Ayane’s High Kick

Central Park Media,
NTSC Import, approx £15.

From a British perspective, it’s almost impossible to grasp the penetration of wrestling into Japanese popular culture: there are two weekly magazines devoted to the topic, the leading stars are treated with a reverence that would shock those who sneer at the “sport”, and there are nods to it in all manner of fields. In anime, for example, it’s a matter of record that the Dirty Pair had both their names and their costumes based on those of wrestling tag-team the Beauty Pair, while their organization, the WWWA, is also the name of a federation. Once you start looking, you begin to see this kind of stuff cropping up all over the place.

‘Ayane’s High Kick’ is, however, more obvious than most. Though its central theme is cliché #4 – “schoolgirl heroine overcomes obstacles to achieve her dream” – the dream in question is to become a pro wrestler, and fight Manami Toyota. The obstacles too are a little unusual, since they include a manager who insists she’s only good enough for kick-boxing. While there is nothing really new in the execution, it’s notable for the in-jokes, which will delight any fan, and completely baffle everyone else.

Manami Toyota vs.  manga Manami — from a comic-book autobiography

For example, in one fight Ayane’s opponent antagonises her by disparagingly referring to her idol Toyota as a circus acrobat, which if you’re unfamiliar with Toyota’s high-flying style, will simply not be funny. This kind of thing runs through the two episodes here: there are quickfire nods to the likes of Yumiko Hotta, Aja Kong, and the various federations, as well as a cameo appearance by Toyota herself. And there are probably a bunch more that even I missed.

These help to diffuse the tedium, caused by the fact that… well, there’s not much else here of note. Neither the characters not the plotline are especially memorable, though you do get a certain feeling for the tough training that the fighters go through. It’s giving little away to say that Ayane ends up with a 2-0 record, as you never feel she’s in serious danger of losing – ­the animators could have done with some lessons from the WWWA in the art of making fights look realistic. Still, I’d be inclined to watch future episodes, largely for the pleasure to be had in spotting the references to wrestling. Hence, it deserves a rating of C+ for wrestling fans, D- for anyone else.

[Here seems a good place to thank some people for their help with this section: Brian Bower, for introducing me to the delights of such things and sparking my enthusiasm with his, Hideyuki Shimura and Jeff Lynch for tapes, the residents of the women’s wrestling mailing list, Miko for pics, Kim Lyon at Quantum Leap, Andrew Walmsley for beers and chat, and housemates Steve+Abigail for enduring barbed-wire deathmatches above and beyond the call of duty.]