Wanna Be the Strongest in the World (2013)

Sexy idols step into the ring!

With words such as ‘sweaty,’ ‘sadistic’ and ‘savagely sexy’ tinted on the back sleeve of the DVD, one knows exactly what to expect when stepping into this divalicious ring. While Wanna Be the Strongest in the World (or its Japanese equivalent, Sekai de Ichiban Tsuyoku Naritai!) boasts some robust animation and enough buxom babes to boot, it lacks in most other corners, as this outmatched blow up offers a no-frills narrative that’s devoid of character development and fraught with implausibility.

Directed by Rion Kujo, Samurai Harem (2009), and produced by studio Arms, Wanna Be the Strongest in the World is a 12-episode sports-based anime that essentially follows its manga counterpart — written by ESE and illustrated by Kiyohito Natsuki — which was published by Earth Star Entertainment between the years 2010 to 2013. Wanna Be the Strongest in the World tells the story of celebrated 17-year-old Japanese pop pin-up Sakura Hagiwara, the central vocalist of fictional idol group Sweet Diva, who’s unknowingly about to put her bangin’ bod to the ultimate test when she’s suddenly drawn into the fiercely competitive world of women’s professional wrestling.

What a Knockout!
What a Knockout!

When Sakura and fellow pop princess, cinnamon-haired Elena Miyazawa volunteer to pose as brawlers for a television ‘trial special broadcast’ held at Pro wrestling stable Berserk — sent to learn some basic wrestling moves — the ravishing songstresses find themselves going head-to-head with a ferocious mid-class lady bruiser by the name of Rio Kazama. With the Berserk squad’s sales pitch drawing a razor-sharp line between entertainment and the ‘real deal,’ having some of their fighters ranked on the world stage in Shangri-La, Rio decides to teach the ‘amateur clowns’ a lesson they won’t soon forget, unleashing a whirlwind of brutal strikes upon the defenseless Elena while live on-air. Shaken by the humiliating beating Elena endures, Sakura challenges Rio to a bona fide clash in order to avenge her fallen friend, agreeing to a cabellera contra cabellera (hair versus hair) contest, where the rules demand that the loser cut off their locks as a penalty for defeat. Vowing to get her full-figured physique ‘ready to rumble’ and fixated on overpowering the egotistical Rio, Sakura sets off on a long and painfully grueling road for the sake of idols everywhere, determined to redeem their reputation, ergo becoming a genuine diva of the pro wrestling circuit.

Okay, so first thing’s first, while the character designs by Rin Shin, Ikki Tousen: Xtreme Xecutor (2010), are fairly pedestrian — curvalicious, scantily-clad athletes with more cushion’ for the pushin’ — the animation on display does pack one helluva wallop, standing to be the main event of this mostly go-home show. The wrestling matches in themselves are quite well done — these beat downs are smooth and flashy, maintaining a certain sense of oomph and gusto — with the artwork sporting some gaudy colors and a cool, late-night-special, pay-per-view aesthetic. It’s pretty evident that majority of the budget was spent on this specific area.

No Pain, No Gain!
No Pain, No Gain!

The same can’t be said about the show’s soundtrack, which is unfortunately a bit of a bust; the opening theme ‘Beautiful Dreamer,’ performed by Kyōko Narumi, isn’t too bad; the closing, ‘Fan Fanfare!!!’ sung by Japanese voice actresses Ayana Taketatsu, Kana Asumi, Yuka Ootsubo, Miku Itou, and Sora Amamiya (which also happens to be Sweet Diva’s principal hit — for reasons I can’t quite understand) becomes tiresome after repeated listens; with the in-episode score falling to enthrall, stimulate or even charm at the best of times.

With studio Arms being rather infamous when it comes to their properties, the animation house having produced a large number of ecchi faves such as Ikki Tousen: Dragon Destiny (2007) and Elfen Lied (2004), all of which contain ‘full on’ nudity, Wanna Be the Strongest in the World is no different as it features an above average amount of exposed flesh, with boobs ‘n’ butts aplenty. During the smackdowns the sultry combatants are bent and contorted into an array of revealing/indecent positions — the sheer amount of lingering crotch close-ups do become tiresome, particularly as the poor defenseless Sakura is (time-and-time-again) hunched over while held in a Boston Crab, a move that initially starts out as her Achilles’ heel, whereas the countless other submission holds spare us no detail when it comes to unwarranted T&A. See, while this sort of naughty titillation (cleavage/panty shots and nude shower scenes) often works in favor of certain anime — harem for instance, think High School DxD (2012) — it simply feels out of place here and just doesn’t fit the strap. Why? Well, the narrative, which is centered around teenage prima donnas, seems to be more so targeted towards adolescent girls, thus the fanservice kinda grates against the show’s principal demographic (don’t you think), seeing as women are most likely to tap out at the first sign of gratuitous female objectification.

