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Tag Archives: Shino Natsume

Mō Ippon! – Review and Reflections At The Finale

你哋記住: 青葉西生…唔係病夫!” –陳真, 精武門

Aoba West High ends up being defeated during their first competition, but in the aftermath, Towa and her old teammates reconcile: Erika hopes to face off against Towa and her friends. Following this competition, Michi and the others are fired up about the prospect of competing again, but advisor Shino is worried about their numbers. She ends up recruiting former judo member Tsumugi, who had quit to enjoy the remainder of her days in secondary school, but after seeing Michi and the others, Tsumugi is encouraged to return. Anna also decides to trade out kendo for judo: having long wanted to compete and train alongside Michi, Anna had instead stuck with kendo for her family’s sake, but now feels excited to begin a new activity. While Anna learns quickly, Shino decides that for her safety, Anna will not compete at the next national tournament, but nonetheless, the judo club prepares in earnest. When the tournament arrives, Michi starts Aoba West on a solid footing, and they advance into the third round, where they end up facing off against a favourite. Despite losing here, Michi, Sanae and Towa find the experience invaluable – Towa had long felt isolated from others while doing judo, and it wasn’t until meeting Michi that her outlook on judo changed. Tsumugi ends up graduating without regrets, glad she was able to give judo another go, and with the time left in their summer, Michi, Towa, Sanae and Anna train every day with the aim of returning to competitions, better prepared than ever to see how far their experience and camaraderie will take them. This where Mō Ippon! concludes for the present; the manga is ongoing and provides readers with continuation of where Aoba West’s judo club head. However, even though the anime concludes with Michi and the others being stopped in their tracks by a highly skilled team, it lays down the groundwork for a future of discovery and fulfilment: Michi and the others are not discouraged at all, and instead, feel better connected to judo than they’ve ever been. However, although Mō Ippon! prima facie appears to be a generic sports anime about the importance of persistance and resilience, as well as the merits of a positive attitude and how healthy competition promotes growth, the series’ true strength lies in its portrayal of judo and the essense of martial arts.

Michi had begun Mō Ippon! with the intention of quitting and spending her time elsewhere. However, by returning to judo and gaining a more comprehensive experience, as well as spurring her teammates on, Michi is able to begin seeing the true depth of judo and what’s possible by pushing herself further. This similarly applies to Sanae, Towa and Tsumugi, each of which have their own skill and background with judo. This aspect of martial arts is typically missed in fiction, leading to certain misconceptions enduring. For instance, the media’s portrayal of black belts are such that any practitioner of martial arts with a black belt is seen as being a skilled fighter, able to take down multiple people simultaneously with finesse and speed. In reality, a black belt is regarded as a practitioner of a school who has a sufficient familiarity with the basics and is now qualified to really start learning their school’s art. In the local Okinawa Gōjū-ryū branch I trained at, for instance, students entering drill in basic techniques and movement, as well as breathing and stances. On average, students take roughly six to eight years of training to reach a point where they’re considered ready for shōdan examination. After successfully completing this exam, they become counted as members of the dōjō and begin cultivating a deeper understanding of the techniques, as well as how to effectively provide instruction, and in the process, learn details about the Gōjū-ryū style that profoundly impact the way one approaches martial arts. This level of detail is not shown to junior students, and it is here that the depth of any given martial art becomes known. In Mō Ippon!, judo was chosen because it is a more competition-friendly martial art that can visually show just how long this journey is. By showing the sheer variety of competitors and their motivations, Mō Ippon! suggests that Michi had wanted to quit before she really got started, and by providing her a chance to continue practising judo, she (and other members of the judo club) come to realise just how much possibility there is. In this way, although Mō Ippon! might be about judo, it is a celebration of all martial arts and how much value there is in persevering in a given discipline. In having the open-mindedness to take another stab at things, and the discipline to see things through, gives each of Michi, Sanae, Towa, Anna and Tsumugi a glimpse at just how much there is to learn in judo, and by extension, illustrating the sophistication and elegance of martial arts.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Mō Ippon! is probably the closest viewers will have a chance at seeing a slice-of-life portrayal of martial arts, showing a combination of both the stories behind everyone’s journey, as well as the emotional tenour present in a tournament, and the spirit of friendly competition. In its execution, Mō Ippon! is strikingly similar to Girls und Panzer, as both anime portray a martial art, the protagonist’s return to it and how through new people, they come to rediscover what about their chosen activity makes it so worthwhile.

  • These themes have been frequently seen in earlier stories, so in this area, Mō Ippon! cannot be said to be particularly novel or innovative. However, familiar themes and outcomes in a given anime are not a negative, either: being able to see how different stories reach a conclusion is what makes the journey meaningful, and this is why at least on my end, I never tire of anime like these. Seeing variations on a theme or premise allows me to gain a modicum of insight into what different authors have to make about a given life lesson, and this in turn provides me with a broader view of how one can better themselves.

  • Now that I think about it, Okinawan naha-te karate could also work as an anime: my local club emphasises the spiritual and physical aspects of martial arts, but a Japanese club could also participate in kata and sparring competitions. A story about Gōjū-ryū could therefore still draw viewers if it takes this approach because, since competitions took on a similar format as those seen in Mō Ippon!, there’d still be that team component to it. Assuming such an anime existed, I’d watch that with zeal because I’d be curious to see the Gōjū-ryū style portrayed. In such a scenario, I would definitely be able to provide a running commentary on the techniques and mindset, as I’ve trained in this style for north of two decades.

