole lot of crotch shots.
The series revolves around Sakura Hagiwara, the center member of a pop idol group known as Sweet Diva. She’s the type of person that’s earned the position and handles it well, encouraging others in the group the right way and having a solid minor rivalry that’s pleasant with Elana, another member of the group who hopes to attain the center position someday. As is the case with idol groups, they have to do a lot of things that just don’t sit well with them, and one of them is a one-off participation with a wrestling event. It’s not a show-wrestling event though but rather a real professional wrestling event, so it’s not full of staged moments and other over the top silliness (for the most part). Sakura knows that nobody else will want to do it, so she kind of takes on for the team and gets to go up against the Berserk Wrestlers, one of the more popular national groups.
As you can expect, the wrestlers themselves, all women, aren’t exactly thrilled about all of this and want to make it clear to any pop idol that comes by that they’re serious about their sport and not to be treated lightly. Naturally, they treat the pop idols lightly, not realizing what kind of training regimen that they go through, so the problem mostly comes from them as Sakura takes it all pretty seriously. But unfortunately for Sakura, the whole first event goes really badly for her and the main opponent from Berserk, a fiery young woman named Rio, pretty much puts her through the same paces she would a top tier pro. And she takes it a few extra steps by doing some real shame-worthy moves on her that exposes Sakura in some unpleasant ways, which when done in front of all the fans that came to see, it pretty much crushes here. Amusingly, the Berserk Wrestlers get a huge turnout because of Sakura’s presence there and it could in turn bring back a lot of repeat audience members. But it’s hard to imagine many wanting to come back after that when you consider some social aspects. Naturally, the incident really hits Sakura and pushes her drive in a big way, so having her challenge Rio to a rematch in the future where she’ll go pro herself and she her what for is pretty much expected. And the basis of the series itself.
From this point, the show largely works along familiar smaller sports design. Sakura works her ass off to become a pro wrestler, but she ends up going through fifty matches where she loses each of them, giving up just as the pain starts to get bad. Which is a surprise that she gives up so “easily” considering what the Berserk Wrestlers put her through. Over the nine months that we follow her for a good part of the show, she’s put through the wringer in her training by those at the gym, and her “graduation” ceremony is a rough one where she has to take a hundred hard and furious throws by everyone in a row. That wears down heavily on her, but she’s intent on making it to the end to face Rio and take her punishment to show her that she’s serious about going pro. There’s some good stuff with that as the final throws are dealt with, and it’s made clear that Sakura has the drive and determination.
So losing that in the actual matches as she waits for a chance to go up against Rio in the real ring is problematic. But what it does do is to serve to educate Sakura more through the help of one of the more established wrestlers, Toyoda, who essentially takes her under her wing and gives her even more intense training. It’s all familiar material, but it unfolds well as we see Sakura strive, learn more about Toyoda and some of the larger pro-wrestling stage with those involved there, from Blue Panther to Jackall Tojo, all while waiting to get to the rematch with Rio in order to prove she can do it. It’s a fun watch with the way Sakura’s idol day fans dwindle as it goes on and those in Sweet Diva can’t understand why she doesn’t just give it up and come back. There are some good elements that are delved into there which adds to the overall narrative. And each of the main matches is given its space to breathe, but it doesn’t extend over traditional multi-episode arcs.
One area where I really appreciated the show is when it comes to the character of Elana. We see her struggling with taking over the center position for Sweet Diva from time to time, and we see her coming to cheer on Sakura at times as well. But what we don’t get is the whole season with her coming up with a way to try and claim the center position in a way that’s forced, like going up and wrestling with Sakura herself. Actually, we do, but what we don’t get is that as an entire subplot for the whole season. Instead, it’s a very restrained piece with a few nods later in the season and then some properly silly show-wrestling moments as Elana reveals herself and discovers her own passion for pro-wrestling. The use of this arc is one that works well, and easily sets the “next phase” of the series that I imagine was done in the manga.
Naturally, the area that gets the most attention with this series is its animation. Or more specifically its designs. Or even more specifically, the heavy use of crotch shots. Yes, it’s a wrestling show, so we get minimal outfits and lots of skin visible. But boy do they go over the top at times in the sexual exploitation side with the camera angles. I had no issue with the moves, the twists and the various attacks that go on here because it’s all part of a tradition. But it is a wholly exploitive show when you get down to it. But as bad as that is in some ways, it’s also welcome because it doesn’t try to be coy and just sneak it in here or there. it goes in all the way and runs with it. That can make for some uncomfortable viewing for some folks. For others, it’s just enjoyment of the form taken to a silly extreme. And make no mistake, after the first episode or two where it might be a “shock,” the rest of it just makes you laugh because it’s so overt.
I had initially watched the first two episodes of this when it streamed, but I didn’t keep on it. I knew this should would be licensed, even if it took some time, because it serves such a small area of the market but has the potential for that great crossover appeal outside of fandom. The show is fairly traditional overall, but it’s done up with all the women in skimpy outfits, awful camera angles and plenty of cringe inducing moments for those that try to have a bit of modesty about them. But it plays itself well with what it wants to do, following traditional sports storytelling in a slightly compressed way. The animation is decent, but the love and focus are on the holds and how that plays out psychologically. Okay, okay. “Psychologically” with air quotes. The show has the reputation it has, but it’s firmly in the guilty pleasure section because it’s just plain fun and silly while being largely well executed.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Episode Commentary (1, 7), Textless Opening and Closing, U.S. Trailer, Trailers
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B-
Packaging Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B
Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: June 2nd, 2015
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.