Monday, June 13, 2011

A Blast From The Past (But New For Me): Battle Athletes Victory, episodes 1-13

How did I go for so long without watching this series? I kept forgetting to watch it, but finally got around to it this past week. It's a yuri sci-fi classic from the 90's, with a goofy sense humor that pleasantly reminds me of the 90's sci-fi comedies I watched a lot in the early aughts, like Tenchi and Saber Marionette J. (I must add it to my next yuri panel.)

Battle Athletes Victory takes place way in the future, when the biggest athletic event is the interplanetary Cosmo Beauty contest, held to determine who the strongest athlete is. (It has nothing to do with beauty.) Only three women can be chosen from each planet and sent to the University Satellite in space to compete for the Cosmo Beauty title. Aspiring contestants from Earth have to attend a training academy in Antarctica, where they compete in different events. (When BAV takes place on Earth, many of the competitions are "this could only work in anime" versions of exercises like swimming, biking, and running.

After the setting switches to space, BAV ups the ante with activities like zero-gravity dodgeball. At one point, the main character's group has to convince a famous coach to train them by passing each other a ball while surfing waves in an indoor pool that has a shark and missiles that shoot out of the pool wall.)

In the Earth arc at the beginning, we meet Kanzaki Akari, the daughter of the greatest Cosmo Beauty ever, the now-deceased Midou Tomoe. Unlike her mom, Akari is the lowest ranked student at the Earth training academy, and she's a dumb, klutzy crybaby. (When she feels bad, she hides in a cardboard box labeled "Akari House.") Her best friend, the stereotypical brash, rough-necked Osakan Ichino (voiced by Hisakawa Aya), is one of the highest ranked students and constantly pushes Akari to do better. The rest of the characters are broad, stupid stereotypes of the places they're from also: Lin Pha, the sneaky Chinese ojousama who's really good at biking; the genki, wild African Tanya; the obstinate, hyper-perfectionistic American Jessie (who sounds like Marimite's Sachiko because she's voiced by Itou Miki; in one amusing scene, a lovestruck Japanese girl asks Jessie to be her "onee-sama", and Jessie's like "Whuh???"); and Ayla, the icy Russian who was raised by her government solely for the purpose of winning and has a Cold War-like rivalry against Jessie.

BAV loses the Hetalia schtick (and, sadly, the Jessie x Ayla dynamic) when, after much drama and utterly-unrealistic powering up by Akari through sheer will (and Ichino calling her name at the finish line for the final competition), she wins the chance to compete at the University Satellite with Tanya and Jessie. Thus ends what yuri fans would consider the Akari x Ichino arc (Ichino, who couldn't compete in the final competition because of a broken leg, promises Akari that she'll see her at the University Satellite in the next year, when she expects Akari to be the Cosmo Beauty; throughout this set of episodes, there's some nice subtext between them, but it's strong enough towards the end that even Ichino's little brother comments on it) and begins the Akari x Kris arc.

On the way to the shuttle taking her to the University Satellite, Akari runs into a contestant from the moon, Kris Christopher (voiced by the wonderful late Kawakami Tomoko, who would later play Utena), who inexplicably finds Akari hot. When the least threatening terrorists ever high-jack the shuttle, Kris becomes cool and competent, and Akari is saved partly thanks to her and some of the other students, partly thanks to the University Satellite's Headmaster's ability to stop a hurtling spacecraft with his bare hands.

At the University Satellite, the students are assigned to compete in teams of three. (Each team shares a room also.) Akari's group includes Kris (yay!) and Anna, who nobody cares about. You'd think they would just let the three girls from each planet stay together, but hey, it means Akari and Kris are on the same team.

By the end of episode 13, Akari's group has lost eleven competitions in a row. Things look bleak for them, but Akari's the main character, so....

Yup. It's fun; it's stupid; it has a great concept and a mostly good execution. Akari isn't much of a heroine (although she improves a bit...I've heard that the Battle Athletes manga ups just about everything that's good in the anime version and tones down everything that's bad, like Akari's crybaby tendencies) and Anna has the personality of a rock (although she's funny when she offers to sexile herself for Kris and Akari), but most of the characters are interesting to watch and full of the insane drive and "GUTS!" expected from a show like this. My one qualm is that even though the Earth characters are intentionally written as dumb stereotypes, Lin Pha and Tanya's characterizations still made me uneasy.

The art is obviously dated (which doesn't matter to me), but the animation is very good for a show from the 90's. Even though the characters wear leotards most of the the time, the service is minimal, thankfully.

No grades until I review the second half.


Anonymous said...

I love this series (in fact one of my old aliases is Akari_House). I recommend checking out the original OVA trilogy that preceded it for a slightly different take on the story, and for more background on the setting (which will make a plot twist near the end of BAV come a little less out of left field!). This is one of Kurata's (Read Or Die among many other things) babies, and he sure seems to like to lean toward yuri elements in much of what he works on. :D

Katherine Hanson said...

@Anon- I'll definitely check out (and review) the OVA.

Hoho, I didn't know about Kurata's involvement. Between this and his other projects, the man does seem to like his yuri. :D