First Impression: Ippon Again!

The cicadas are singing a summertime symphony when they are suddenly disturbed by a thudding sound. The dull thump repeats over and over, displacing the indolent hum of the insects from the soundscape with a driving rhythm to give the early morning hours a sense of direction and purpose. Gradually, we draw nearer to the source of the indefatigable sound, pulling up to the school dojo. Is someone training? Lingering close-ups of tatami mats and a water bottle would indicate so. And then we see her, the lone high schooler practicing shoulder rolls, one after the other, in quick, steady succession. She is a judo club member, and pretty soon her teammates join her. From here, the episode flashes back to the previous year, when the main girl, Michi, lost her final judo match of her middle school career—and indeed of her life, as she had sworn off continuing with judo once in high school. It was too sweaty, exhausting, and time-consuming, and she had a boyfriend to catch if she wanted to fulfill the romantic plot she had outlined for her life. But a fateful visit to the school dojo, and an encounter with the girl who once bested her, would soon scupper those plans. And so begins the life (and leisure—beach trips are already being planned) of the West Aoba High School girls’ judo club!   

If the stunning opening sequence—rich in realism, lingering in its camerawork, warm and airy in its color design, and accompanied by evocative sound design—is a sign of things to come, then this may just well be the most beautiful work of animation on offer this season. The action sequences—of which there are quite a number—are well animated, particularly the climactic rematch between Michi and her opponent, Towa, whose combination of timidity and pure smackdown physical skill recalls the similarly paradoxical (and charming) Bocchi. If the team from DIY redid Bamboo Blade, the result might have been something like this, with a pastel color palette, feather-light line work, and layers of detail that add an almost painterly quality to it. Quite a different look from the young Bakken Record studio’s other standout series, Joran: the Princess of Snow and Blood, but just as compelling. While the animation and sound design are enough to sell this series and then some, the characters too seem a delightful bunch, adding a bit more energy and drive to the usual combo of personalities found in any “cute girls doing cute things” show. Anna Nagumo, who is actually a member of the—gasp! horror!—kendo club, has pretty strong potential for the season’s best girl award, what with the way her over-assertiveness is met with blasé disinterest as everyone patently ignores her, and her downcast eyebrows that make it seem as if she’s perpetually cooking up a scheme. All told, this sports slice-of-life series promises a very pleasant viewing experience indeed over the weeks to come. Count me in for one more ippon!

Judo (left) and Kendo (right) fight over Ditzy Lead as Childhood Friend looks on.

Ippon Again! is streaming on HiDive!

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