After helping lead the trendy delinquent schoolgirl subgenre in film and TV in the key cast for the live-action Sukeban Deka franchise, it was in 1989 when actress and recording artist Yui Asaka became the face of another hit IP.
Adapting Naoki Urasawa’s manga and tankubon publication for Toho, director Kazuo Yoshida’s feature adaptation of Yawara! centers on Yawara Inokuma, a humble schoolgirl with dreams of homemaking and falling in love, aspirations she’s forced to contend with her love for judo and the unwanted spotlight it earns her in the sports world after using it to singlehandedly foil a robbery.
The film joined Asaka with a cast that also included Keiju Kobayashi in the role of Jigoro, Yawara’s legendary grandfather whose stubbornness supersedes him regularly in his attempts to set the stage for Yawara’s hopeful grand debut in the sports world. Actress Yorie Yamashita starred as Sayaka, the daughter of a rich family and a promising athlete whose dismay with judo briskly turns into an unquenchable obsession that quietly materializes into a rivalry between her and Yawara. The film also stars a young Hiroshi Abe in the role of Kosaku, a hapless but hardworking sports journalist intent on covering Yawara’s rise to fame, as well as Riki Takeuchi in the role of the suave Shinnosuke, who woos his way into Yawara’s heart with an agenda of his own.
I’m actually in the middle of bingeing a fan-subbed upload of the series on YouTube directed by filmmaker Hiroko Tokita (Yoshida’s film is also online.) My interest in this series comes after the last several years of catching up on shows I missed, diving head-deep into a network of rabbit holes trekking both animes and Japanese recording artists of the late 70s and 80s. Little did I know that stumbling upon the thumbnail of a cartoon girl in a judo uniform would have me looking up the catchy and upbeat song “Miracle Girl” by Mariko Nagai, which also turned out to be the show’s season one theme.
That’s about the long and short of how this Westerner suddenly became a Mariko Nagai fan in 2022, on top of his newfound love for Citypop in the few years prior. As for Yawara!, I’ve yet to see the live-action film, but the first thirteen episodes are fantastic and engaging, and the lead character is as flawed as she is delightful. At just thirteen episodes in, Yawara is provenly strong in her martial skills as she is in her femininity, something to which she believes there is a binding duality that often reinforces her discomfort with fully embracing her celebrity. There are about 110+ episodes left in the fansub on YouTube so I’m curious to see how her character evolves after this.
What I love most here is that it’s a cute coming-of-age young-adult comedy-drama with martial arts at its core, so this is something I would especially be in the market for if a network were to either acquire rights to this series in its current form or revamp it in a way that presents something more commercially feasible as well as entertaining for its target audience, coupling solid drama and storytelling with judo sequences that easily hold a candle to the excellent action scenes presented in shows and films today.
It bums me that some of this media out there floating online doesn’t get the legit platforming needed to become more viable. All the same though, the show (and the 1989 live-action movie) can be found somewhere out there if you look as I’m not going to paste any links. I’ll leave that up to you if your interest is piqued, but here’s hoping that our titular Fashionable Judo Girl gets a stellar reintroduction back into the mainstream.
Take it away, Mariko-chan!