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AKA: 世界でいちばん強くなりたい! (Sekai de Ichiban Tsuyoku Naritai!)
Genre: Wrestling action, drama.
Length: Television series, 12 episodes, 24 minutes each
Distributor: Currently licensed by FUNimation, but also still available streaming on crunchyroll.
Content Rating: R+ (Fanservice, a good bit of sexualized violence.)
Related Series: N/A
Also Recommended: Sekirei, Ikkitousen, Hajime no Ippo.
Notes: Based on the manga by ESE, with character designs by Kurojishi and art by Kiyohito Natsuki, serialized in Comic Earth Star.
Rating: Two StarsTwo Stars
 

Wanna be the Strongest in the World

Synopsis

After a badmouthing session between idol group Sweet Diva and wrestling dojo Berserk member Kazama Rio, idol singer Hagiwara Sakura accepts a challenge from the wrestling woman, a match that ends in predictable humiliation for Sakura.

She wows her revenge, though, and challenges Rio to a... well, revenge match, leaving her idol group for an unspecified time to train at Berserk.


Review

My relationship with professional wrestling has never been particularly prominent, but I do carry some memories of... well, let's face it; the theatrical wrestling of the old WWF in all its hokey and overplayed glory. By that time, I was perfectly aware of the ways all the athleticism on display was planned in advance -- or if not that, at least the results. My point being that as time spent, it can be a fun investment if you're just looking for some entertainment. Entertainment you don't necessarily have to take seriously, even if you're free to pretend you do.

Compared to that, this show takes "professional" wrestling far, far, FAR too seriously. Should one expect anything else from a show so far up not only wrestling's, but also idol singing's ass that the stink gets a bit hard to get off? Normally no, but even that isn't quite the biggest problem I have with Wanna be the Strongest in the World.

The show more or less immediately kicked off with a spat between one of Sweet Diva's members, Miyazawa Elena, and one of the wrestlers from Berserk, Rio. After a short demonstration by Rio on Elena, which ended as poorly for the idol singers as one would expect, she asked the idol girls to piss off and go back to playing around as idols. Sakura did, of course, not take any more kindly to Rio's slights against the idol industry, so an official match was issued, and I prepared myself for a delicious evening of Sakura eating a big portion of humble pie for her hubris.

What I didn't want to see was Sakura being shamed and sexually humiliated after a fight mostly made up of breast and crotch shots, all set to Sakura's pained and disturbingly sexual screams.

The reason this doesn't work is that Wanna be the Strongest in the World is hardly the first "tough girls duke it out until their clothes explode" show I've watched. And while other shows, like Ikkitousen or Queen's Blade -- or Sekirei, a show that was literally advertised by the size of its boobs -- had its share of objectification and questionable material, the latter was in far shorter supply there, and never really the core problem. And while the girls' wrestling outfits stay intact for all of the matches they partake in, that counts for less than one would expect, seeing as the girls fight in what amounts to uniforms looking like swimsuits. So if you planned on watching this because you liked either of the two aforementioned examples, then I hope you like the sound of girls squealing in pain. Except I don't, because that's a terrible thing.

And you will hear a lot of it. It takes some time before the wrestling part of the wrestling show enters the equation, but by episode 3, Sakura is well under the thumb of Berserk, building a losing streak that is as impressive as it is sad on so many levels. Sakura continues to squeal like a pig, all while the spectators (including us viewers) get a good look at either her cleavage or her crotch, and the show lingers on this far beyond any kind of comfortability. Far more than the aforementioned booby show, and also far more than another show that declared war on something. Can you guess what that might be?

Don't look this show up for the eye candy either. While I do like the character designs in general -- exaggerated as they may be -- the animation varies from passable to absolute ass (but not in the sense you might be thinking), and in the later episodes, the characters themselves start looking almost hilariously inconsistent between scenes. I suspect this might be part of the reason why they chose wrestling as a sport to make a show around; all the holds the girls do or endure don't put much strain on the animation budget, which is why there's so much of that and less of the whole jumping, running, clotheslining or general acrobatics -- you know, the stuff that is actually fun to watch.

