The 2020 Olympics were supposed to be the first year that sport climbing was included, so it seems only natural to create an anime about it to educate people and drum up excitement for the new event. Well, the Olympics haven’t happened yet and might be outright canceled, but we still have Iwa-Kakeru! -Sport Climbing Girls-.
The early promotional materials made me eager to check the show out. Rock climbing is one of the few sports I enjoy participating in and know a little bit about. The characters actually looked like climbers, with lots of visible lean muscle under uniforms that cover only the bare necessities in order to keep extra weight to an absolute minimum. Even the premise, that Konomi’s puzzle game expertise gives her an advantage in her mental game, makes sense, since climbing walls are laid out as puzzles with solutions, and individual routes are called “problems.”
But no, Iwa-Kakeru! did not turn out to be the climbing anime of my dreams. It is, instead, a perfectly middling show where I learned a bit about the sport, but also noticed some worrying inaccuracies. The show explores different elements of competitive climbing, including bouldering, which is climbing up a wall unsupported; lead climbing, in which the climber is attached to someone on the ground with a rope and harness; and speed climbing, which is exactly what it sounds like. Figuring out the best way to scale a wall is as much a part of the sport as the strength it takes to hold on and pull your body up. No sports series is 100% accurate to what it’s representing, but some of the issues in it – such as a blatant disregard for safety – are off-putting enough that the more serious climbers I knew had to stop watching.
In fact, there’s a lot about Iwa-Kakeru! that can be mildly off-putting, not the least of which is Jun Uehara, one of Konomi’s teammates. Jun is, in a word, intense. She’s more or less a stock character who takes her sport waaaaay too seriously, constantly reiterating that climbing is not a game and not just for fun and people who just want to play around should never, ever touch a climbing wall. Her attitude is ridiculous from the get-go, since the vast, vast majority of people who participate in the sport are just hobbyists. While she mellows out quite a bit by the end of the series, the narrative never really disagrees with her, since all the characters are serious competitive climbers and there’s no one present who climbs just because it feels good to get to the top of a wall.
There’s also a not-insignificant amount of low-key fan service. No outright nudity, nor even a lot of jiggle, but the staff still made a number of choices that show that they wanted to garnish reality with some sex appeal. None of the girls wear sports bras, as is proven by how often the camera stares right down Konomi’s shirt with her breasts pressed up against the climbing wall. It stretches credibility that people with such low body fat percentages – because climbing is a sport where you want to keep your weight down as much as possible – would have such perky breasts or round butts, which the camera also likes to focus on. While this doesn’t negate the fact that the girls are believably ripped, with a ton of muscle definition especially when actively engaged in climbing, it is still a distraction. It’s a decent production with bright candy-colors and consistently on-model animation, but the prime focus in storyboarding seemed to be in highlighting T&A, especially during camera scenes, which takes away from the sense that we’re supposed to be taking these girls seriously as athletes.
Outside of Jun, the main cast is fine. There’s not much to inspire strong feelings in either direction about them. Konomi is gifted and makes speeches about camaraderie and trying their best, especially after she stubbornly pursues a friendship with Jun. Sayo and Nono, the older members of the team, have their own side-arc where Sayo has an injury and Nono is held back by her short stature that isn’t remotely interesting or engaging. I will probably forget about them within a day of writing this review.
The secondary characters are much more memorable, by virtue of being unbelievably annoying. I can’t remember the last time I felt such antipathy towards a fictional character, and every single rival, of which there are many, makes me want to sock her in the face. According to Iwa-Kakeru!, high school sport climbing is a breeding ground for mean girls, and every school except for Hanamiya has at least one Regina George who is specifically out for Konomi’s blood. Many of them have gimmicks, such as talking like a cat, wearing bunny ears, or having a catchphrase that they say ten times every time they appear until it starts activating my fight-or-flight response. There is no camaraderie between schools or friendly rivalries that inspire both parties to strive for improvement. Just Konomi, her teammates, and an endless field of catty bitches.
Plus, Konomi instantly being able to climb at a competitive level pushes suspension of disbelief to its absolute limits. Her puzzle-solving skills may offer an advantage at the mental level, and doing ballet when she was young will assist her flexibility, but none of that confers the strength needed to climb at a high level. Years of pursuing a sedentary hobby would have led to low muscle tone and grip strength, unless she was going out of her way to keep up her physical training.
Iwa-Kakeru! is a perfectly middling anime, with a sport I enjoyed learning about, decent production values, a main cast I have no strong feelings about whatsoever, and a secondary cast that I wouldn’t mind seeing cast into a pit of acid. It was made to capture a moment, but is doomed to be forgotten before that moment comes to pass, if it ever does at all.