Wanna be the Strongest in the World (TV)

Every season, there's at least one show that nearly everyone pins as the stinker of the season. I find that this unspoken agreement is usually on the money, but sometimes I can't help but wonder what I missed out on. Wanna be the Strongest in the World is one of these shows, a series about a popular idol becoming a pro wrestler, which raises countless possible flags of otaku pandering. I have heard nothing good about the series from those who saw some of it, but I never met a single person who finished it. I decided to go ahead and see what type of bad this dumb, fetishistic show was, only to find that there's a solid sports drama in there. It just takes some time before the series manages to become engaging on any level.

As stated before, the series follows an idol entering the world of women's pro wrestling. Said idol is Sakura Hagiwara, the lead vocalist for Sweet Diva, who fights for her group's good name when her friend Elena is insulted by a rude wrestler named Rio Kazama. Needless to say, she loses. However, she decides to become a pro and formally challenge Kazama again, not ready to let down her friends, and learns the thrills of pro wrestling in the process. Sakura's goals start to change as she becomes stronger and stronger, meeting tons of interesting people in the ring, while her old idol group starts to feel more and more left behind.

The series starts very slow. The first four episodes can be summed up as follows; Sakura talks big, gets put in incredibly painful holds for several minutes as the angle changes to focus on her crotch and breasts as she cries in agony, and then loses. The first two episodes are an adequate start, showing Sakura's determination to make it as a pro wrestler and reach her goal of defeating Kazama, but things start slowing down quickly as the show enters a bit of drama where Sakura hits a mental wall when faced with a hold called the Boston Crab. She seriously loses over fifty times to this hold by giving up, and I'm pretty sure I'm underselling the actual number. It becomes very boring to watch very fast, and really puts the show on a bad start. It's also the most fetishistic set of episodes; the series is somewhat of an ecchi, and there's definitely a lot of fan pandering in those first four episodes (the first episode has one particularly out of nowhere shower scene with the idols comparing breast sizes, always a major groaner). Someone is getting off to Sakura screaming in pain while her thigh muscles are destroyed, as much as I hate to say. I do have a bit of wrestling holds fetish, but most every wrestling scene in this show is far too brutal and painful in how they're portrayed to really be considered arousing to anyone but sadists, which raises a lot of questions on what disturbed mind would watch a show like this, with a cheery idol being choked, tossed and suplexed, and expect something good.

But here's the weird thing; after that initial set of episodes, the show starts to become legitimately enjoyable. Sakura gains a mentor named Misaki, one of the best wrestlers on the world circuit, who forces her to find a way out of the Boston Crab and fight through the pain of the hold, drilling into her to never give up in a match and instead keep struggling and take advantage of the first opening presented. Once this happens, the show changes dramatically; Sakura gains new agency as a character and becomes likable in how driven she is, and the matches start to become more and more exciting. The fights become longer and more eventful as the series goes on, with more switching of throws and more changes in who's on the offensive. I breezed through the last third simply because I was having too much fun with how the matches were being handled, and the final fight in the show is a big episode and a third brawl that really leaves off on a strong note. The cheesecake even starts to disappear, with only a few odd angles during late matches that become white noise in the excitement of the moment.

There's also a bit more to the series thematically than anyone would expect. An idol becoming a pro wrestler isn't simply done for the sake of fetishism, it's to draw similarities between the two professions. Sakura feels at home in the violent sport because it's ultimately still about entertaining a crowd and rising to a physically taxing challenge. Sakura growing into the sport through this lens is a surprisingly clever idea that makes her easier to relate to and gives her a bit of depth that was otherwise simply not present. It's also used in a brilliant (albeit expected) way in the final two episodes. This also changes up the show's focus and flow a little, as many of the matches are less about who wins but more about the wrestlers putting on a good show while trying to win. Sakura's exhibition match with the world champ and another against a new rookie with martial arts training have no stakes in who wins or loses, but still manage to be engaging in how the characters present are affected by said match. The wrestling matches are almost like primal communication at times, a neat little touch that goes full out in the finale.

That's not to say the show is a hidden masterpiece. The animation and score leave a lot to be desired. The series uses a lot of noticeable shortcuts, like the incredibly awful turning during a midair flip Sakura and Elena do in their act, and faces have a habit of going off model late series outside matches. The CG crowds that also pop up late series just stick out in the worst way possible, clashing with the 2D animation every time it appears (and it gets worked into the OP as well, just a shame). The matches work for the most part, but because there's a lot of emphasize on holds, movement is rarely complex. This makes the few kicks or punches stick out, as they're all done through out of place shots or simply show the aftermath, with notable exception to Sakura's first signature move. The score is pretty middle of the road but effective, unless the wrong track is playing over a scene. This happens far too much, especially in dramatic matches, where a somewhat peppy song more fit for training or comedy scenes plays. It just doesn't work and kills some of the tension.

I also can't stress enough just how bad of a first impression the show leaves. The fetishistic content is really distracting and off-putting due to how generally tame the series is otherwise, and Sakura is just very dull as a character at start. There's nothing interesting to latch onto yet, as Sakura's main goal is far too out of her reach, while the subplot with Elena picking up the slack in Sweet Diva manages to be more annoying than anything. Her incredibly negative attitude is meant to be played for drama, but it's so melodramatic and occurs so quickly that it's difficult to take it seriously until late in the series. Plus, watching Sakura constantly lose and cry feels like watching someone kick a puppy over and over, it's just something nobody wants to see (at least nobody sane). I get why so many people dropped this show in that first third, especially because of how boring it becomes. It is nearly impossible to get invested in anything because that complete lacking of stakes or consequences, and this doesn't start getting fixed until the middle third of the show's run. If I hadn't had decided to watch the whole series from the start, I would have dropped it pretty fast.

Yet, despite a very weak start, the show manages to come together for most of its run and engaged me more than a lot of shows in its genre. I have to give Wanna be the Strongest in the World credit where credit is due; it got me to care and really entertained me for half of its run. It's by no means a hidden gem, more like hidden bronze. It's worth a look if you can manage to get past the initial first episodes and don't instantly lose your cool when a series plays too much with cheesecake tropes. For what it's worth, I liked it eventually. There's too much wrong here for me to give this praise, but it's certainly not a bad series either.

Comments

  1. Azero Tehiro10/24/14, 2:17 PM

    If I may, Wanna Be The Strongest in the World is like a botched submission hold:

    You're relieved that it's not as painful as you thought it was going to be, but you still can't help cringe a little at the overall execution. You use this time to reflect on what to do with yourself for the future, while trying to embrace/sell the hold[show]'s intention and effect.

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  2. Not my cup of tea, but I think merely the idea of a wrestling based animated show could have a lot of legs to a Western audience. Not as much cheesecake as this, but sort of something in the vein of 'The Wrestler' would be great.

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