Reviewby Theron Martin,
Wanna Be the Strongest in the World! [Limited Edition]
Sakura and Elena are the top two members of the popular AKB48-styled idol group Sweet Diva, though Sakura always tops Elena for elections for the “center” position. While visiting the gym of female pro wrestling group Berserk as part of a cross-promotion, Elena inadvertently ticks off Berserk wrestler Rio, who soundly trounces her with a few moves and then savagely impugns idols. Sakura challenges her to protect the pride and honor of idols, only to get soundly trounced herself in an official match. Sakura is not one to just crawl back and lick her wounds, though, so she answers Rio's jibes by declaring that she will become a pro wrestler in order to earn a rematch with Rio, to the shock of everyone around her. As Sakura soon discovers, though, becoming good enough to stand as a pro wrestler is one thing, but becoming good enough to actually win matches is another.
Female pro wrestling in Japan (referred to as joshi puroresu) has existed to some degree since 1948, most typically as an independent promotion from male pro wrestling. Like pro wrestling in the States, Japanese pro wrestling is typically scripted, although its infusion of martial arts elements and greater emphasis on full contact and submission holds (called “shoot wrestling”) makes it a bit of a different animal from American pro wrestling, as does a psychological shift which less emphasizes theatrics and more emphasizes perseverance and fighting spirit. Most of that can be seen in play in this fall 2013 series, with the exception being that it eschews any notion that match outcomes are predetermined or that the wrestlers are working cooperatively in the ring. In other words, it rigidly maintains the kayfabe tradition of pro wrestling.
Understanding those stylistic differences is crucial for Western fans to fully appreciate some of the style points in this series. Another crucial point to accept is that joshi puroresu is, based on samples I've seen, a much more vocal presentation than American pro wrestling is. Cries of pain are apparently a staple element, which goes a long way towards explaining why that element seems to be annoyingly overemphasized throughout the series. If you are not used to that in wrestling, or at least do not have a very high tolerance for characters crying out in pain, then the series will drive you away very quickly, and with good reason; such content is introduced in the first scenes of the first episode and is prevalent throughout the series' run.
Despite the presence of the idol group elements and the implications that the line between performing as an idol and performing in pro wrestling isn't that sharp, the series is overwhelmingly dominated by its wrestling elements, to the point that its actual plot is relatively thin. Because the wrestling is played straight, what story it has feels akin to a typical sports anime, with the heroine having to struggle her way through early difficult times and losses before finally mustering the determination, skills, and special tricks necessary to compete on a level where she can actually win. Also as with sports anime, the big battles/games dominate the series, including a mid-series match which takes up the entirety of one episode and a climactic match which takes up most of two episodes. The only real subplot outside of the wrestling involves Elena being unhappy about Sakura leaving her and Sweet Diva behind (even though Sakura was the rival whom she could never quite beat in fan elections). The writing does, however, leave some room for delving into the interconnected pasts of some of the other prominent figures in the series, like the way the journalist character, lead Berserk wrestler Misaki, worldwide champ Jackall, and the leader of a rival camp all have a past with each other.
The other point of emphasis in the series is the fan service, which often mixes with the wrestling because nearly all of the female wrestlers have quite pronounced figures which their wrestling outfits show off in sexy fashion. And my, but the camera does love its crotch shots in this one! Granted, getting the proper sense of certain submission holds practically requires that kind of angle, but such shots are emphasized way too much to explain it off as anything but raw service. Nudity does occasionally also pop up in shower/bath scenes, and one high school girl introduced later on does engage in some panty-flashing, but those have only minor presences in the series.
Aside from the fan service, the visual emphasis otherwise falls on the submission holds and, to a much lesser extent, other wrestling moves. Most or all of the submission holds are based on actual existing wrestling holds (the Boston Crab is a heavily-used one, for instance) and they are lovingly-detailed here, even including lots of stretching and rubbing sound effects. Except for unique finishing moves, movements in the ring are also consistent with what is typically seen in pro wrestling. Sadly, the animation takes way too many shortcuts for viewers to get the full feel of the movements, but they are suggested well enough. Crowd scenes are done with cheap-looking CG, but the idol performances are not. The vibrancy of the coloring is also a stand-out strength.
For most of the series the soundtrack languishes with generic, unexciting background numbers. Only in the late stages does it muster up its best effort and hit the right dramatic and poignant notes. Opener “Beautiful Dreamer” by Kyoko Narumi (the voice of Misaki) has fitting lyrics but otherwise does not stand out. Much catchier is closer “Fan! Fanfare!” by Sweet Diva (i.e., the seiyuu performing the Sweet Diva roles), a rock-infused idol number which employs a couple of bits of visual symbolism.
Under the direction of Joel McDonald, the English dub resists the urge to ham things up, resulting in what, with a couple of exceptions, is a solid, well-performed dub. Martha Harms gives the best performance as the idol-deprecating Rio, and Elizabeth Lewis in her debut role (her only other anime credit is, oddly enough, production accounting) endures all of pained cries like a champ; according to one of the audio commentaries, her original voicing schedule had to be modified quite a bit in order to give her vocal chords time to recover. The only real weak spots are that David Thompson seems stiff as Berserk's president and Megan Shipman's rendition of Juri (the leader of rival group Miyabi) is flat and bland. Curiously, the role of the ring announcer does not seem to be credited.
Funimation's Limited Edition release includes both Blu-Ray and DVD in their own cases, with both contained in a sturdy artbox which features Berserk members on one side and lead Sweet Diva members on the other. Both cases also include bonus interior art. On-disk Extras include clean opener and closer, various series trailers, English audio commentaries for episodes 1 and 7, and a collection of six OVA shorts, all of which are dubbed. The first three are typical nudity-heavy fan service fare involving various perverse variations on female wrestling (mud wrestling, “lotion sumo” wrestling, and hot water endurance tests), while the last three form a three-part rendition of Sakura and Misaki in a tag team match against a rival wrestling group.
Take it as a paean to joshi puroresu and Wanna Be the Strongest in the World fares pretty well. Take it any other way and it comes off as an irritatingly sadistic exercise in showmanship and fan service.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : C+
+ Loving detail of wrestling holds and moves, sexy wrestling outfits, one big, juicy plot twist.
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