Pile of Shame

by Justin Sevakis,


Lately there's been a lot of chatter about the girls' wrestling TV series, Wanna Be The Strongest In The World. Given that virtually none of the chatter is positive, I'm not really making plans to check out the show for myself. But hearing about a mediocre girls' wresting anime did jog my memory about another similarly named show, the little known 1986 one-shot OAV, Wanna-Be's.

Until today, The Wannabes held the distinction of being the ONE show release by Central Park Media that I hadn't seen. The rights to the show had disappeared long before I ever worked for the company, and it had been such a terrible seller back in the early VHS era that there was never any eleventh-hour attempt to dub it and make an extra buck. I'm sure I had opportunity to see it at some point or another, but the idea of a women's pro wrestling anime was not all that appealing, and I always left it sitting on the shelf.

The show opens with the tag-team duo Dream Angels being beaten pretty mercilessly in the ring by two much larger women, known as the Foxy Ladies. Just when it seems that all is lost, one of the Dream Angels somehow manages to lift one of the behemoths over her head. But that small victory is short lived, and soon the large women with their dirty tricks and poor sportsmanship completely obliterate the Dream Angels. The girls are taken away on stretchers. Their friends, another duo known as Wanna-Be's, look on in horror.

After the match, their coach decides to up the Wanna-Be's training regimen, so that they might take on the Foxy Ladies as well. He outfits them with all sorts of expensive looking equipment (which he couldn't possibly afford), flush with the sponsorship of the mysterious Kidou Corporation. The girls Miki and Eri are suspicious, but do their best. When they finally get in the ring, they find themselves still badly outmatched... until their new bionic superpowers kick in.

The girls are not happy about having been turned into bionic she-women. After interrogating their coach, they discover the evil cackling CEO that has been using them to test his weird medical experiments, bust into his building, and start kicking ass. There are a few surprises in store for them once inside, however. Giant, hulking scary surprises.

Like so many 80s OAVs, which were notorious for being green-lit and produced with little adult supervision, Wanna-Be's is a bizarre patchwork of different plot lines, directorial styles and tones that never really gel into a cohesive whole. Some parts are competently executed and fun to watch, while others seem to fail basic film school requirements for coherence and shot selection. It's no wonder that three different people were tasked with drawing storyboards for a mere 45 minute OAV.

There are a number of scenes that just don't make much sense, including a seemingly inconsequential one where Miki and Eri are at a diner and have an awkward exchange with an old friend and her obnoxious boyfriend. The scene seems to have nothing to do with anything, offers no insight into the characters (archetypical as they already are), and has no further repercussions. A lot of time is also spent showing the announcers, who I'm guessing must be parodies of actual sports announcers, but the reference is utterly lost on me.

Despite a modest budget, the show actually shared a number of staff with the far more popular (and flat-out better) OAV Bubblegum Crisis, including character designer Kenichi Sonoda and writer Toshimichi Suzuki. Interestingly, the fighting sequences are fairly well storyboarded and laid out -- the fights are fun and, if not realistic, at least seem plausible and easy-to-follow. For the most part, that is. Some shots are so sloppily drawn and so ridiculously off model that the Foxy Ladies barely resemble human beings.

All that is to say nothing of the subject of women's wrestling itself, which is a sport that I must admit I know next to nothing about. I have no idea if Japanese pro-wrestling is as heavily scripted as American pro-wrestling, but if it is, Wanna-Be's completely buys into the illusion, casting Miki and Eri as stereotypical broke professional athletes who just wanna win the big match. As a sport, however, it's utterly silly -- at one point a referee counts to thirteen instead of ten, wrestlers start matches early, and there is seemingly no penalty for sneaking knives into the ring. The charm of the "sport" is utterly lost on me, but at least, aside from an innocent boob shot here and there, at least the show remains fairly non-exploitative in nature.

I can't hate Wanna-Be's, although I can't really recommend it to anyone. It's mind candy of the absolute lowest order, but it's not boring to watch, and could even be considered mildly entertaining. I probably wouldn't ever voluntarily sit through a real pro wrestling match, but at only 45 minutes I suppose I can give something as innocuous as this OAV a pass.

Japanese Name: ウォナビーズ (Wanna-Be's)

Media Type: One-shot OAV

Length: 45 min.

Vintage: 1986

Genres: Sports, sci-fi

Availability (Japan): Ancient VHS tapes and laserdiscs are all you're gonna find.

Availability (English): CPM released both a subtitled VHS and Laserdisc in the US.

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