  • I’d gladly do an episodic review for any anime with kawaii girls that deals with karate. For Mō Ippon!, then, viewers are spared of the trouble of watching me teach in a blog post format, and here, after the competition, the girls focus on their studies. It was always funny to see Michi so unfocused – Sanae, Anna and Towa seem to be much better as students, but because of the focus in Mō Ippon!, one can surmise that Michi does well enough even if she stumbles every so often.

  • Anna’s decision to give up kendo and become a judoka was one of the biggest surprises of Mō Ippon! – having trained since childhood, Anna is a formidable kendoka and has won national competitions previously, but after seeing how much fun Michi was having, she became envious. Fortunately, the discipline she cultivated in kendo allows her to learn quickly, and I would liken this to a software developer who decides to switch from a career in writing cloud applications to mobile development. There are substantial differences, but underlying nuances in mobile development (such as memory management and UX on small screens), the same fundamentals of object-oriented principles and clean code apply.

  • As a result, Anna has no trouble picking up the basics with Towa and the others. Anna’s growth in judo is impressive, but for her safety, club advisor Shino decides to keep her from competitions for now. As it turns out, Shino herself had once been a judoka, too, but became injured after practising too vigorously prior to a competition. Since then, Shino’s regarded safety as being of an utmost priority, and decides that to get Anna familiar with competitions, she’s highly encouraged to come and watch. Owing to her own skills, Anna develops a talent for analysing the opponents that Michi and the others go up against. Previously, I’ve mentioned that I’m not terribly fond of these kind of commentaries in fantasy or science fiction settings because of the “show, don’t tell” paradigm.

  • In things like Infinite Stratos, for instance, a given fight’s outcome isn’t determined by one’s loadout, but rather, how one reacts to changing scenarios, so giving a running commentary of an IS’ capabilities isn’t helpful, and similarly, in the magical high school duels, the the nature of one’s powers and magic is secondary to how well one can wield said magic and respond to changing circumstances. However, in the case of judo or any other real sport, there are technical elements that are worth conveying to viewers: since all of the participants are constrained by physics and the limits of judo, subtle details like one’s mindset and preferences can give them an edge or disadvantage in a given matchup.

  • Tsumugi is the last member to join Aoba West’s judo club; she originally left to pursue other interests, having felt she wasn’t progressing, she ended up leaving, but inevitably finds herself being drawn back to judo. In a manner of speaking, Tsumugi represents what would’ve likely happened to Michi had the latter committed to quitting judo – over time, she’d probably find herself itching to come back and participate. However, Tsumugi’s outcomes remains positive, and even though she doesn’t have the fullest experience possible, she does manage to find a chance to enjoy what time she does have with Michi and the others.

  • Much of Mō Ippon! is spent portraying the national tournament, and the series manages to strike a balance between showing off the training, the moments of calm in between competition, and the thrill of stepping onto the mat. There’s enough of the secondary moments to show everyone as being human, each with their own motivations and desires, but when the chips are down, Mō Ippon! spares no expense in really showing the matches. In this way, Mō Ippon!‘s competition sequences were quite thrilling, and episodes disappeared in the blink of an eye as a result.

  • Looking back, because of my choice of extracurricular activities in secondary school or during my undergraduate degree, I never did get to go on out-of-town adventures with my classmates. On the other hand, I did participate in the Edgewater Fortunate programme in my final year of middle school, and overnighted with classmates in middle school since I participated in concert band. Similarly, I did travel abroad for conferences during graduate school. As a result, I do know of the excitement that stems from being with friends, away from home.

  • One of Michi’s strongest character traits is that, no matter the situation, nothing seems to get her down – even in light of the knowledge that they’ll be facing against some of Japan’s very best judoka, Michi isn’t terribly worried and therefore, is able to live in the moment. To some, this represents a lack of focus, one that may cost Michi prior to a match, but having been around the block for some time now, I can say with confidence that entering a competition or exam with a relaxed mindset is actually better than coming in tense. This is something I cultivated back during my MCAT days, and I vividly recall how, when entering my undergraduate and graduate thesis defense exams, I’d only been a little nervous.

  • However, I wasn’t thinking about the outcome of the exams, and in this way, it allowed me to take in the moment and roll with whatever punches were thrown at me. This approach serves Michi well enough, and in the first round, she solos a school with only three other competitors. In typical Michi style, however, after things end, she promptly befriends everyone, starting with Sachi Minato, a tall girl who immediately takes a liking to Michi. This aspect of Michi is actually what makes her so endearing to see: although she’s rambunctious and rowdy, she’s also full of surprises. On the floor, she’s a tough foe to bring down, but elsewhere, she befriends everyone she meets.

  • Even those who initially find themselves irritated by Michi’s seeming lack of ability to read the room cannot help but be drawn in. This aspect of Mō Ippon! was reminiscent of Girls und Panzer, where Miho had a similar ability to befriend those she faced in competition. However, whereas Michi is an extrovert and simply gets in people’s faces, Miho’s respect for her opponents and a tendency to experiment with unorthodox techniques leaves her opponents with a renewed sense of excitement as to what’s possible in Panzerfahren.

