Welcome, one and all, to the first non-update MDM posting of 2017! So, this is my first straight up anime review in a while, and it’s a surprising one by my standards: Keijo!!!!!!!! (AKA Hip Whip Girl). On the surface, it appears to be well outside my usual taste in shows, but if Crunchyroll of the Dice taught me anything, it’s that trying different types of shows can be rewarding. So, let’s see how I got on.
Background: The original manga is written and illustrated by Daichi Sorayomi, and began serialising in Weekly Shonen Sunday on July 2013. The anime is produced by Xebec, famed primarily for Love Hina, but also responsible for a plethora of others including Elemental Gelade, Rio: Rainbow Gate!, To Love-Ru and Pokémon Origins.
In terms of story, we follow a group of keijo players as they train with the goal of going pro. Keijo is a fictional sport where women head down to swimming pool styled arenas and stand on floating platforms. Their goal is to knock their opponent either into the water or off their feet. To do so, they may only use their breasts and buttocks. Our main star is Nozomi Kaminashi, a gymnast who gave up her Olympic dreams to take up keijo in an attempt to earn enough money to get herself and her siblings out of poverty.
As an interesting aside here, the base rules of sumo are that you must knock your opponent out of the ring or forcing them to touch the ground with something other than the soles of their feet. Punching, kicking, and gouging are all barred. When you look at it like that, keijo is to a degree a water based sumo.
The Good: When I first saw the trailer for this on Crunchyroll, I honestly thought that it looked terrible. The focus was on the idea that keijo is a sport, and it all seemed liked a ridiculous attempt at creating the sort of fan service focussed show that leaves most people scratching their heads and uttering the phrase, “Oh, Japan…” Even so, I sat down to give the show a crack and to my surprise found that it was actually a lot more entertaining than I expected.
In terms of the titular fictional sport, it really is as silly as it seemed on the trailer. While the trailer painted itself up a little more seriously than was warranted though (at least in my opinion), the series itself makes no effort to mask the daftness of it all. Instead of trying to portray keijo as something realistic, it goes full on shonen battle with it. By that I mean gravity defying flips, energy taking on the form of animals, the inexplicable creation of ripples in the air and all sorts of other wacky things that wouldn’t look out of place as special moves attached to a zanpakuto in Bleach. Want examples? How about super moves with names like the ‘Vacuum Butt Cannon’ and the Street Fighter influenced ‘ShoRyuCans’. Strangely, so openly acknowledging the idea as anything other than legitimate helped legitimise it as a premise for me (something taking itself more seriously than it should can sometimes irk me).
Of course, being able to identify what you are does not always save a show from falling apart. Even if you look at something silly like Ranma 1/2, it still had a large cast of characters to fall back on, each of which went out of their way to be likeable (or at the very least interesting). In a way, Keijo!!!!!!!! kinda reminds me of said show insofar as it seems to attempt to do a similar thing with its characters. The short run format does mean that it doesn’t have as much room to work with in that respect, but it’s still workable. Due to one slight story-telling flaw, Nozomi doesn’t really progress beyond being too much more than a standard shonen hero in some ways, but the supporting cast do at least pick up the slack a bit. In particular, Sayaka Miyata’s arc of trying to win her father’s approval after ditching her championship judo skills for swimsuit fighting is pretty well handled. On top of that, what many of the other cast members lack in pure character development, they make up for with interesting quirks, such as the way Rin’s hair randomly spikes into cat ears when she’s battling at speed, or Kotone’s love of BL audio dramas and her ability to attack with her back turned. Even the short-term protagonists that we come across have their own unique qualities to set up some interesting battles. Were their styles created purely to provide certain foils for the heroes? Probably, but hey, that worked for Joss Whedon when he wrote Buffy, so who am I to complain?
Another thing that surprised me with Keijo!!!!!!!! is that it isn’t as fan service heavy as I’d expected. Yes, the battles themselves feature both swimsuits and attacks that lend themselves to ridiculous camera angles and so on, but a lot of what’s on show is pretty tame for the most part. Take the final four episodes for example. These episodes cover a short story arc where the training school’s best have a tournament against a rival school’s top students. Two of these episodes gave rise to scenarios where there could have been topless nudity akin to some of the 90’s anime hits, but it never materialised. Why? Because hands, hair and bodies were used to cover everything that wasn’t on show normally during the series. It’s still a little more than I can really say is necessary, but I do applaud the show for not pushing things as far as some do.
Running to only twelve episodes, Keijo!!!!!!!! also does a good job of not outstaying its welcome. Let’s be completely honest here, no matter how good the execution, trying to string this into a fifty-two episode epic would be ludicrous. Keeping it short, speeding through what it needs to, and keeping the pace up throughout was absolutely the best choice to make here.
The Bad: Despite finding more to praise than I could have imagined, Keijo!!!!!!!! did drop the ball for me a few times. Or to be more precise, it dropped the ball in respect of two characters.
First up, our leading lady, Nozomi Kaminashi. Remember how the opening premise mentions that she wants to get herself and her siblings out of poverty? Well, I’m not sure that the writers did. It does get alluded to early on, but somehow, that desire seems to fade away before we even hit the half-way mark. Yes, the focus did need to shift to other characters at times, but you would have thought that things would at least swing back around to that point a bit more. More details as to why they’re in poverty, how bad it is, what role Nozomi had in the family before she joined up, how they’re coping without her and so on … We really needed more of that to connect with her fully. As it stands, we got a battler that doesn’t give up and comes across as likeable, but she never hits the heights that she could. As we used to say at the wrestling, getting the crowd to like you is no good. You want them to love you, because people will buy things related to something they love, but are less likely to with something they only like. It’s a minor gripe given the entertainment value of the show, but a gripe nonetheless.
Next up, the half-British, half-Japanese Elite Class Player, Mio Kusakai. While it could be argued that her design is kinda an older, more mature Chitoge from Nisekoi, that isn’t my big problem with her. Mio is responsible for two things in Keijo!!!!!!!! One, she pulls off the moves that edge a little too far over the fan service line for my liking, and two, this occurs because she fulfils the role of being a predatory lesbian. I don’t just mean she flirts with everything that moves, I mean she essentially assaults her fellow players both in training and in matches. There is absolutely no need for that, and it basically just places her in the same position as Kuroko (A Certain Scientific Rail Gun) for me. This trope plays out a fair bit in anime, and it is honestly ridiculous. The worst thing about it for me is that characters who play this role aren’t properly chastised for it. Instead, they’re supposed to be funny. Yeah, propagating a negative stereotype is hilarious, right? Try no.
Subbed or Dubbed: The dub is apparently airing on Funimation, though I haven’t seen it. I can’t see any names in the cast list that really stand out to me as instantly recognisable, but I did notice that the VA for Nozomi has also appeared in the Five Night’s at Freddy’s franchise. That’s pretty cool. I watched the subbed version on Crunchyroll and I can’t honestly say that there were any bad performances. The cast wasn’t ground-breaking, but they were certainly strong, so I have no complaints.
Final View: I could easily have titled this review with a pun like ‘Butt … I should hate this.’ In truth, the series is not going to be remembered in the same way as things like Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, ERASED, or Death Note. Both the overly silly premise and the few character failings already mentioned guarantee that it will never be a regular number one on people’s top anime lists. If you want a short, fun show that offers a few surprises and isn’t afraid of being a bit silly though, this is a good shout.
Final Score: 4 / 5