From the studio that brought you the titillating action-fantasy anime Queens Blade and Hyakka Ryōran: Samurai Girls comes another helping of gratuitous fanservice in the guise of female pro wrestling. Sekai de Ichiban Tsuyoku Naritai is its name and aside from appearing to be one more production after the lowest common denominator – it is actually among some of the half-decent offerings from the Fall 2013 season. Sort of. Obviously not poised to win any awards or even considered to do the female professional wrestling circuit any favors, it does happen to embody a certain sentiment of the sport – both good and bad if nothing else. That being said, I still wonder what possessed Funimation to dub this.
Title: Sekai de Ichiban Tsuyoku Naritai! (Lit: Wanna Be the Strongest in the World)
Genre: Sports, Action, Drama
Hagiwara Sakura and Miyazawa Elena are the leading members of a popular idol group, Sweet Diva. One day, Elena is injured by the attack of a female pro-wrestler Kazama Rio during the recording of a TV program. Sakura gets mad at Rio and gives her a dropkick. To avenge Elena, Sakura enters the female pro-wrestling matches.
On one hand, World Strongest setups a fairly adequate narrative as it chronicles Sakura Hagiwara’s journey from a delicate pop idol to harden pro wrestler with the ultimate end goal of gaining appreciation for both avenues of entertainment. With all of the personal breakthroughs as well as losses Sakura experiences during the initial 6 episodes, there is a palpable sense that the directors and writers involved are trying in earnest to make the most of this underdog story as they are with the serviceable side of things. Granted that the feeling of confidence doesn’t last past the aforementioned 6 episodes and struggles a great deal afterwards with the pacing, it still was commendable to see Sakura coming into her own inside and out of the ring. However, where is there a lot of emphasis placed on Sakura’s wrestling career, the pop idol factor isn’t too far behind with her making personal connections between it and the world of pro wrestling as well as the series showing Elena’s hardship trying to lead Sweet Diva in her stead. While this is another facet for the drama to travel through, the overlap between the two forms of entertainment does have it fair share of commentary lightly dripping through the seams. Clever piece of satire or just fortunate enough to be perceived that way? You can be the judge for yourself if you choose to watch…
Even though the latter episodes do in someway, shape, or form continue to influence Sakura’s opinion of wrestling, the existing characters and newly introduced ones are just as important to that equation. Misaki Toyoda is one such example that is something of a mentor to Sakura and sees a lot in her that is a vivid reminder of her younger days in more ways than one. While the student-teacher relationship is anything but cordial, she does care a great deal for Sakura and the entire team of Berserk – pushing them to reach for new heights in the name of female pro wrestling just like her mentor Jackal did for her. Of course, Sakura has the chance to do the same with Moe Fukuoka, a karate prodigy and admirer that wants to learn the craft. Apart from that, again, the later episodes do seem to meander on without a goal in mind or even give characters like Moe a chance to have much of the limelight once given the stage. Although, given how the source material was finished during the remaining 6 episodes airing time, that might very well explain the middling follow through.
Knowing very little about the realm of wrestling (other than what I remember from my middle school days), the fighting choreography is just as expected: very exaggerated with respect to the techniques and moves, but also never failing to sneak a few salacious moments in the middle of action that are just as excessive by way the camera working its magic. Far behind the flashy style of Ikki Tousen and Queen’s Blade, the animation still carries the same amount of energy as the aforementioned productions as well as artwork from Rin Shin – ever so talented at providing character designs worthy to be considered eye candy. With Funimation handling the home release this time around, I’m still somewhat stunned that it did include an English dub and a very decent one at that. Usually not displeased with their past catalog, the written script does seem vastly better (projects the drama aspect more) than the Japanese one and the same can be applied to the voice acting. While most of the voices are very familiar such as: Monica Rial (Elena Miyazawa) and Cristina Vee (Moe Fukuoka), some of the fresher ones like Elizabeth Lewis (Sakura Hagiwara) and Kristin Sutton (Aika Hayase) were pleasant to hear from and hope they show up in more roles. Regardless, this seems like the type of series better left untouched, but sort of glad Funimation decided to work their magic with it. Still confused why they decided to dub the promotional material at the end of the series, since it’s only germane to Japanese audience in the first place and past the due date.
By no stretch of the imagination do I consider World Strongest to be “good”, but as far as actually working within the confines of its narrative along with providing the fanservice some agency, it certainly isn’t what I consider terrible. Portraying pro wrestling with all the excitement and verisimilitude as the real deal is something of a strength for the series, yet when it comes to keeping that momentum flowing, the pacing and trajectory in the latter half really begins to erode much of what it worked for and the anticlimactic conclusion really doesn’t do it any favors. However, those that were thrilled by Arms earlier productions should have no problem digesting this one…as long as you aren’t hankering for the apex of female wrestling.
Pros: Nice 1st half of the series, well done choreographed fight scenes, English dub and script facilitates the writing scheme better, enjoyable characters.
Cons: Weak 2nd half, animation style is abit weak.