  • Throughout Mō Ippon!, Michi is chasing the elusive ippon, or “one (full) point”, issued for executing a clean technique against an opponent. As she improves, she finds herself scoring them in matches, filling her with excitement. For executing rougher techniques, a waza-ari is awarded. Judo’s rules for ippon and waza-ari are different than those of karate – at my local club, an ippon is awarded in sparring when one executes a technique in a manner where the opponent does not respond to it successfully. For instance, if I throw a shomen tsuki that my opponent does not react to because they were focused on my mawashi tsuki, said shomen tsuki makes contact with my opponent, and I manage to pull back my strike, then I would score an ippon for landing a clean hit.

  • Thus, the goal in sparring is to focus on landing clean hits and re-chambering swiftly: if I were to contact my opponent, but my opponent blocks me on my way out, no points would be awarded. I tend to adjust my style depending on who I’m sparring: against most opponents at the dōjō, I count on physical strength to block incoming strikes, but more experienced opponents can get around this because if I’m tensed up to absorb strikes, it also leaves me at a split-second disadvantage. Understanding one’s opponent helps with sparring, and this is something that the senior black belts teach. In turn, when I introduce brown belts to sparring, I strive to convey the importance of constantly being mobile, and to try and create openings.

  • Last Tuesday, I returned to help out with my first-ever shōdan exam at the dōjō, and a part of the examination entailed sparring. When I was doing my shōdan some fourteen years earlier, we needed to spar a senior black belt and land an ippon to pass. I still remember that part of the exam: since the black belt I was sparring was taller than I was, I counted on being shorter to get close so his strikes would land behind me, and landed a hit within thirty seconds of starting. There’s a bit of strategy involved with sparring, and brute force, although it can be an asset in some cases, might not always cut it.

  • Having been a Gōjū-ryū practitioner for north of twenty years, I appreciate how martial arts has become an integral part of my life, and this is something Mō Ippon! strove to convey through Michi and Tsumugi. There is something about martial arts that makes it so compelling, and Mō Ippon! suggests that it’s the depth that is possible. Michi and Tsumugi had only experienced a fraction of things, so when the pair end up committing themselves to giving it their all, they learn that there was actually so much more that was worth learning. Tsumugi certainly hadn’t expected to compete again, so when she is able to win over an opponent that wipes Michi and Sanae, she feels that her time with the judo club was well spent.

  • One aspect of Mō Ippon! that isn’t covered is the spirituality of martial arts – traditionally, martial arts emphasises harmony, discipline and restraint. One trains to push themselves further, as it is by testing one’s limits where one truly begins to understand themselves, and in the case of gōjū-ryū, the melding of the hard and soft was a parallel to life, where one must be fluid and adapt, to be hard where hard is necessary, and to be graceful where graceful is appropriate. However, in place of this element, Mō Ippon! does celebrate the idea that growth comes when learning alongside peers, who spur one on. Although Michi had lamented her lack of strength, training with Towa encourages her. In turn, Michi’s own indefatigable spirit motivates each of Towa, Sanae, Anna and Tsumugi.

  • Because Aoba West is largely composed of first-years, it was unlikely that they would have won a national-level event this early in their game. Against their final opponent, Michi, Sanae and Tsumugi are swiftly destroyed. Entering this final round, Anna had looked ahead and found a foe that was terrifying on paper: they’ve won every round so far and are counted as a contender in the national tournament. Anna’s research shakes Sanae the most – she’s reduced to a squeaky puddle at the thought of overwhelmingly powerful opponents.

  • However, Michi’s thought on things is quite different: yes, Aoba West is staring down formidable foes, but at the same time, their opponents are still human, with their own unique traits, likes and dislikes. This particular thought helps ground things, and while Michi is still defeated, she has a great deal of fun sparring her opponent. Michi’s mindset is actually quite important in helping to diffuse the pressure and anxiety, and this is something that is relevant in any competition. Even if one is facing an extraordinary opponent of prodigious skill, they are still facing someone who’s human, someone who’s far from invincible. This is how in the NHL, players are able to step onto the ice and play their best hockey even against exceptional players like Connor McDavid.

  • While the odds of Aoba West actually winning the national tournament with a group of newly-minted judoka was always slim, Mō Ippon! manages to keep excitement up in every match-up: Towa ends up winning her match against an opponent who defeats Michi, Sanae and Tsumugi, and although her opponent ends up being rattled by Towa’s leering smile, for the viewer’s benefit, Shino explains that for Towa, she finds the most enjoyment in prevailing over a powerful foe. However, despite this win, Aoba West comes up short.

  • I was actually caught off-guard by the thirteenth episode, having operated under the assumption that Mō Ippon! was only twelve episodes in length, but having an extra episode did allow the series to properly draw out the final match, where Towa loses to Emma Duran, a French judoka who’s in Japan on an exchange program and is thrilled to square off against someone with precision and tenacity. It’s the first time Towa loses in Mō Ippon!, and it is here that the anime reminds viewers that there’s always more to learn, no matter one’s skill level.

  • This in turn opens the door to growth within a given story. However, while Mō Ippon! is doubtlessly an excellent series that delivers a solid story and satisfactorily detailed portrayal of judo, and the original manga is ongoing, I do not imagine that there will be a continuation unless sales are extremely strong – traditionally, anime adaptations are meant to promote manga and will only receive continuations if their home releases sell well. Successful series get sequels once there’s enough source materials to continue, and series faring poorly in sales halt after one season.

