Randori Acts of Friendship: “Ippon” Again!

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Anime is no stranger to judo, with titles like Yawara! being perennial favorites in Japan. “Ippon” Again! isn’t quite the same kind of work, but what it does do is successfully mix the joy of slice-of-life-adjacent everyday friendship with the emotional journeys that are a hallmark of sports-themed titles, resulting in a series that thrills just as much as it comforts. In other words, “Ippon” Again! is a series about cute girls doing judo where they actually do judo.

The title is a pun: In Japanese, mou ippon can mean “one more round,” but ippon is also the most points that can be scored by a single move in competitive judo. The main character, an energetic teen girl named Michi, loves judo—particularly the part where you land sweet throws and really lay the opponent on their back. But no matter what, she’s never been able to score an ippon in competition. She finishes middle school with this dream unfulfilled and a decision to quit judo in high school, but when she finds out her final opponent at her last tournament is one of her classmates, she gets drawn back into the world she loves so much. Together, they begin to re-establish the school’s defunct judo club.

“Ippon” Again! definitely takes its judo seriously, and it’s all the better for it. Like so many good sports series, it has an endearing core cast each of whom have their own reasons for practicing judo (or not, as the case may be), and they bring their training and their aspirations onto the mat against a variety of interesting opponents. The action is well executed, with high tension and fluid animation that make movement and techniques feel impactful. This is a more grounded portrayal of a sport, less Kuroko’s Basketball and more Haikyu! Yes, Michi has a tendency to shout out the names of her attacks, but that’s just a personal quirk of her direct and eager personality. The result is an anime that wants to show how much its characters grow both in practice and in the spotlight.

The overall feel reminds me a lot of one of my current favorite manga, the karate series Mabataki Yori Hayaku!!. While the characters and their dynamics aren’t quite the same (one features an experienced judo player protagonist while the other stars a karate neophyte, for example), it’s safe to say that if you like one, you’ll probably like the other. It’s also personally fascinating to see how similar yet different the scoring systems are based on the throwing-focused judo versus the striking-based karate, but your mileage may vary. Another title of a similar vein is Bamboo Blade, although “Ippon” Again feels a bit less prone to exaggeration and wacky personalities. 

I don’t know whether “Ippon” Again! is supposed to be a glorified ad for judo. Even if it is, I don’t really mind. It‘s a nice, solid story that delivers on everything it sets out to portray, and seeing the team get closer and come into their own is an absolute joy. There’s a lot more manga, and I hope we get to see it further adapted into manga.

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