In my experience, sports anime will usually lean towards being extravagant with wild over the top exaggerated action sequences or, my preference, lean into the slower, aesthetic animation with a heavy emphasis on human connection and emotion. This new series leans into the latter.
We open to a dojo where a young girl wearing a dog is throwing herself across a tatami mat. It feels like early morning with the soft light coming through the windows. She’s alone and she’s enjoying herself, the passion showing across her every expression. A few moments later, three of her teammates enter the space and they start training together. They’re judo practitioners, they’re judoka.
Flashback to nine months earlier, Sonoda Michi (Itou Ayasa), our opening act heroine is in the locker room with her teammate and long time friend Takigawa Sanae (Anzai Yukari). They’re at their prefecture’s qualifications representing Aoba Middle School. Sanae is talented but loses her match. And Michi faces off against a new opponent she’s never encountered before from Kawakita Middle School, and she does so with every intention of successfully maneuvering into an ’ippon’ which is a move where one pins the opponent on their back. She wants to do this because she’s made up her mind about this being her last competition before retiring from judo. She wants to go to high school and focus on having a life, getting a boyfriend, and designing her happiness independently of being a judoka. But the intention isn’t enough and her opponent wins the match.
Nine months later, after having studied hard with her friend Sanae for the entrance exams, they both make it into West Aoba High. Michi’s adamant about not joining any clubs now that she’s in high school but a mutual friend of theirs who was in the kendo club back at their middle school, Nagumo Anna (Hieda Nene) somehow guides them to the dojo. And Michi’s love for judo is revived when she succeeds at maneuvering an ippon on the same girl who ‘ended’ her career, Hiura Towa (Miura Chiyuki)!
And so the high school judo club is saved and their journey together begins.
I’m sure this show is going to have a lot to offer viewers who want to follow a competitive sport and it’ll most likely be popular with martial arts fans as well as anyone who has an affinity towards detailed, more technically focused sports anime (re: Chihayafuru). I know nothing of judo and this first episode eased me in nicely as someone who isn’t accustomed to the jargon. So don’t be deterred!
I can say with some confidence that I believe a pretty decent sports anime has made an appearance this season. There’s a decent amount of humor, the sport is really captivating to watch and learn about, and the characters are developed enough that they foreshadow some solid growth. What do you think? Will you be watching and rooting for these young judokas?
ED: 「いっぽんみち」 (Ipponmichi) by (Aoba Nishi High School Judo Club)