  • Personally, while I’d love to see Mō Ippon! receive a continuation, the current season concludes in a definitive and satisfactory manner, wrapping things up and suggesting that Michi will continue on her pursuit of ippon together with Sanae, Towa and Anna. Here, I remark that, looking around, most discussions of Mō Ippon! are expressing positive sentiments surrounding the series and its outcomes, with viewers praising the portrayal of judo and characters as being Mō Ippon!‘s greatest strengths. Folks without any martial arts background can easily enjoy Mō Ippon! because the characters and their experiences carry the series, but at the same time, the series also walks viewers through some of the nuances so no one gets lost amongst the more technical elements.

  • With this in mind, anyone who has practised martial arts will definitely appreicate what Mō Ippon! does with its portrayal of judo, and in my case, I found immediate parallels between judo and gōjū-ryū karate. This background is why I’ve chosen to approach Mō Ippon! in the way I did, and I do hope that my thoughts provide a glimpse into karate well beyond stereotypical portrayals in films. One small detail that follows the final tournament is how Sanae is mentioned as being an integral part of the Aoba West team despite perhaps lacking Michi’s tenacity and Towa’s skill: although Sanae is defeated in moments, during training and everyday moments, she’s a reliable presence that supports the others, speaking to how even in martial arts, people can contribute and learn in a manner best suited for them.

  • Once the tournament wraps up, Michi and the others swing by the ramen stand that Sachi’s parents own; all tension in the series immediately melts away as everyone enjoys excellent food and good company, with Michi going for fifths at one point. There is no denying the joy that food can bring, and over the past weekend, I ended up trying out a local Chinese restaurant’s house special, the Lobster on Sticky Rice as a part of the evening meal (which also included Chinese Broccoli and beef, white-cut chicken and sweet-and-sour pork). I’ve long felt that Chinese restaurants are the most economical way to enjoy lobster, since the cost is split amongst several people, and the fact that all dishes are communal means being able to try a bit of everything.

  • What impressed me most was how, like Girls und Panzer, rivalries are professional and respectful: outside of competitions, everyone gets along well enough, and Michi even manages to befriend Emma and her fellow judoka. This aspect of Michi’s character suggests to me that even though she’s continued judo, she’s still been able to meet new people, and in this way, Michi never really lost anything despite committing herself to judo. Even though her dreams of finding a boyfriend end, Michi is able to discover a new side of judo she’d never known, and a little bit of extrapolation finds that committing herself wholly to something in this manner would make it easier, not harder, to find a boyfriend.

  • For the present, this aspect of Mō Ippon! will remain unexplored, since judo remains at the heart of the series, and here, the student’s poses for this group photo speaks volumes to how they exit the tournament – Michi is obviously thrilled, and Tsumugi leaves with no regrets. Sanae’s still a little unsure of herself, and Anna’s a little whimsical, excited to see what lies ahead. Towa’s smile is adorable, suggesting that little by little, she’s no longer as shy and closed as she had been previously. The girl who Towa had beaten is still a smidge salty about losing, but this simply going to motivate a future rivalry that drives growth all around.

  • Mō Ippon! had been very disciplined during its run, and with everyone training in every available moment, Michi and the others had almost no opportunity to unwind in a more traditional manner. Once the tournament ends, Michi hits the beach with Towa, Anna, Tsumugi and Sanae, lending itself to this moment as the series’ end credits begin rolling. I will note that a classic anime trope is how the most endowed characters tend to wear shirts over their swimsuit, Aoi Inuyama of Yuru Camp had done the same one episode, resulting in disappointed fans.

  • With summer coming to an end, Michi feels that she’s gotten a completely different experience this time around and is ready to seize whatever the future has to offer. This is a positive ending to Mō Ippon!, leaving viewers with a distinctly positive impression. Being a very pleasant series, Mō Ippon! earns an A grade (4.0 of 4.0, or 9 of 10) – between the strong story, lovable characters and solid technical elements, Mō Ippon! succeeds in bringing judo to life. I’d love to see a karate anime at some point in the future with characters similar to Michi and Towa, but for now, my desire to watch a martial arts anime with kyute girls is satisfied. Before closing this post out, I’ll explain the page quote. Sourced from Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury, it’s an iconic line I’ve adapted to better fit Mō Ippon! – Aoba West’s students definitely aren’t weak.

