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Yawara Season 1 Anime DVD Box Set Review

14 min read

yawara-dvdLife as a fashionable young woman is hard for Yawara as he grandfather continues to push her towards Olympic gold in judo.

What They Say
Yawara Inokuma just wants to be an ordinary high school girl. Unfortunately for her, she’s been trained since she was a toddler by her grandfather, Jigoro, to be a judo prodigy. Nothing less than an Olympic Gold Medal and the coveted National Merit Award will satisfy him, and he’ll do anything to ensure she achieves it – whether she likes it or not!

Contains episodes 1-40.

The Review!
The Yawara series is presented in a fairly basic stereo mix encoded at 192kbps which for the most would seem like it captures the feel of the original pretty well. Yawara isn’t all that heavy of a series when it comes to its audio mix, though it does have some nice effects when it’s in full judo mode. The show is very much a center channel mix that doesn’t have much in the way of noticeable directionality, especially with larger sets where it seems to dominate as a good forward soundstage mix. There isn’t anything noticeable in terms of depth either, but this isn’t a surprise once again because of the age and intent. Yawara does come across as a solid sounding release for DVD though with clean and clear audio throughout.

Originally beginning its release back in 1989, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. Being nearly twenty years old at this point, there weren’t a lot of high expectations for the source material, Japanese remaster or no. Yawara is certainly a serviceable looking show when you figure that it has seven episodes across each of the discs except the last, which has five. The bitrate is pretty decent throughout, what with only one audio track, and a lot of the show has some basic soft backgrounds to it that are static for awhile so it’s decent for encoding. The source material does bring about a fair amount of grain throughout, but with a show like this it adds warmth to it in my opinion and showcases its film origins. The most noticeable problem that I had with it was the amount of dust and dirt you’d see throughout, more often on black than anything else. It’s not hugely distracting nor unexpected, but this along with the way DVD showcases the source material even more it can catch your eye more than you’d expect. Yawara’s not going to win any awards for its video presentation, but it looks to be a solid representation of the source materials.

The box set release of Yawara is pretty decent and is reflective of the age of the source material, so it’s not a package that really shines in a modern and attractive way. The box itself is a lightly folded piece, not a heavy chipboard box, where the front panel has a shot of six of the main characters with the logo through the center. It’s got simple and almost garish background colors at times and the character artwork certainly doesn’t grab a fan that thinks “only new anime is good.” The back panel has a simple layout to it as well, and almost feels like something that would have been released by AnimEigo ten years ago. The discs extras and booklet information are clearly listed above even the summary of the show and there’s a good bit of character artwork used around it. I was happy to see that they made mention of the shows origins in that it was created by Urasawa as they mention Monster and Master Keaton.

Within the box, we get six discs in clear thinpak cases. Each of them showcases character artwork for one of the six characters on the front of the box with a big number and a listing of what episodes are on the disc. It’s not hugely attractive and it has that near garish quality about it, but you get to see each of the characters in different poses and outfits which is rather nice. The back covers are done simply with a strip along the top that talks about the episode numbers on the volume which is then followed by a breakdown of each of the episodes on the disc. The small summaries are nice and including the episode number and original broadcast date is a great touch. Add in a shot of animation for each episode and it’s a decent piece. The reverse side covers are interesting in that they do the massive collage of shots from the show to produce a larger image. They’re not full pieces of what the character is but rather segments of them.

The best piece of this set is the inclusion of the Yawara guidebook. The book runs just over seventy pages and is filled with expanded liner notes based on what’s used within the TV series for translation notes. AnimEigo has always done really good with these and this booklet is a trove of information about the show and its settings and sayings. They also include information on the staff and original creator, a lot of information about Judo itself and plenty on the cultural side of the series such as entrance exams and more. Add in the translated song lyrics and this is a really great book.

The menu design for Yawara is decent but leaves me feeling really awkward about it. It’s simply got too many steps in order to actually start playing the episode. Going into either play all or by episode causes you to go to a submenu that then has you pick your language/subtitle section options and then from there it goes into the show itself. If you play by episode, once it’s done it drops you back into the menu. And with that menu always having a brief load-up piece of Yawara coming into focus, it can really grate on you a bit if you’re playing the show in that format.

Yawara only has on-disc extras on the final disc and it’s mostly made up of the expected kinds of things for a show of this age. The character bios section, which has about twenty-four skippable pages to it, is nicely done in that there’s a basic paragraph about the character and a quote by them alongside a picture. They’re not too terribly detailed, but it’s a decent little section. The image gallery sections are broken down nicely into a couple of neat areas. You get a series of fun promotional images, a variety of screenshots in general as well as all of the eye-catches on this release. One really neat one is that they include all of the Barcelona Countdown images in a gallery so you can see Jigoro in his various outfits.