Wrestlemania never looked this fit
Wrestlemania never looked this fit

Narratively, the series can more or less be divided into three distinct parts; we have Sakura’s early days training and competing as a pro wrestler with Beserk, her revenge match with Rio wrapping up this storyline; the arrival of world champion Jackal Tojo, coming to town for a mentor-disciple clash, who chooses to verse Sakura when her opponent, Berserk’s ace Misaki Toyoda, injures her ankle during a singles event; and the finisher, an arc that kicks-off after the sudden appearance of ultra-strong, lucha libre masked warrior Blue Panther, who crashes the Rookie All-star Fight and declares war on Sakura, hell-bent on mopping the ring with the former teen icon.

Chronicling Sakura’s transition from delicate young performer to hardened pro wrestler, the preliminary six episodes play out like your typical underdog tale, though they’re actually tackled with a mild sense of realism — funny, considering the anime’s ludicrous premise. Sakura winds up weighed down with a staggering 50-plus losing streak (quite probable here) and it’s only when she’s literally on the verge of ‘calling it quits’ that Berserk’s hotshot, Misaki — also an ex-idol with similar back-story — decides to mentor Sakura, dragging her through a ‘special training program;’ it’s here where Sakura finally begins to learn the ropes. While Sakura’s uphill struggle can be a frustrating and agonizing sit-through, her eventual triumph is a noble feat, even if it does drop rather early.

Without a clear goal in mind, the later portion of the series seems to meander on with the pace of these episodes dragging their feet from time to time; what we essentially have here is a paper-thin plot that’s been stretched out for 12 episodes — well, 13 if you count the six 5-minute OVAs. And when audiences do reach that final clincher, the resolution is so inadequate and unsatisfying, rendering a story thread that runs throughout the entire series (Elena conflicted about having her best friend/rival Sakura leave Sweet Diva to become a pro wrestler) kinda pointless.

If you wanna play ... you've gotta pay!
If you wanna play … you’ve gotta pay!

With that said, the dialogue exchange isn’t all too sharp or engaging (Sakura spends a majority of her stay in the ring screeching, piercing our ears in the process) nor does the plotting make an effort to think outside of its four-cornered mat. In fact, it’s safe to state that Wanna Be the Strongest in the World employs a lot of worn-out clichés and gimmicky troupes, ones we’ve seen done better in previous, far superior sports-based or slice of life anime.

While decent from a visual stance, the characters in Wanna Be the Strongest in the World are (no surprises here) rather generic and underwritten — we have one-note hot and sticky babes who spend a large portion of screen-time flexing their adult parts or tied up in flesh-pressing tangos. Sakura Hagiwara is much like your basic sports anime protagonist: a go-getting, fervent sweetheart. Truth be told though, Sakura is the standout player here and I actually did admire her enthusiasm and energy. Her strong-minded equal/BFF Elena Miyazawa is half-decent, even if her blatantly underdeveloped arc is lacking simple logic and/or credibility, while the rest of the Sweet Diva band are simply cookie-cutter replicas of one another — all sporting the same uniform — and lack any distinguishable and/or identifying characteristics. In terms of the able-bodied beauties, each wrestler possess an overt sense of sameness — I guess the brazen Rio Kazama, with her silver-hair and purple tight-fitting spandex outfit, does stand out — with throwaway side players such as high-schooler Moe Fukuoka, a karate prodigy and admirer of Sakura’s who’s eager to learn the craft, popping up for an episode or two before fading off into the crowd.

Sweet, sweet victory!
Sweet, sweet victory!

In case you haven’t quite figured it out yet, Wanna Be The Strongest In The World is not a very innovative show, nor is it made for those who have a penchant for professional wrestling or a craving for a well-crafted series. Come to think of it, with a story that’s too girly for males and imagery that’s too raunchy for females — salacious moments in amongst the action that are just way too excessive and do nothing in terms of benefiting the plot or advancing the narrative — I can’t honestly recommend this anime to anyone; though fans of the medium, who might be in need of a little more ‘spice,’ could easily enjoy this mid-carder. In actual fact, what we have here is wanton fanservice in the guise of female pro wrestling — and it’s a bit of a cheap shot really. While not a total slam, there are so many series’ out there that are far superior to Wanna Be The Strongest In The World, so why waste any time watching it?

Some say that ‘wrestling is not just a sport, but also a punishment,’ a phrase that, to some extent, rings true when matched up to this mind-numbing, all-hustle-and-no-heart affair.

2.5 / 5 – Alright

Reviewed by S-Littner

Wanna Be The Strongest In The World is released through Madman Entertainment Australia