Michi’s return to judo in Mō Ippon! precipitates a series of invaluable life lessons that contribute to everyone’s growth in the judo club. Sanae becomes more confident, while Towa learns to open up. Tsumugi realises that there had been value in her participating in the judo club, and Anna gains the inspiration to finally follow her heart and give judo a go, despite having done kendo all her life. While Michi had intended to live an ordinary life in secondary school, the relative ease that she was drawn back to judo also speaks to how strongly martial arts impacts one’s life; the sorts of discipline and spirituality that lies the heart of every school, and every style, instils in one a determination for self-improvement and focus, to see what’s possible when one pushes themselves harder. Despite her past setbacks being quite discouraging, Michi’s compelled to try things out again, speaking to the irresistible pull that martial arts exerts on its practitioners. Another one of Mō Ippon!‘s strengths lies here; in a bit of a parallel, I recall my own experiences as a Okinawa Gōjū-ryū karateka. I’ve been training for over twenty years, and reached nidan. When the global health crisis began, classes stopped, and for a few years, I ceased to practise my martial arts. However, over these past few years, an itch existed in the back of my mind, and earlier this year, I finally returned to the dōjō. I found myself surprised at how quickly I was able to pick up on things again: over the years, I’d forgotten the newer kata, such as seipai, seisan and kururunfa, along with the weapon katas. On my first class, it felt a little strange to drop back into nunchaku kata without missing a beat, despite having not practised at all for a few years. However, over the next few weeks, I quickly picked things back up, and just last week, I helped out with overseeing a shōdan exam. It was surprising as to how natural everything felt, speaking to how ingrained martial arts has become for me. Mō Ippon! fully, and completely captures this aspect of martial arts: although Michi may have wanted to quit, it is unlikely she would’ve been able to do so as a result of the mentality and discipline she picked up in her earlier experiences. In having her return to judo and learning about new details she previously had no exposure to, Mō Ippon! acts as a visceral portrayal of just how deep martial arts can be, and how tightly the learnings become as a part of an individual. Mō Ippon! does all of this with a rivetting story, gorgeously-animated matches and a very lovable cast whose journey holds the viewer’s attention every step of the way. Despite perhaps being a more understated anime, Mō Ippon! is a worthwhile watch, offering a modicum of insight into the mindset and mentality of martial arts in an accessible and engaging fashion.

Mō Ippon! – Review and Reflection After Three

我係精武館最水皮嘅徒弟, 我想試吓日本拳頭嘅味道!” –陳真, 精武門

After suffering a devastating defeat during the middle school judo competition, Michi Sonoda enters secondary school with her heart set on having a bittersweet romance. However, it turns out that her opponent, Towa Hiura, had longed to get to know Michi better and to this end, ended up enrolling at the same school as Michi and her best friend, Sanae Takigawa. In spite of herself, Michi ends up swinging by the judo club and, at Sanae’s behest, decides to pick up judo again: the judo club is in danger of being disbanded from lack of members, and Towa had been so excited to join. Seeing this, Michi decides to return; she reveals that she’d been disappointed that she hadn’t improved despite having practised judo since primary school, but seeing everyone’s spirits spurs her on. Meanwhile, Sanae struggles to convince her parents to sign her permission form, and Towa finds it difficult to approach Michi, worrying that she might still be upset with the manner of her defeat. As it turns out, Michi’s not concerned with things and looks forwards to training alongside Towa. Later, Sanae and Michi are shocked when they physical education instructor turns out to be a hulking, no-nonsense man. However, when his comments go too far, fellow instructor Shino Natsume steps in and subdues him. She reveals herself as the judo club’s advisor and, after flipping Towa during training, remarks that she trained alongside her students to reach her current level of skill. Encouraged, Michi and Sanae begin preparing for a competition, but after Towa runs into her previous club’s members, she reveals to Michi and Sanae that with her previous judo club, she’d become disliked after her skill allowed her to be selected for competition over a senior. On the day of the competition, with Michi’s encouragement, Towa decides that she’ll compete in the middle slot to face off against her senior. This is Mō Ippon! (Ippon Again!), an adaptation of Yu Muraoka’s manga which had begun running in 2018. Since then, twenty-one volumes have been released, and Mō Ippon!‘s anime opens with the tried-and-true idea of people returning to an activity despite their yearning for a fresh start.

The premise of being drawn back into an activity is not new, and stories have previously employed this as a means of motivating their characters to see things from a new perspective. It is difficult for people to make sweeping changes to their habits or traits, and the expression “a leopard cannot change its spots” mirrors this: Michi may desire to do something else with her time as a secondary student, but she inevitably finds herself pulled back to judo. In the process, she’s now able to meet Towa, who promises Michi that this time around, training won’t be as brutal as Michi had known it, and with this, a fateful encounter sets Michi back along the path of jacket wrestling. With Michi’s participation in judo assured, the remainder of Mō Ippon! can therefore be devoted towards giving Michi a chance to learn and grow, as well as experience the things she otherwise had not thought possible even though she’d been participating in judo. The smallest hint of this is seen in the second episode: when old habits return, Michi and Sanae begin practising while they’re tasked with returning the tatami mats to the storage room, and this ends up drawing a crowd of impressed onlookers, including several of the male students. While Michi’s path is just beginning here in Mō Ippon!, that she’s committed to judo again means the series is able to explore different aspects of the sport, things like sportsmanship and discipline, and the importance of maintaining an open mind. These are mainstays in anime, but what’s exciting is that there is no real limit or constraint to what messages can be portrayed within Mō Ippon!: so far, beyond returning to judo and competing to improve herself, Mō Ippon! has not defined a concrete goal yet, and this means that over the course of the anime, I rather look forwards to being pleasantly surprised.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • While I’m not a judoka, I am a nidan practitioner of the Okinawa Gōjū-ryū (hard-soft style) school of martial arts, and I’ve been training since I was nine. If memory serves, my parents enrolled me in the class because the dōjōchō had been a combat instructor with the Hong Kong police force and knew one of my relatives. When I started, I remember being quite casual until reaching green belt, after which I began having fun with taking things more seriously. Although I have troubles with memorising everything, the things I do know, I know enough to help teach. However, since it has been some time since I’ve been to the dōjō (on account of the global health crisis), I’ve become very rusty, and now I understand how my senpai feel when they comment on having forgotten the shishochin kata.

