Anime Athletes Compete For Cosmo Beauty Queen
Battle Athletes Victory contains some good news for would-be beauty pageant queens...and some bad news. The good news is that in the year 4998, the Cosmo Beauty title will be determined based on athletic prowess; it's a hugely important event that draws competitors from all over the globe. The bad news is that casualty rates among the trainees are frighteningly high - largely because of the "navigating-the-minefield" portion of the competition.
It may sound absurd, but this Pioneer Entertainment release of the TV Tokyo series is also hugely fun. Between parodies of professional athletic competition and breathtaking animated sports - including a bike race on a roller coaster track - it's easy to get caught up in the action. The Battle Athletes Victory Training video contains four installments of the series: an initial competition, a makeup exam, some late-night dormitory hijinks, and a fierce battle between the two most talented girls at the Antarctic Training Academy. The tape runs 85 minutes but goes by a lot more quickly.
Of course, the competitive girls are all adorable, but with the exception of American champion Jessie they're hardly traditional beauty queens: Chinese competitor Ling Fa wears horn-rimmed glasses, tomboyish Etan is teased for being flat-chested. Tonya's skills come from summoning the spirit of a cheetah, which causes her to act like an animal at inopportune times; driven Russian athlete Ayla almost never smiles. The main character is Akari, the daughter of former Cosmo Beauty Tomoe Mido, who has inherited her mother's winning smile but not her athletic prowess. That's going to take some work.
And work she does. In the first episode, "Ready, Go!", the girls take a midterm exam which consists of lugging giant wheels on their backs, as news helicopters trail them and the headmaster makes condescending comments. "What cruel fate awaits these ladies?" one reporter wonders. The first obstacle is a hidden cliff down which the girls tumble. One athlete goes flying through the air, hits the side of a helicopter, and gives the pilot a news byte in free fall.
Akari ends up dead last when she freezes at the side of the ravine - the sight of the dead girls below is a pretty effective deterrent - but the weight of her wheel drags her down, leaving her running on it like a hamster while navigating the minefield. At least plays fair - her rich rival Ling Fa has servants dig ditches to trip up the other competitors. While the American and the Russian sprint towards the finish line, medics rush to take care of the injured. Good sport Etan rescues Akari, threatening to shake the unconscious girl "till either your eyes open or your damn head falls off," but her best friend can't prevent our heroine from having to take a difficult makeup exam.
The competition continues at that event in "Kowloon's Attack!", the second episode, which reveals that Ling Fa is so driven because of her grandfather's shame over her failure. She is the first member of family in 2000 years to take a makeup exam, and tarnishing the family's name is equivalent to the great vices of refusing a bribe, failing to bow to threats, or serving soybean dishes. The woeful but wealthy girl gets her servants to hack into school computer to set Bike Hard as the exam competition, then sabotages Akari on and off the track. Akari learns a valuable lesson in friendship from their struggle, though Ling Fa thinks she has the final word: winning is more important.
In the third installment, "Night of Woong-A-Ji," an increasingly desperate Akari agrees to participate with Tonya in a ritual worship of the god of sprinting. Unfortunately, their tribal dancing has unexpected effects, and a possessed Tonya starts running around on all fours, painting the school walls and all the other girls with indelible ink totems. An impromptu relay traps the wild child, so Akari can learn that "a pagan tiki-head" won't make her run faster; only working for achievement can do that. Meanwhile golden girl Jessie has a run-in with a would-be female paramour, but escapes with her virtue intact.
The final episode on this tape, "My Rival," is a realistic and rather moving character story. While trying to muster the courage just to put her face underwater, Akari finds silver-haired Ayla is in secret training for the Battle Royal swimming competition. The Russian girl knows that Jessie will be her chief competition and wants to be deserving of victory. During the seven laps of the event, Jessie and Ayla take turns breaking single-heat records until the final round, which ends...in a tie. As she struggles for the energy to survive the playoff, Ayla begins to think metaphorically about Jessie, who is her inspiration as well as her foe in the struggle. Akari and the others finally begin to understand what it takes to be a Cosmo Beauty.
Only three students from each training school advance to the University Satellite to compete for the title, however, so cutthroat competition is sure to follow in subsequent episodes of the series. Akari has terrible luck and poor self-esteem, but her friends are willing to go to great lengths for her - like taking bets in which the loser has to wear the ugliest headpiece in the world. Etan shouts phrases like, "You're all a bunch of pussies!" but understands that winning isn't as important as being true to oneself, something Jessie and Ayla must struggle with.
While Ayla has a lovely low, sexy voice, and Jessie has the tall, lanky body of a sexy anime heroine from a racier series, there's no nudity in Battle Athletes and surprisingly little innuendo other than an impromptu sleepover and Jessie's encounter with an aggressive lesbian worshipper. Except for a few glimpses of the headmaster and a bumbling news reporter, there aren't any men in the story at all. These girls are focused!
And the show's focus is on the intelligence and power of the young women rather than their pert figures. Despite the beauty pageant trappings and the uneasy parallels with young gymnasts and skaters who are trained till their small bodies collapse, girl power permeates the series. Directed by Katsuhito Akiyama from a concept by Hiroki Hayashi, Battle Athletes is quite appropriate for teenagers of either sex as well as adults, and I recommend it highly. Anyone who likes Xena or Buffy will appreciate Ayla.