But even if Wanna be the Strongest didn't feature all these unsettling elements, that still doesn't take away the fact that it's formulaic in the extreme, punctuated by the really tiresome dialogue that permeates what this show has the nerve to call inspirational, including a certain training segment that's also a homage to... well, guess. Just try to guess. This isn't entirely apparent at first, but as Sakura gains her footing in the wrestling world, so does her breathless worship of wrestling in general. This is where the whole theatrical aspect of real world wrestling possibly unintentionally slaps the show in the face, because, as I mentioned, the people in this show takes this sport very seriously. So please... enjoy listening to characters constantly professing their love for the sport, and how they want to be the strongest, the best, in a sport where the results are actually decided beforehand.

Now, don't get me wrong; I'm not really knocking the effort it takes to put this sport on display on a physical level, and if the show had chosen a more realistic angle, where professional wrestling (do note that I stopped airquoting the word "professional") is as much a performance theater here as in the real world, then maybe this show could have been the Idolm@ster of professional wrestling shows. Kind of a backstage view, as it were. (I'm not fully able to tell; my experience with Idolm@ster is more word of mouth -- it's not available for Norwegians on Crunchy.)

But no, Wanna be the Strongest in the World wants to be taken seriously as a sports drama so much, and some of the things it does and the plot twists it unleashes on us to get there just goes beyond the concept of ridiculous, and boy, does that feel like a weird thing to say about a sport that lives on stuff like this. The show's, and by extent, Sakura's big dilemma is being caught up between the glamorous world of Idol singing or the rough-and-tumble glory of women's wrestling, but neither of them are portrayed particularly well. The wrestling scenes are only sometimes animated well enough for it to be exciting, and the idol group's songs are all uniformly boring. I'm actually pretty sure we only get to hear one song over and over again.

So, are there any highlights at all? Well, if I was forced to admit it, I did get a little bit caught up in the last battle once it got over its hold pattern "Squeal like a pig" waiting game -- mostly because it was one of the scenes that actually got the lion's share of the animation budget. But of course they had to go and ruin that with a really ridiculous scene at the end, with speech after speech after speech... and violins, and that... that was the end of it. Well, except for one thing; I had to listen to that damn song again, mostly because it was incorporated into the episode.

No matter what I do, I can't take this show seriously. It should never have been made to be taken seriously, at least not to this level. It's not a total disaster, but despite its seemingly neverending energy, it's not very captivating either. For all it wants to be inspirational, the show also has, as I mentioned, some pretty uninspiring writing and dialogue, mostly made up of some pretty shallow pick-me-ups and pep talks. This should have been a fun show, but it's not. It bores me, and when it doesn't bore me, it makes me very uncomfortable.

A somewhat interesting concept gets piled under disturbing fanservice and generic you-can-do-it moralizing that tends to be the bread and butter of... lesser shows.Stig Høgset

Recommended Audience: This show has more boob shots than Sekirei and more crotch shots than Strike Witches... which would have been fine if not for its penchant to put the girls into positions where their cries of pain are the butter to the fanservice's bread, and the whole thing turns rather questionable. Also, Sakura's first fight against Rio ends with her being subjected to a really undigestable scene where Rio puts Sakura in a hold I would call 'The gynecologist's chair', spreading her legs and revealing her wrestling-costume-clad crotch to a gathering of photographers (who naturally doesn't miss a beat to let their flashes ring out loud.)

And of course there's violence, but if you come to a show based around wrestling and let this take you by surprise, then I would very much like to know what kind of remote region you've been living in until now.



Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream from Crunchyroll, Japanese with English subs.
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Wanna be the Strongest in the World © 2013 ARMS, Earth Star Entertainment, Wanna Be the Strongest in the World Production Committee
 
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