by Nicholas Dupree,
How would you rate episode 4 of
"Ippon" Again! ?
Community score: 4.1
Well, it's only the second review and I already have to eat my words – not that I'm complaining. After three episodes of slow-rolling character building, "Ippon" Again! kicks into full Sports Anime mode this week, with an episode composed almost entirely of one-on-one matches. Happily, that shift is accompanied by what is easily the show's best animation so far.
Hiura and Amane's bout is the showstopper, and for good reason. The animation on display is just fantastic; perfectly capturing the heft of each combatant and the delicate, deliberate way each struggles to pull the other off balance. You can feel the exertion of every swipe, grip, and shift in momentum as two equally-matched athletes go toe-to-toe. Ippon also sees fit to let the match do the talking, eschewing the side commentary that's typically employed to babysit viewers and explain everything we're watching. What little commentary there is sounds like real sideline chatter, with teammates cheering each other on or giving them updates on the clock. It's important that the intensity of this match is fluid and uninterrupted, and if that means letting the audience intuit the difference between a waza-ari and a full ippon, that's a sacrifice I'm happy they made.
Of course, the writing is still there to back up and give meaning to all that action, and the way things play out between Hiura and Amane is incredibly sweet. Everything from last episode suggested Amane wanted revenge for Hiura out-doing her in middle school, but the truth is a lot more sentimental than that. What Amane actually wanted all this time was to apologize to Hiura for how she reacted after that loss, and to throw hands (and other body parts) with her rival/friend the way they used to. Hiura, ever the sweetheart, has wanted much the same, hoping to apologize for not going further with the starter spot she won from Amane. Credits roll right before the conclusion of this match, but the pair's dueling inner monologues build to a perfect crescendo to end the episode on. It's as fulfilling and fist-pumping as any showdown in sports anime; the only difference is that the outcome of the match is secondary to my desire to see these two hug it out once the clock strikes zero.
Outside of that climax, this episode is mostly more of the same: charming character-building and humor, though this time it's all focused on how the girls respond to combat. Michi, for instance, is easily the worst competitor of the three. She's got plenty of heart, but not yet the skill to back up her dreams of judo supremacy. But she proves herself the perfect glue for the team through her indomitable spirit. She may not be the best at reading the atmosphere, but she knows Sanae well enough to tell when her friend is getting overwhelmed, and has exactly the right words to get her out of an anxiety spiral. She's not the anchor who will guarantee victory on the mat, but Michi's exactly the type of teammate you want on your side.
Sanae, meanwhile, differentiates herself with some interesting combat, eschewing the more eye-catching throws we usually see, and implementing an endurance-based ground game that drags her opponents off their feet and forces them into slow submission. It's a really cool way to separate her style from Hiura and Michi, and fleshes out judo as a sport beyond its most familiar aspects. I like, too, that Seno takes a strategic approach to counter that style, thanks to Amane's advice. It shows that there's more to judo than pure skill, and that adopting different approaches to different opponents is a key part of competition. What's more, that teamwork helps build a sense of camaraderie within the Kasumigaoka team, to better establish them as characters in their own right. It's all great stuff, and with the addition of such a thrilling bout, makes for the best episode yet.
"Ippon" Again! is currently streaming on HIDIVE.
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