  • Judo is the focus in Mō Ippon!, and unlike karate, which emphasises strikes, judo is all about grappling and throws. As a karateka, if I were facing off against someone like Michi or Towa, my first inclination would be to keep my distance, strike swiftly and retreat even more hastily before I can be grabbed. In the event I am grabbed, Gōjū-ryū does provides its practitioners with a variety of techniques for escaping and maintaining distance, but beyond this, I’d likely be in trouble if the judoka knew what they were doing, since they have access to a wider range of techniques for the ground. Of course, the whole point of martial arts and self-defense is recognising how to get out of a bad situation first – a martial artist knows when not to throw a punch.

  • In Mō Ippon!, things open with judoka Michi participating in her final competition of middle school. Having given up a great deal of her time to the sport of judo, Michi wants to explore other aspects of life, and so, she’s decided that after this competition, she’s hanging up her gi. Before then, however, she wanted to score an ippon (一本) – in judo, this is a full point, awarded for throws, holds and pins. However, her opponent is the skillful and powerful Towa. Unaware of her opponent’s prowess, Michi is defeated and humiliated.

  • Towa reminds me a great deal of Strike Witches‘ Mio Sakamoto and Love Hina‘s Matoko Aoyama – she’s a severe-looking girl and is voiced by Chiyuki Miura, a relatively new voice actress. On the other hand, Michi is voiced by Ayasa Itō, who had previously played GochiUsa BLOOM‘s Miki and Slow Start‘s Tamate Momochi. In the aftermath of her loss, Michi’s best friend, Sanae, is mortified to learn that Michi’s funny face during her loss was captured and uploaded onto the internet for the whole world to check out.

  • Despite the loss dampening Michi’s desire to end her time in judo with a bang, she’s still in fine spirits and expresses to her friends that she’s rather looking forwards to secondary school, where she’ll have more time to really experience youth in all of its glory. Her reaction surprises Anna, a classmate who’s in kendo: Anna’s constantly trying to pry Michi and Sanae away from judo into kendo, and a recurring joke in Mō Ippon! is that Michi and Sanae constantly leave Anna in the dust.

  • Anna resembles a slightly more haughty version of Houkago Teibou Nisshi‘s Hina Tsurugi and Blue Thermal‘s Tamaki Tsuru. Curiously enough, Blue Thermal had Tamaki looking to enjoy her youth in post-secondary. When one’s been around anime for a non-trivial amount of time, similarities begin to appear in the shows one watches, but I’ve never been too bothered by this because every story has its own distinctions that make them unique. Even though a premise or outcome might feel familiar, the most important part of any series is how the characters end up at a milestone or conclusion, and how their learnings along the way help them to be better people.

  • Sanae, being Michi’s best friend, had been there with her throughout middle school and judo. While she’s not quite as experienced as Michi and had previously sustained an injury, she remains a steadfast presence in Michi’s life. Sanae’s appearance suggests someone who is a bit bookish, and she’s voiced by Yukari Anzai, whose breakout role was as Cue!‘s Miharu Yomine. I still have yet to check Cue! out – an adaptation of a mobile game, Cue! began airing a year ago and is said to be a reasonably enjoyable watch.

  • Had Mō Ippon! allowed Michi to do her own thing, the series would end here and now. One thing I appreciated was how the anime wastes no time in pulling her back into the world of judo: had the series spent an inordinate amount of time portraying Michi being conflicted by things, there’d be less time for the highlight. Instead, circumstances nudge Michi back into judo swiftly, and she ends up recalling why she’d trained so hard – the thrill of a good throw or hold had captivated her, and nothing was more satisfying than hearing the judge yell out, ippon.

  • This is where Mō Ippon!‘s namesake comes from: Michi had always longed to score them in competition, but she became discouraged after realising she hadn’t improved despite spending all that time in judo, and seeing people out in the world excelling despite having trained for a shorter period than herself probably accelerated her wish to do other things. When exploring the clubs at their new school, Anna decides to make another attempt to recruit Michi and Sanae, but owing this school’s circumstances, the judo and kendo clubs share the same space.

  • To Michi’s surprise, Towa has also enrolled in the same school, and she’s quite adamant about breaking out the tatami so they can begin training immediately, even though the judo club is on the verge of being disbanded on account of a lack of members. Towa immediately tries to pull Michi over to join her, prompting a jealous Anna to tug Michi back and join the kendo club. Seeing what’s about to happen, Sanae gives Anna a gentle nudge, and Michi ends up flipping Towa. Sanae might have a quiet personality, but this moment shows that when the chips are down, she knows how to give her friends a nudge.

  • In this case, recalling the old thrill of a good throw reminds Michi that she was being dishonest to herself about quitting judo, and what’s more, with the right people in her corner, it is possible to push herself further and improve. Michi thus agrees to join the judo club, and with Sanae accompanying her, the judo club now has its requisite three members to become reinstated. I’ve noticed that in anime and manga, the minimum number of club members tends to vary, and while this can be explained away as a result of different schools having different regulations, I wonder if it’s also done for the author’s convenience – the character count can affect a story’s ability to help readers connect to the characters, and depending on the story and character backgrounds, having fewer characters initially allow their relationships to be fleshed out to a greater extent.

  • While Towa is brutal when participating in judo, off the tatami mat, she’s quite shy and finds it difficult to speak up. Her original motivation for attending the same school as Michi was because she’d been drawn in by Michi’s never-give-up attitude and spirit, and while she lacked the resolve to approach Michi back at the tournament, she has since wanted to befriend the boisterous judoka. Martial arts is often touted as an aid in confidence, but in fiction, it’s often portrayed as a silver bullet that can make an extrovert out of an introvert. To see Mō Ippon! depict characters as being shy despite martial artists was a refreshing nod to reality.

