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"Ippon" Again!
Episodes 1-3

by Nicholas Dupree,

How would you rate episode 1 of
"Ippon" Again! ?
Community score: 3.9

How would you rate episode 2 of
"Ippon" Again! ?
Community score: 3.8

How would you rate episode 3 of
"Ippon" Again! ?
Community score: 3.9

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©Yuu Muraoka (AKITASHOTEN)/Ippon again! Production Committee

One of my favorite YouTube channels is Secret Base, a sports-focused channel that wears a lot of hats but is best known for extensive video essays on individual teams or players. For me, that creative team's most defining feature is their ability to find – or sometimes construct – relatable human narratives out of the endless sea of athletic statistics. So much sports media is oriented around competition and statistical glory, understandably so. Still, there are endless and compelling stories to be told about people who didn't become world champions or gold medalists – both in real life and anime.

Don't get me wrong, I love shows like Haikyu!! or Yowamushi Pedal that are about athletes setting their hearts on fire and breaking their limits to go to nationals. Still, victory is only a small part of what makes any sport meaningful. That's why I enjoy series like "Ippon" Again! that take a more personal perspective of being an athlete. Sure, Michi and the rest of the club want to win, but that's ultimately secondary to everything else that attracts them to judo.

For Michi, judo is about enjoying the act itself, be it the rush of a match, the tactile sensations of the tatami mats and judo gi, or the chance to improve herself on her own terms. For Sanae, it's a way to connect with her friends and take agency in her life outside of just following her family's expectations. For Himura Hyuga Hiura, judo is where she's able to feel confident and secure, in contrast to her typically nervous and shy personality. None of the girls are particularly deep, and each occupies a familiar archetype, but that human motivation goes a long way in making them the lovable doofuses they are. Combined with a very natural lilt to their dialogue and particularly teenager-like body language, it makes our cast feel like real people you could have known – or been – in high school.

That approach also makes them really funny. There's a natural rapport to the whole cast, letting them feel like real friends, goofing on each other and making snarky remarks to one another that only comes from years of friendship. The one exception is Hiura, as the newcomer, but her anxious chipmunk temperament is just as endearing, and I love her habit of putting on her gi to boost her confidence. But out of all these little munchkins, my favorite is currently Nagumo, the overcompensating kendo wiz who keeps insisting Michi join her club because she's too insecure to tell the other girl how much she cares about her.

I especially loved how Michi immediately defended Nagumo when a teacher went after her about her hair color. It shows us that for as much grief as the other girls give her, that's only because they're friends who know for sure they care about one another. Props to the girls' handsome advisor, Shino-sensei, for not taking any crap from the school's overzealous rugby coach and standing up for the kids. The show's thankfully avoided the tired setup of gathering members to keep the club running, and scenes like that have allowed it to build an endearing camaraderie between the cast.

Judo itself has understandably taken a backseat in these opening episodes since it's more important to establish the cast and their relationships before diving into a potentially lengthy tournament. What little we've seen has been effective, if not phenomenally animated. There are a lot of shortcuts being made, keying in on single moments that deliver on the heft and impact of a throw while letting the rest of any match be told through stills and commentary. So this is almost certainly a series that the writing carries around those matches than any spectacle within them.

That's fine by me since I'm already invested in Hiura's conflict with her former senpai – it's pretty funny that one of our characters has had a totally different sports anime going on in her backstory that's only now intersecting with our core group. But if you're looking for fist-pumping, high-octane action, then I doubt this upcoming tournament will grab you. Still, "Ippon" Again! has been effortlessly charming so far, and I'm more than happy to spend more time with these kids.

Rating:

"Ippon" Again! is currently streaming on HIDIVE.


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