Title: Iwa kakeru! Sport Climbing Girls / Hang On! Sport Climbing Girls
Length: 12 x 24 minute episodes
Year of release: 2020
Konomi Kasahari, the protagonist of Climbing Girls, used to be a Gamer. Her dwindling grades and move up from middle school spurred her to look for a new hobby, and a chance encounter with Jun – a hardcore rock wall climber – leads her to put her talent at gaming to new use in the rock climbing club. Ah, yes, this is one of those ‘unusually talented starter’ sorts of sports anime, where the newbie comes in with an extreme advantage and just has to get the basics up to scratch. In this case, Konomi’s tournament-winning ability at puzzle mobile games helps her solve the problems of climbing walls abnormally quickly.
As the ‘talent versus hardwork’ arc rears its head in the middle of the series, it all rubs in how mediocre the whole affair is. We’ve seen it before, much better, elsewhere. That’s not to say Iwakakeru! is a bad anime – rather, it gets some things across well – it’s just painfully amateurish.
So hear me out. Konomi is positively plunged into rock climbing and given a sink-or-swim crash course before she’s pushed into a regional tournament. Before I remind you that she’s an absolute noob, I feel like the show did a good enough job convincing me of her hasty get-up-to-speed. Konomi, Jun and the two other club members in the year above go out to the arse-end-of-nowhere and climb a real rock with no supports. She spends two episodes montaging her gym routines and grappling with this rock, and seeing her wits and determination is inspiring, and the moment-to-moment paciness still finds time for the group’s decent chemistry.
Then she’s dumped into the tournament, and the cast size exponentially skyrockets from 6 to about 30. But the series made no attempt to develop these new faces (and their extremely gimmicky designs – seriously, one girl has bunny ears, another talks in cat puns, there’s the delinquent crew, yada yada) beyond names/uniforms, and focuses on Konomi having the confidence to plough on. Kiiiiiiinda.
The focus gets lost, but it also keeps reeling in, and the confusion really doesn’t help the show’s case. It gives Jun an entire episode, filling her backstory in as she slowly, painfully slowly, fights her demons and carries on in the tournament. Then it gives Sayo, their club’s leader, about quarter of an episode to do the same thing, and in the same episode, wrap up the rest of the cast’s tournament placings in lapsed montages and snippets of commentary. Then there’s one and a half (yes, a half episode, putting the climax of an arc at the ad break) episodes of Konomi learning to speedclimb for the second upcoming tournament. Which somehow finds the time to conclude, despite introducing a villain!
Frankly, it’s schizophrenic. It rushes after taking its time, it leaves gaping holes in a cast, it sets scenes up to be meaningful but didn’t do the groundwork. It’s a pacing mess.
But it doesn’t come across as incompetent. Just a bit amateurish. Well, other than the secondary cast, a gimmick-filled mess of intolerable, barely developed faces. Still, I feel like a parent patting its child on the head for doing their best, because I can see this anime is mostly doing that. Scenes like Konomin explaining ‘winner, winner, chicken dinner’ to the group are the series at its best. It has decent chemistry, but not the time to capitalise on it. Sayo and Nono (the other senpai) have a couple of heart-to-hearts over their trials and tribulations, and the series can manage genuine moving territory – it just… doesn’t feel like it follows through hard enough.
This anime is still doing its best when it comes to the tech merits, too. The climbing scenes, miraculously, rarely sexualise the girls (and when it does happen, it doesn’t feel intentional), choosing more comfortable camera angles that generally succeed in showing the difficulty and skills of climbing. That said, the minimal animation is really nothing special, and the art’s best compliment is ‘rarely goes off model’.
Well, I’m looking at the word count and I’ve done better than I thought I would. Writing reviews for mediocre anime is tough, you know? Climbing Girls is one such forgettable, but more or less competent enough anime to steal your time. It does a couple things well, makes some bizarre missteps and ultimately has nothing that’ll stick.