Friday, October 2, 2015

Wanna Be the Strongest in the World Review (English Dub)

Back around April when the spring anime season was kicking off, I had made a bet with my good friend Hardy regarding a Dub Talk episode we were planning for Ultimate Otaku Teacher. The bet was, whoever got the most predictions correct got to subject the loser to a series of their choosing. However, both of us lost very badly so we decided to go through with the bet either way. I ended up giving Hardy School Days, Zenith was given season one of High School DxD, and Hardy ended up giving me the series I’m reviewing today. I didn’t have to review it, sure, but you know what? Screw it! I’ll take this on!

Wanna Be the Strongest in the World is a 12 episode Sports anime based on the original manga by ESE and published by Earth Star Entertainment. The anime from director Rion Kujo and studio Arms aired during the fall 2013 season. As of this review, the series has been licensed by FUNimation Entertainment (NA) and Madman Entertainment (AUS) with the english dub of the series directed by Joel McDonald.

Sakura Hagiwara is a pop idol and member of the fictional Japanese idol group Sweet Diva. However, one day, a female wrestler named Rio Kazama beats up Elena Miyazawa, a fellow Sweet Diva member and Sakura's rival. To avenge Elena, Sakura is introduced to the Berserk Wrestlers team, of which Rio is a part of. Eventually, Sakura proves to be a natural athlete with potential and joins the team. 

Studio Arms is rather infamous when it comes to their properties, because they tend to produce a certain kind of anime. That being the rather ecchi and fan service kind where full on boobs are shown. Elfen Lied is probably one of the most well known series from this studio that goes really out there. Wanna Be the Strongest doesn’t go that far, however the tons of fan service are there, and the series is animated to highlight it. While, at times, it does work, other times the unrealistic preportions can be rather cringe worthy. But while the animation is used to highlight the fan service, the rest of the series looks about average. Anything outside of the wrestling matches or shower scenes where those boobs are let loose is just ok looking, telling me that the majority of the budget certainly went to one specific area. I do, at least, have to commend the animation used for the wrestling matches as it does manage to be fluid, keeping it from getting stiff at times. The soundtrack, on the other hand, isn’t something to really write home about as it is rather forgettable. Using many tracks that you see in typical slice of life or even drama series, there isn’t a lot of innovation in that department.
You can divide the story into three arcs and see it from two perspectives. In terms of the arcs, we first have Sakura’s early days as a pro wrestler/ her redemption against Rio Kazama, the arrival of world champion Jackal, and lastly the appearance of the mysterious Blue Panther. As for those perspectives, they come from Sakura as well as her idol friend and rival Elena. First and foremost, the writing isn’t that intelligent nor does it attempt to think outside of the box. In fact, it’s safe to say that it uses a lot of overused cliches and troupes that have been seen before in Sports or Slice of Life anime. Hell, maybe even Drama! Second, while it was nice to have both perspectives of the wrestling side and the idol side through our two, supposed, leads, the idol side greatly suffers from a rather cookie cutter characters, like Elena, and doesn’t do a whole lot to change that. My largest problem with the story falls under the writing in terms of characters motivations and basic plot elements. The Blue Panther episodes are the most evident of this as we are introduced to last minute characters in the last four episodes, and while the motivation for some are obvious, the way it’s brought about seems more out of left field and just insane. And let’s not even start with the ending because it not only seems like a solid and decent ending, but it did have me ask at the halfway point why this wasn’t the solution in the first place? It also doesn’t help that much that the series was rather dull. It never dragged on, thanks goodness, but it also wasn’t exciting or thrilling for me. The show merely exists to be fan service, with a weakly written story to boot.

Story isn’t the only problem this series has as the characters are extremely lacking as well. While we do have a mix of characters, there is actually little to no development among the cast; this includes some of the recurring characters. Characters that magically appear in the latter half get a little something, but that’s a little late to have some kind of character when your major ones have none. It’s extremely irritating. Then there are the more secondary characters like Misaki and Rio who you would think may get some development, but even they are left with very little. Rio stays as the token mean girl role, while Misaki in the mentor role. I mentioned that Elena is rather cookie cutter for most of the series, but also border lining evil at times which doesn’t make too much sense to her character. Sure she’s the rival from the idol world, however without proper backstory and context, that aspect of Elena’s character just falls flat. However the largest offender of the series, in terms of character, is Sakura herself. She’s not only rather cookie cutter and full of over used troupes, she’s also among the most annoying of the series for more than just her screams of pain. She doesn’t seem to understand anything and just assumes it’s all about hard work and dedication. To be fair, it kinda is, but that can only go so far as Sakura’s methods of getting to where she is by the end of the series can be rather half assed. The worst part about her character is that she’s just so forgettable outside of those erotic moments she’s in pain. While all the other characters at least have something that I can really discuss, Sakura isn’t as easy because I was more focused on keeping my ears rather than even trying to catch a hint of character.

While this genre isn’t my cup of tea, and most of the series isn’t that wonderful, Wanna Be the Strongest does, at least, sport a rather solid dub. More so then it deserves, but that’s just me. With a variety of veteran and relative newcomers hiding away, there are solid performances from Lydia Mackay, Morgan Garrett, and Cristina Vee among others. Martha Harms (Assassination Classroom, Guilty Crown) turns out the best performance of the dub with her portrayal of Rio Kazama, with both a mix of tough badass along with her awkward lack of social skills. Meanwhile, Leah Clark (Maria the Virgin Witch, Baka and Test) takes on a very different role than I have seen her in as Misaki Toyoda. While there were points where the mature demeanor seemed a little bit odd for her normal range, Clark manages to win me over in the end. As for our two so called leads, Monica Rial’s (Tokyo Ghoul, Yona of the Dawn) take on Elena worked for the most part. It was rather logical to place Rial in this role however there were two things working against her here; the first was some of the more serious moments the character had didn’t quite work in the tone of voice being used and second being Elizabeth Lewis (EDIT 10/3/15: Lindsey Seidel [Assassination Classroom, Selector Infected WIXOSS] used the name Lewis for this role). Lewis, who has Wanna Be the Strongest as her only voice acting credit, and her performance of Sakura was the most difficult to sit through. There were two versions of her performance and both were equally irritating. Her normal voice was more obnoxious the longer I sat through the series, and when she wasn’t outside the ring, she was in the ring screeching and making it even more grating on my ears. I know Joel McDonald did the best he could with the series, in general (and honestly he deserves better shows to direct than this), but I feel like if Lewis and Rial were flipped, it would be a little less painful to sit through.

Once the match is over, Wanna Be the Strongest in the World aims for a specific demographic and manages to accomplish that well enough. While the story and characters could have used much more development and writing, it at least is aware of what it is and doesn’t give a damn about good story. Never leaving cliches or even considering obvious ideas until the bitter end, this is a series that is moderately ok if you want some mindless entertainment. The only real saving grace for this series is the animation, which works in it’s fan servicey favor, and the dub, which I think the people involved deserve better things to work on. In the end, this series isn’t my cup of tea, but I do at least understand it’s aim and it’s one that doesn’t do the worst job in achieving it.

Also, f**k you, Hardy. I got through my end of the deal! Now go watch School Days!

Next time, we deal with some crazy mad scientist or something. Until then, otaku on my friends!

Final Rating - 4/10 All the pain and torment I can handle…


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