The remaining extras have varied enjoyment to them. The trivia question section was actually fun, and it can be a challenge if you play it after watching all forty episodes since you just took in a lot of information. Seeing how much is retained and what was really gleaned is sort of fun, but got a little tiring after a bit. The other extra is the interactive map. The map takes a lot of things from the show and lets you drill down, particularly in the Tokyo section, to find out about these various areas with a brief bit of history on one page and then another page about how that area fit into what particular episode. Some of them cover more than one page, such as Setagaya, simply because there’s more happening there. It’s interesting to see it all broken down in this format but similar to the trivia track, once you start moving around you may get a little frustrated in all the navigation that’s required.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the twenty-nine volume manga series by Naoki Urusawa, Yawara is a one hundred and twenty-four episode series. This set contains the first forty episodes of it and that covers a whole lot of ground. That ground does come across as mostly the first chapter of the story as Yawara enters the formal judo world and finishes out her high school career. This provides for some sense of closure with the set but it also delves into the next chapter rather nicely and keeps you wanting to come back for more. With forty episodes to cover, there’s a lot that can get left out of any discussion, so we’ll stick to more top level things.

Taking place in the late 80’s, Yawara revolves around a young girl who was born into the world of judo. This comes at a time when judo is about to make its debut in the 1992 Olympics, so there’s a lot more attention being thrown its way. Yawara Inokuma is a rather plain and mildly attractive seventeen-year-old young woman who is finishing out her senior year of high school. She dreams of getting into a college where she can focus on enjoying her youth, studying, dating and wearing pretty clothes. With the “Fashionable” part of the series title, the clothes certainly do take on a rather strong element over time in it. Yawara does have a problem in getting to her goal though and that has to do with her grandfather.

Jigoro Inokuma is one of the best judo masters in Japan, though he’s a master in exaggeration as well since he always seems to up his accomplishments as to what level Dan he is as well as his tales of youth. His son, Yawara’s father, had taken the All Japan Championship back in 1974 only to disappear forevermore after that. Leaving his wife and young daughter behind, Yawara found herself growing into an unusual situation. Her mother became dedicated to finding her husband and that has her traveling all over looking for him. She’s rarely home and that’s meant that she’s been raised by her grandfather. Jigoro is an amusing character in general but with his intent to raise Yawara to be the best of the best, he’s pushed her hard and kept her from enjoying her high school life a lot. She practices judo endlessly while trying to keep it a secret from everyone. She’s got friends but she’s not dated nor does she often have the time to really be who she wants to be.

Jigoro is intent on her taking the gold medal in Barcelona in 1992 and then the National Merit Award in Japan so that she can be the best of the best. He’s got a master plan to roll her out to the media, shock the nation when she takes the championships and then works her hard until the Olympics themselves. Each episode ends with a countdown until the Olympics, starting around 1100 days or so. As much planning as he has done, Jigoro sort of lives in his own world and doesn’t understand why when he does start to roll her out, the media seems uninterested in her. At the same time, Yawara herself doesn’t want to do this anymore and is fighting against him the whole time. The two are so completely stubborn and alike that it’s not a surprise that they got at it like this.

While Jigoro is certainly one of the main things that frustrate Yawara along the way, she picks up another one fairly early on when Sayaka, a young woman of the same age, enters the picture. The daughter of an incredibly wealthy family of a conglomerate, Sayaka is the beautiful and rich princess with a nice twist. She excels at everything but never stays long with it once she conquers it. She’s become bored recently and has discovered judo and has been working to dominate in that event. When she stumbles onto Yawara and discovers all of this, it’s like something new to her in that she feels challenged. No matter how well she does, Sayaka finds herself thwarted when it comes to Yawara. Sayaka is able to dominate easily in most competitions, but her confidence gets in her way sometimes as well as her single-minded focus on defeating Yawara. To Jigoro, Sayaka is the perfect motivator for Yawara.

Sayaka’s training comes from a rather amusing place in the form of a twenty-two-year-old man named Kazamatsuri. On his last year of college, Kazamatsuri is an excellent judoka who is quite skilled except for one flaw; he’s unable to handle performing in public. That goes both for his judo skills as well as interacting with the press in any form. The role of Sayaka’s coach is problematic for him since it does require him to talk with the press at times, but Sayaka is more than willing to step up to the microphone and take all the attention. Kazamatsuri is an amusing playboy whose good looks get him lots of girls and he’s not intent on getting tied down to anyway. That actually gets to be a real problem with Sayaka, especially when he’s interested in Yawara at the same time. Amusingly, though, he’s simply waiting for both of them to be college girls because apparently, he has some standards.

