Olympic Sports in Manga and Anime

I was really impressed by this post on Mahou Josei about the Yawara! anime.  I’ve heard of the series before — I was vaguely aware that it was by URASAWA Naoki of 20th Century Boys and Monster fame — but to be honest, it didn’t seem interesting enough to warrant a second glance. Also, an anime made in the 80s? That’s practically ancient.

All that changed this week. Even as I’m typing this, I have the television on mute, glancing occasionally at the beach men’s beach volleyball match between the US and the Czech Republic. Because it’s hard not to get caught up in Olympic fever, and even though I wouldn’t usually watch half of the sports normally, it’s different when it’s the Olympics.

I looked up the first couple of chapters of Yawara! and I can only imagine how inspiring the series must have been to the Japanese as the 1992 Olympics approached. The 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games were the first time that women’s judo was a medaled event. In the manga, Yawara was being trained by her grandfather to win the gold medal and the National Medal of Honor in women’s judo.  Yawara, in turn, wanted nothing more than to be a normal teenage girl.

Other than Yawara!, there are a small handful of series where the end goal is the main character competing in the Olympics: Hikari no Densetsu (rhythmic gymnastics), Ganba! Fly High (men’s gymnastics), Attacker You! and Makoto Call! (women’s volleyball). Unfortunately, this trend of seems to have ended around the 2000 Olympics. Is Japan just not interested in the Olympics as they used to be? Or are sports manga just not as compelling as the sports themselves? After all, why wait for a weekly installment of fictional characters playing a sport when it’s just as easy to turn on the television or look up videos on the web of real-life human beings playing the sport.

Personally, I’m a little sad that sports manga and anime are waning in popularity. I’ve always found them entertaining, there have been a few that were pedantic, but even then, those series were always amusing. Maybe I’ll take Mahou Josei’s advice and pick up the DVD set of Yawara! It’s only $20, after all.