YAWARA! article published in Animerica Extra Vol. 2, No. 4, March 1999
This article was written by and is copyrighted to Patricia Duffield and may not be reproduced in part or whole without permission.
"Lovely and cute, Miss Yawara Inokuma is a fashionable judo girl!" declares each cover of this delightful, 29-volume series. True to its claim, the series YAWARA! is about a cute girl who practices judo, but there's a lot more to it than just that. Yawara doesn't want to do judo. As she professes throughout the show, she just wants to be a regular girl. Talent, fate and her grandfather, Jigoro, are against her, however. No matter how hard she tries, she can't escape her talent for judo and her grandfather's ambitions of Olympic gold.
The series begins in the most surprising way. Sports reporter Kosaku Matsuda, tired of chasing scandals, accidently witnesses a purse snatcher foiled by a mysterious school girl. Recognizing talent when he sees it, Matsuda becomes obsessed with finding the girl and following her likely rise to judo greatness. -Maybe then he could do some real reporting.- The girl's uniform leads him to Yawara's high school where he makes the connection between her and judo legend Jigoro Inokuma. Matsuda becomes determined to prove Yawara is a judo expert and so follows her throughout the rest of the series. As he becomes more familiar with her, Matsuda must deal with his conflicting desires to support Yawara's personal choices and prod her toward the greatness he knows she is capable of.
There are plenty of other characters to meet along the way. As Yawara finishes high school, we get to know her friends and the boys in her school's judo team, who manage to convince her to train them. Kaoru Hanazono, the big, socially awkward captain of the team, becomes a character who remains in the plot for the rest of the story. Then there are Sayaka Honami and Shinnosuke Kazamatsuri. Sayaka is a vain, rich girl who decides to take up judo after a chance encounter with Yawara and Jigoro. Kazamatsuri is her handsome, playboy trainer who becomes infatuated with Yawara, and Yawara can't help but fall for the charming dandy. Since Sayaka has intentions of defeating Yawara and marrying Kazamatsuri, this causes many complications and misunderstandings. And, of course, there's Jigoro who is manipulative, persistent, arrogant, and unscrupulous when it comes to furthering Yawara's judo career. That and he's completely insensitive to his granddaughter's feelings. Yet somehow, you can't help but like the old codger.
Yawara attempts to have a fresh start when she graduates and enters a two-year college to become a travel agent, a college of her own choosing with no judo team. There, she makes a new set of friends and manages to again become involved with training a team and competing. This is where we meet Fujiko Ito, who turns her not-quite-good-enough ballet talents to judo. Fujiko becomes a close friend and follows Yawara into international competition.
All these characters and more play a part in influencing Yawara's life, just as she affects theirs. Everyone, whether you like them or not, has personal motivations which you can relate to and feelings you can sympathize with. This is a quality which all of the works of artist Naoki Urasawa share; the characters are real. This is not the kind of story where everyone is beautiful, where romance or fighting are the primary motivations, and where you hardly see anyone over the age of 20. YAWARA! is filled with all the different kinds of people you might meet in your own life, from high school punks to crotchety grandpas. As a result, YAWARA! had a broad, primarily older audience before it found its way to the small screen.
A good story and well rounded characters don't always result in a successful animated series, however. YAWARA!s TV success is also due to a star studded cast of voice actors, themes by popular singers, and high quality animation and direction. Throughout it's three years on the air (10/89 - 9/92), YAWARA! enjoyed strong ratings. YAWARA! uses the thread of sports to string together a remarkable collection of characters and show us how much of a difference the people in our lives can make. This series will charm you and can make a judo fan out of anyone.