  • For the second episode, the focus is on Sanae as she tries to convince her parents to allow her to continue participating in judo; since Sanae had suffered several injuries previously, and since secondary school is a time of study, her parents believe that it is in Sanae’s interest to quit judo and wholly devote herself to securing a spot in her post-secondary of choice. I can see where Sanae’s parents are coming from: one must be focused in order to do their best, and I recall how in both my final year of secondary school, and in my final year of undergraduate studies, I sat out my extracurricular activities where appropriate.

  • The advantage of participating in extracurricular activities anyways actually outweighs the disadvantages, and with the right time management, balancing both allows the mind to regroup and rest from the other activities. If one tires of studying, extracurricular activities act as a break. Similarly, when extracurricular activities begin to become difficult, one could always resume their studies. As Michi and Sanae take the tatami mats back to the storehouse after Towa’s latest attempt to bring them back out, Michi becomes lost in memories of old.

  • Soon after, Michi and Sanae end up actually practising judo out in the open, drawing the interest of some onlookers. As it turns out, Sanae was actually quite keen on rejoining, but finds it difficult to convey to her parents this desire. Character traits like these normally take whole seasons to iron out, so when Mō Ippon! addresses this right out of the gates, it may foreshadow that the story’s going to continue advancing at a good pace. I am reminded of Tari Tari, which had done something similar: Konatsu manages to assemble a choir so she can perform after the second episode, but having achieved her goal so early, the story has this choir dissolve shortly after, leaving her to explore other avenues later.

  • The infamous “bread rush” in anime is something that some shows have portrayed vividly – K-On! and Azumanga Daioh have both shown how chaotic lunch hour is for students who wish to buy bread from the school store. As a freshmen, Towa is unprepared for things, but the attendant staffing the store was kind enough to let her buy something once the other students finish their orders. In K-On!, the “bread rush” was only mentioned briefly, when Jun mentions that the senior students’ being away on a class trip means it’s finally possible to buy a chocolate baguette.

  • It turns out Towa had been trying to get a chance to speak with Michi for the whole of the day and ends up treating her to the bread she’d managed to pick up earlier. She reveals that she’s only at her most confident when wearing her gi, and after donning it, she properly apologises to Michi, who’s simultaneously conversing with Sanae and Anna. Despite her haughty manner, Anna hangs out with Michi and Sanae quite a bit, and while she’s always always trying to sell the merits of kendo and being given the short end of the stick, I do get the feeling that the three are on fairly friendly terms despite their bickering.

  • Because Michi is not one to hold a grudge, she immediately welcomes Towa into things. Seeing Towa overcome her shyness compels Sanae to do the same. Once Sanae ends up convincing her father to sign the form, the judo club has enough members to become reinstated, and this allows for Mō Ippon! to really begin focusing on its area of specialisation. Early in the game, Mō Ippon! is all about getting the club back together, but through solid writing, Mō Ippon! simultaneously uses the beginning to give some insight into the series’ characters and their traits, as well as showing how each of Michi, Towa and Sanae already have an intrinsic drive for self improvement.

  • Here, I will explain the origin of the page quote: it’s sourced from Bruce Lee’s 1972 film, Fist of Fury. After Chen Zhen (Lee) swings by a Japanese dōjō to return a sign that reads “Sick men of the East”, he challenges the students and destroys them in a fight. Prior to the fight, Chen Zhen introduces himself as “the weakest student of the Jingwu School”, declaring that he wants to get a taste of Japanese martial arts. While the Japanese martial artists initially laugh at him, Chen Zhen ends up surprising them with his uncommonly brutal fighting techniques. This sort of thing makes for an excellent movie scene, and while Fist of Fury is not known for its deep plot or nuance, it has become treated as an iconic part of Hong Kong cinema.

  • Mō Ippon! isn’t a story of revenge and injustice – it’s a tale of self-improvement with a gentle dose of humour and slice-of-life. I’m not expecting any Yuen Wo Ping levels of choreography here in Mō Ippon!, but this isn’t going to stop me from drawing on my own martial arts experience to see how well this anime can deliver its story, and I did feel that Bruce Lee’s desire to see what Japanese martial arts was about is no different than Michi’s own desire to improve in judo, even if the circumstances vary dramatically. Shortly after the judo club is reinstated, Sanae and Michi end up having a spirited disagreement about whether or not they were revived or restored. Sanae asks Towa to hang onto her glasses so she and Michi can settle things out of doors.

  • After a harrowing few moments when Mō Ippon! leads viewers to the impression that the hulking instructor is the advisor for judo, Shino appears and flips him, before proceeding to warn Michi and Sanae about the importance of training under supervision. As it turns out, she’s the judo club advisor. Earlier, Sanae had been fantasising about what their advisor would be like, and the moment gives another bit of insight into Sanae; it appears that she likes otome games.

  • When the first session begins, Shino promptly flips Towa with such finesse and power that Michi and Sanae are blown away. Although a part of Michi had been disappointed by the fact that she hadn’t improved, her optimism is boundless, and now, she realises that being in the same club with someone as skilled as Towa, and an instructor who understands judo on top of what it takes to improve, means that there’s plenty of room for growth. The three thus begin training in earnest for the first competition of Mō Ippon!‘s run.

