“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.