Also thrown into the mix is Matsuda, a twenty-five-year-old man who works for Every Sports Daily. He’s the enthusiastic and energetic sports writer who has a real passion for it. He’s not looking to cover the banal and basic material out there, but rather he wants to find the next big thing that will invigorate people. When he discovers Yawara by accident, panties and all, he realizes that she’s that thing and begins to pursue her as a story that can inspire a nation. Along the way, he does start to develop feelings for her as well. There are naturally all sorts of complications that happen, such as when another woman shows interest in him and Yawara is all doe-eyed over Kazamatsuri, but it’s fun to watch all the romantic comedy aspects play out. Especially considering some of the age differences, something that’s never even mentioned once.

Yawara covers a whole lot of ground in these episodes. A good chunk of the set deals with Yawara’s high school days where she gets sidetracked into advising the judo club where the young men in there, mostly first-year students, are looking at the end of the club because of their lack of skill. It brings in an emotional potential interest with Hanazono as well as the rough and tumble Sudoh who has an interest in Yawara. The high school period has her hanging out with friends and trying to get through her daily life which has a number of fun little moments, but by and large, the school days are kept to the judo club. There is a positively priceless moment where the teachers are suddenly nervous around Yawara once they realize who she is after the news gets out.

Once Yawara goes public, she does get cast into quite a few matches. Jigoro often uses them as ways to get Yawara what she wants, though often it’s not something he realizes until it’s too late. The two are manipulators in their own way and are well matched in that area as well as their stubbornness. The matches are a lot of fun since Yawara is pretty skilled and wins handily most of the time without even breaking a sweat. There are challenges later in these episodes as she’s conflicted over emotional issues, but the early ones are fun as well since we’re getting to know her. Watching her fight when she doesn’t have an undershirt on and has to deal with groping young men who are grappling with her is quite a lot of fun.

Yawara’s life goes through a lot of challenges along the way. Some of them she’s aware of, such as when Canadian judoka Jody Rockwell comes to Japan to challenge her. Others start to become aware of her around the world as well, something that gets pushed all the more when Sayaka goes off to Europe to train for awhile after a particularly nasty defeat. As all eyes turn to focus on Yawara, the countdown to Barcelona is always there. The bump in the road for Jigoro though is that Yawara doesn’t want to do any of this anymore. She’d rather attend a two-year women’s college with no judo club so she can focus on the domestic sciences that she wants to follow. So he has to work things, in his brusque and off-putting way, to ensure that he gets what he wants while acquiescing to some of her desires as well. It’s an interesting growth phase for the two of them and watching Yawara shift away from Judo for several episodes as she explores college life is a great start to the second chapter of the series.

With its age, Yawara obviously isn’t a show that’s going to look fantastic. On the flip side, I have to admit a real fondness for Urusawa’s designs. Having really loved the work in Master Keaton with how people look, it’s interesting to go back to this to see something similar yet different. Yawara is certainly an appealing character and she has moments of looking really nice, but she’s never really beautiful in the sense that you get Sayaka is in this world. What’s far more appealing to me about this show though is that they do apply fashion to it. Yawara wears her judogi often enough, but she also runs through a wide variety of outfits outside of that. Sayaka tends to be more upscale obviously, but between the two of them, there’s a good deal of fashion to be had. Amusingly, Matsuda seems to wear only one thing and Kazamatsuri is easy to deal with as he has a variety of suits to wear.

In Summary:
Yawara gives me a whole lot to like, and taking it in over a length of time so as to not overdose on it was certainly a good thing. There’s a certain charm to these traditionally animated shows that continues to appeal to me and Yawara serves up a lot of warmth. The characters are fun and engaging, you wonder what situations they’ll get into next and all of it avoids normal repetition of fights and events that you get from a long-running manga serial. This doesn’t feel episodic but rather something larger, a strong cohesive narrative that tells an engaging story. It doesn’t follow a standard episode structure or series of gags but rather is filled with character growth and interaction that stands out strongly. These are all characters that change over this first year-plus that we get to know them and they’re on a journey that needs to be seen. AnimEigo has added another jewel to their library, one that I really wish had done well enough that we could have gotten so much more of it.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Interactive Map, Character Bios, Image Galleries, Trivia, Liner Notes Book

Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B-
Packaging Grade: B-
Menu Grade: C
Extras Grade: B

Released By: AnimEigo
Release Date: October 31st, 2008
MSRP: $134.98
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Review Equipment:

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.

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