Back during the late eighties I used to be a big fan of the WWF (now called the WWE due to a dispute with a well known nature conservation group.) Alas as I grew older my interests shifted from the squared circle to Premier League football pitches. These days I barely keep up with “sports entertainment” as modern wrestlers lack the charisma of Macho Man Randy Savage or the technical skills of Brett Hart. Perhaps I would still be interested in the sport if it were anything like Wanna Be the Strongest in the World. This twelve episode anime series (known as Sekai de Ichiban Tsuyoku Naritai in its native Japan) features female grapplers who wear wrestling attire that is ill suited for containing their colossal mammaries.
Wanna Be the Strongest in the World stars a pop idol singer named Sakura Hagiwara who fronts the popular all girl group Sweet Diva. One day a promotional tour takes Sakura and her band mate Elena Miyazawa to a gym where female athletes are coached in the ways of pro-wrestling. Whilst visiting the premise, Elena disrespects the training facilities incurring the wrath of a sadistic brawler named Rio Kazama. Rio retaliates by placing Elena in an excruciating submission hold before mocking the singers for being complete bimbos. Determined to uphold the honour of pop idols everywhere Sakura challenges Rio to a wrestling match. The resulting bout sees Sakura get pulverized much like Leona Lewis facing Brock Lesnar in a fight.
Unperturbed by the humiliating loss Sakura challenges Rio to a rematch. Rio agrees under one condition – Sakura must abandon her pop idol career and instead become a full time wrestler. Surprisingly the busty singer agrees to the stipulation faster than you can bite into a Slim Jim. Sakura’s baptism into the wrestling industry doesn’t go well initially, but under the tutelage of champion Misaki Toyoda she eventually becomes an accomplished competitor. The gruelling training regime she suffered may be for naught though. Just when the wrestling community begins to accept Sakura into the fold she is confronted by a luchadora named Blue Panther. The masked beauty demands that Sakura quit the ring unless she can best her in a match. Insert dramatic music here.
My rating for Wanna Be the Strongest in the World is three stars. I don’t get the opportunity to watch many sport centric shows so this anime ended up being a delightful treat. Although the cast is lacking in memorable personalities I was still able to get behind the underdog tale of Sakura triumphing over adversity. From a production values point of view the series clearly doesn’t have a huge budget to play with, but it still accomplished its objective of recreating the original manga’s artwork to a satisfactory standard. The lack of dazzle is barely noticeable as the in ring action keeps gravity defying acrobatics to a minimum, instead favouring more slow based duels were opponents counter each others submission moves.
Critics have universally panned the cartoon for being a lowbrow fan service show, which I feel is a little harsh. The cast is no sexier than the well-endowed ladies found in most other animes and their clothing doesn’t disintegrate into thin air, like some other examples I could mention. The eye candy on offer is restricted to a few tame shower scenes, although harder to defend is the show’s fascination with extreme crotch close-ups. Instead of the visuals I think the opening episodes may be what puts most viewers off. The first story arc has Sakura suffering an incredibly long losing streak. Although realistic, given her pampered background, the way she continuously succumbs to the same painful manoeuvre makes her come across as a whiny crybaby.
In Sakura’s defence, her mentor shouldn’t have taken so long to teach her how to escape the hold in question. The show however requires some suspension of disbelief to enjoy. This applies to the manner in which interference and weapon usage go unpunished during matches, along with the contrived episode twelve finale. The decision whether Sakura will ultimately sacrifice wrestling or singing wraps up a little too nicely for my cynical tastes. Overall Wanna Be the Strongest in the World is no classic, but I still managed to enjoy it for what it was. If the WWE Divas could match this Sweet Diva’s wrestling talent I would perhaps still follow the sport.