  • With a competition coming up so quickly, it becomes clear that Mō Ippon! is pulling no punches; although there’s been plenty of slice-of-life moments, the series also gives viewers a clear idea of where it’s intending to go. Hitting the ground running means there’s more time for sports, and along the way, viewers are given an overview of the different techniques and rules surrounding judo. These elements come together to make for a series that looks very promising.

  • After a training session, Towa, Sanae and Michi swing by a family restaurant that is modelled after Denny’s. Mid-meal, Towa runs into her old classmates and fellow judoka, who come about after a mistake leads a parfait to be delivered to Michi. The moment shows that Michi is an extrovert and more than capable of joining any conversation, but her biggest shortcoming, in Sanae’s words, is that she’s quite oblivious to the emotional tenour. The arrival of said former classmates creates a sense of seriousness that Michi misses, and she presses on even after being told to cool her jets.

  • The severity of the conversation brought to mind memories of Girls und Panzer, where Miho had similarly run into her older sister, Maho, at a café. As it turns out, Towa had been a skilled judoka, and in middle school, she’d been selected to compete over a senior. This created a rift between Towa and her old classmates, who felt that she’d waltzed and taken all of the glory. The situation here reminds me of Hibike! Euphonium, where considerable drama had occurred when Reina had dazzled the instructors with her trumpet skills and was chosen to play the solo, even though a senior was originally slated to do so. The idea of seniority is an integral part of Japanese culture, where juniors are expected to observe etiquette and defer to their seniors.

  • This stands in stark contrast with North American values, where people are encouraged to put their best forward and excel. The cultural differences are why, when Hibike! Euphonium aired, viewers found it perplexing that choosing Reina was such a big deal to the rest of Kitauji’s senior band members. The idea of individualism versus collectivism is one of the largest points of contention in anime – what may be trivial to Japanese viewers may cause a controversy for foreign viewers, and similarly, the Japanese may emphasise something that seems inconsequential to foreign viewers. At the end of the day, it is worth comparing and contrasting both viewpoints, although I will remark that attempting to say one is better than the other isn’t going to be too productive.

  • Back in Mō Ippon!, while one may see Michi as being unaware of the mood in a room, she does have a talent for bringing people back on their feet. Shino’s spotted this, and Sanae comments this is how Michi is – after seeing Towa down after she ran into old classmates, Michi ends up encouraging her during training in her own manner. The light-hearted moments in Mō Ippon! appear to be quite dominant, and the overall tone of this series suggests that, even if some moments do become more serious, the series will retain a more easygoing aesthetic about it.

  • From a visual standpoint, Mō Ippon! isn’t exceptional in artwork and background detail, but things are rendered in a consistent manner, and the animation during judo sequences is of a high standard. The technical aspects of Mō Ippon! are satisfactory, and I expect that the best choreography will be observed during judo-focused moments. Mō Ippon! is produced by Tatsunoko Production. This studio’s got a lengthy history, but a quick glance at their list of work finds that I’ve only watched one of their previous titles before: Wake Up, Girls!.

  • Discussions on Mō Ippon! elsewhere on the ‘net is very limited at the present: outside of brief reactions, I’ve not seen any further conversation on martial arts and the like. Series like Mō Ippon! admittedly tend to generate very little excitement and are more likely to interest folks who enjoy slice-of-life, or possess a particular knowledge in an area. In my case, while I don’t do judo, I am a martial artist, and I am a proponent of slice-of-life anime, so watching and writing about this one wasn’t a particularly tough decision.

  • We are therefore set to see what happens during the tournament. At present, my expectations for Michi and her friends aren’t high because this early in the game, it makes little sense to have them be powerhouses, even though everyone does have judo experience. Instead, what matters during this first competition will be seeing how each of Michi, Sanae and Towa handle things. Three episodes in, Mō Ippon! has my attention, and in a relatively quiet season, this anime represents one of the two series I will be actively following, with the other being Bofuri‘s second season.

Having practised martial arts for most of my life, I’ve found that the most valuable takeaways from learning martial arts isn’t the self-defense or improving one’s physical prowess. Instead, it is the cultivation of discipline and mental fortitude that make martial arts so valuable. The way I practise is quite different than what makes for an interesting story; I do not compete actively, and instead, partake in martial arts for self-improvement in both physical and spiritual terms. However, martial arts extends well beyond this, and works of fiction emphasis the combat aspect of martial arts for the sake of entertainment. So far in Mō Ippon!, judo acts as the metaphor and tangible activity that brings Towa, Sanae and Michi closer together, helping them to discover their best selves and in the process, overcome their individual shortcomings. However, in addition to the more visceral act of throwing people, Mō Ippon! has also begun exploring the mindset behind judo: once instructor Shino begins advising Michi and the others, Michi is surprised to learn that there is more to judo than being physically stronger than her opponents, and that there is also a mind-body connection. This is what allowed her to throw Towa without effort, and even take on the significantly larger male physical education instructor who’d been intimidating Michi and her friends. Because martial arts is traditionally seen as being very Japanese, I am curious to see how the physical aspects of judo are presented in Mō Ippon!, alongside the mental and spiritual aspects. This anime is off to a strong start, and with Michi, Towa and Sanae already at their first tournament of the year, I am left in anticipation of seeing where everyone’s efforts end up taking them.